Liquid Diet: Sommelier Steven Grubbs Quests for the Perfect Pourover
Everything a pro drinker drinks in a week.
In our new series, Liquid Diet, a professional drinker journals every sip of one beverage-packed week. Here, Steven Grubbs, wine director of Empire State South in Atlanta and Five & Ten in Athens, Georgia, documents a week of Champagne, tequila, coffee, coconut water and milk straight from the cow on a biodynamic farm.
7:24 a.m. I am up early to make a flight to Los Angeles. I rinse my V60, grind some of Intelligentsia’s Tikur Anbessa Ethiopian coffee and execute a bleary pourover, which I don’t really nail, but it will have to work.
12:42 p.m. After a couple hours sleeping on the plane (blindfolded, earbuds dosing white noise, neck pillow, window seat—it’s a tight system), I decide it is time for another in-flight ritual: Woodford Reserve and ginger ale, side of pretzels. A plane is the only arena where I ever drink this drink.
2:44 p.m. My sister—who lives in Manhattan Beach—scoops me from the airport and I have a Coca-Cola with a pair of fish tacos, after which we stop at a coffee shop up the street and I get a rough-edged espresso and a way-worse drip coffee. I’m feeling prouder of my pourover skills.
4:45 p.m. We step into a beachside joint called Manhattan Beach Post and I order a cocktail called Mekong Lights. It’s a Thai-style daiquiri with Skipper Demerara Rum, banana, Thai chile, palm sugar, and lemongrass. Plenty of zip. My face broadens and I fully shake off the plane ride.
8:15 p.m. In Venice Beach, at a busy restaurant called The Tasting Kitchen, I order a Negroni made with Opihr Gin, Carpano Vermouth, and Campari. We order the three course tasting, and I end up stretching a single glass of Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc to last the rest of the way. It’s a touch weighty and totally great.
10:30 p.m. After a hair-raising Uber ride marked by multiple hard swerves, bizarre acceleration patterns, and at least one skipped red light, we arrive at my sister’s house with a heavy pulse and the need for another glass of wine. The only thing in the house is a Fumé Blanc from a producer that I would usually skip, but hey, here’s to survival.
9:15 p.m. I start with a cappuccino at a bougie-but-delicious breakfast spot in Manhattan Beach. It is one of those huge, ‘90s-looking, So-I-Married-an-Axe-Murderer/cereal-bowl-style cappuccinos, but it’s actually pretty alright.
12:35 p.m. Having parted ways with my sister to begin the working portion of this trip, I meet up with my comrades from Georgia and we beeline for Sqirl, where we join the usual sidewalk queue. Soon, a man in a cook’s apron appears and says, “You guys work with Hugh Acheson?” He corrals a couple of tables for us, instructs us to wait, and we’re bombarded with plate after gorgeous little plate. I drink a Turmeric Tonic, which is juiced turmeric, ginger, lemon, and sugar, and with every sip I am noticeably healthier.
3:22 p.m. It is Repeal Day, so around the corner at Big Bar they are making a Scofflaw special. It is Redemption Rye, dry vermouth, lemon, grenadine, and orange bitters. I run into my musician buddy Dent May on the patio and sit alongside some man who is a magnate of garbage trucks back east. I follow up with a Scrimshaw Pilsner.
5:10 p.m. We move on to a pristine coffee shop called Go Get Em Tiger, and I have a Ritual Roasters’ Los Crestones Costa Rican espresso with fizzy hoppy tea on the side. We are officially alternating downers and uppers.
6:25 p.m. At a cocktail bar called Melrose Umbrella Co. they are offering a Repeal Day special of a 38-cent Old Fashioned made with Old Forester bourbon, demerara sugar, and sour cherry bitters. We each have one. A ragtime band is playing.
7:40 p.m. While we wait for our table at sushi restaurant Sugarfish, we step down to Odys + Penelope and I have a Del Professore vermouth and soda. With sushi, we have Hakutsuru Sayuri Nigori sake, and it is what skim milk would be in a better world.
