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Bartender Re-education: The Irish Coffee
Every coffee+booze cocktail is a piece of shit except this one. Spanish coffee? Fuck that drink. Bailey’s and coffee? Look granny, you could have had that at home. Every coffee cocktail up until the Irish Coffee was just a way to get a girl just drunk enough on sweet stuff so that you can get to bone town.
But the Irish Coffee is too classy for such skulduggery.
This month’s Bartender Re-education is the Irish Coffee and it has 3 ingredients. If you are served an Irish Coffee with a 4th ingredient you are beginning to slide down a slope in to the valley of Ben & Jerry’s flavored coffee. Specifically, don’t you dare drizzle creme de menthe over canned whipped cream. And while we are at it, don’t ever use canned whipped cream.
The Irish Coffee is as simple as 1,2,3,4
- 1 pre-heat the mug, don’t ever put a hot drink into a cold mug
- 2 sweet Irish whisky, the only other sugar will come from the whipped cream
- 3 fresh whipped cream, add sugar to taste, use a whisk or a hand blender
- 4 very strong coffee, it need to stand up to the whiskey
Follow the steps in that order, you don’t have to stir or shake anything.
And then you are done. Don’t add anything else. You’ll find this very simple combination to have the perfect balance. So perfect, that when coffee is brewed poorly (too acidic) the sugar balances it even better. Dare I say the best Irish coffee you could have would be made with some truck-stop-been-on-the-burner-all-day-sludgy-cup-o-joe.
Another great thing about the Irish Coffee is that the best way to get it is on the go. And how does one do that? Repeat after me:
“Hello barista, I’ll have a double 8oz americano with whip please.”
Then you dump an airline bottle of Jameson right in the cup and you are ready to face the day.
But if you want to bypass this coffee jazz and skip to straight Irish Whiskey, read this post I wrote about how to drink during St Patrick’s week.
The Bartender Re-education Plan took a break but now that the holidays are pretty much over, so are the excuses. You must make 1,000 Negronis before you ever change the 1:1:1 ratio. Changing the ratios changes the recipe. Using dry vermouth instead of sweet is not a Negroni. Using some amaro other than Campari is not a Negroni. And subbing out gin, really makes it not a Negroni. The path to being a better bartender is understanding the brands and techniques of the Negroni, not in changing the ratios. I want my Negronis always in equal parts, yet I always want them balanced, this can be achieved but understanding flavor. There are 2 ways for a Negroni to be made: stirred and up or stirred and strained over fresh ice.
How do you make these 2.5 styles?
- AmericanO- In the beginning (before the Negroni) there was an Americano Highball. This is sweet vermouth, Campari and soda. It is the perfect pre meal cocktail that never was. The Americano Highball can only be ordered from good bartenders, however you normally want to order something better from good bartenders. It is said the Negroni was invented when Count Camillo Negroni wanted his Americano Highball with gin instead of soda. That substitution is for winners.
- European- Rocks. The Euro-Negroni is on the rocks, if chianti or lasagna is on the menu expect a Negroni or the rocks. But TWIST! This Negroni is often shit! Why? because you can’t pour 3 oz of room temp booze over ice to get a good cocktail. The ice with immediately begin to melt, thus producing a watery, and warm cocktail. You must stir and strain an ICE COLD cocktail over fresh ice, pouring cold over cold maintains the proper balance in the cocktail.
- American- It has been the general consensus in American bartending that every drink is better chilled and served up. That is the way of the American Negroni. But I feel that an exception to this rule arises in drinks that are sweeter, with a high sugar content. Those drinks (Negroni included) are awful when they warm up and they live longer on ice. Other examples of sticky drinks that seem to do better on ice would be the Rusty Nail, The Godfather or other all spirit fern bar, “classics.”
What is the technique needed?
- Stirred- a Negroni is stirred and strained into a chilled glass or over fresh ice. To shake a Negroni is to have thick sliced truffles, under cooked foie gras or burlap lingerie; don’t ruin luxuary
- Zest- The orange zest is the 4th ingredient. Campari and vermouth don’t have a strong scent; gin does, but not when paired with these 2 sweet bottles. The orange zested over the cocktail treats your nose to the cocktail.
What are the other variables?
- Gin- There are 3 legal definitions of gin, arguably 6 or 7 styles (not including genever) and over 100 brands on the market in America with a new one made by a micro-distiller every week. What I’m saying: pair your gin with your vermouth. More subtle gins need more subtle vermouths. Larger, earthier or more herbal gins can stand up to the big very sweet vermouths.
- Vermouth- Without brand bashing, some gins would be completely un-recognizable as gins when paired with too flavorful of a vermouth. In addition to which, the Negroni is a drink that must be treated like a cocktail that has a fresh product in it: vermouth. Vermouth left out at room temperature goes bad like milk and I don’t see a sour cream White Russian catching on anytime soon. No amount of technique and no price point of boutique gin can save a Negroni from bad vermouth.
What does it mean to get, “Negronked?”
Getting Negronked is term for a lexical gap I have found in the English Language for, “getting drunk on fancy drinks.” I coined this one about 5 years ago and it has been an uphill battle. But I implore you, next time you go out to hit the fancy bars, remember, “get Negronked!”
- 1 oz Gin
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 oz Campari
- Stir and strain over fresh ice or into a chilled cocktail class
- Garnish with an orange zest
After all of that, of course you can change the ratios. But it is the last thing to practice in Negroni crafting, you need to understand the rules before you break them.
Even though Don Draper is really helping America Drink better, there are a few dozen big name bartenders around America right now fiercely fighting to restore the Old Fashioned cocktail from the insipid trends that have beset it. And I find myself joyfully making more Old Fashioneds everyday. But what the Old Fashioned’s renaissance has truly accomplished is pressing the, “reset button,” on 200 years of cocktail culture.
The beauty of this drink, and why it will save tending bar is that the pedestrian ingredients highlight the chosen spirit, technique and craft. If the rules of Kung Fu were applied to mixology, master would have grasshopper make 1,000 Old Fashioneds before grasshopper was ever allowed to freshen the mixed nuts. On the surface, the Old Fashioned is the simplest cocktail: an aged spirit of your choice, sugar, bitters, garnish. This is the very definition of “cocktail” from its first published definition in The Balance Columbian Repository in 1806. This simplest of cocktails is the perfect template for understanding the nuances of flavor and the pitfalls of bad technique. The balance between the three (base, sugar and bitter) is the recipe for the Martini, the Manhattan and all of the booze based classics. For the sake of brevity, trust me in that others will rant at great length on the evils of chemical cherries and topping with soda. For example, I would, but I have an editor. Catharsis be damned, I only have time to explain the correct way here. Trust that the only reasonable variation of the recipe is whether or not the drink is to be served on the rocks, the answer: ask first.
- 