8:35 a.m. We wake in an Airbnb in Thousand Oaks and make our way toward Apricot Lane Farms, a stunning 200-acre biodynamic farm in the northern suburbs. En route, we stop and I get one of the worst iced coffees I’ve ever tasted. Acrid and brutal stuff.
9:19 a.m. At Apricot Lane, proprietor Molly Chester welcomes us with a pour of legit milk straight from Maggie the cow.
4:26 p.m. After a solid day of touring the works of the farm and learning the ropes of a sprawling biodynamic operation, Molly takes us to Enegren Brewing Company in the nearby town of Moorpark. I have a citric-floral Lunch Pale XPA. Molly sends us off with racks of lamb and assorted vegetables.
8:40 p.m. On our way back to the Airbnb, we stop at a wine shop, where I dig and dig among slim pickings and find Burgáns Albariño, Cantina del Taburno Fiano, Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore and Produttori del Barbaresco “Torre.” These might be the four best bottles in the store. I continue to wander the aisles like a defeated general, and then we head on. I proceed to cook the lamb, and the wines perform like champs. Afterward, we drink a series of beers sent home with us from Enegren, and somebody puts on an action movie.
9:23 a.m. At an Erewhon supermarket, I have a big drip coffee and an even-bigger coconut water. We are all foggy-brained, and I expect this to get worse.
11:36 a.m. Returning to Los Angeles proper, we visit primo sandwich shop Gjusta, where I have a cortado with my turkey. We quickly follow this with espresso at Blue Bottle in Venice Beach. It appears that caffeine alone will not make this hangover budge, so we go off in search of a cocktail.
12:52 p.m. We find a sushi restaurant whose bar is open. I have a gin gimlet, and am roughly seven percent better for all of twelve minutes.
3:24 p.m. We arrive early for our flight. I sit and stare long enough to decide that a margarita would probably help my state. I get one with Herradura, and feel slightly rescued.
9:05 a.m. Back at my house, I wake up full of relief and revisit the TIkur Anbessa.
3:48 p.m. By late afternoon, I am eating Mexican in East Atlanta and wash it down with a Bohemia, followed by a cortado at Taproom, the very good coffee shop up in my neighborhood.
9:08 p.m. I put on the finale of Westworld and pour Tequila Ocho Reposado over a large cube in a short glass. That’s enough for now.
9:45 a.m. I return to Taproom and have a Counter Culture Buziraguhindwa pourover, which is easily the most fun coffee name to say. I practice it in my mind before I order.
2:30 p.m. Back at Empire State South, I taste with sales reps (the highlight is Il Palazzino Rosso del Palazzino), after which I add Tami Nero d’Avola and Meulenhof Erdener Prälat Spätlese 2012 to the by-the-glass menu. The Riesling is opulent and awesome.
9:30 p.m. I test a pairing of Château de Brézé Clos du Midi Saumur Blanc with the new octopus dish, and it’s a real winner. Later, I open a bottle of Patrick Piuze Val de Mer sparkling, and share it with Kellie, our bar manager, who just had a birthday. A bottle of her birthday punch—rum, chai tea, Cognac, oleo saccharum and citrus—is chilling in my fridge, and when I get home it will go great with my rambling television.
8:45 a.m. Having 86’d the Tikur Anbessa in my kitchen, I move on to Los Delirios from Nicaragua. It is fresher from roast, and makes a fruitier cup and blooms in a much more satisfying way. Home pourovers are the new golf swing, by the way.
1:00 p.m. I visit my cousin’s record shop out in Avondale Estates and buy three metal records and go around the corner to a great, scrappy new daytime joint called Rising Son. I have fresh-squeezed OJ and a breakfast flatbread, and am feeling terrific.
8:15 p.m. One of my favorite nights of the year is when we host a grower Champagne dinner for two of our regulars, Laura & Bob. They bring a squad, I print maps, hold class, and we drink bubbles all night. This year, the lineup is entirely Blanc de Blancs, and includes Pierre Péters Cuvée de Réserve, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Cuis, Claude Genet à Chouilly, Philippe Fontaine Cuvée des Lys—which is entirely Pinot Blanc, by the way—and Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Non-Dosé 2008. Service is busy, and fun.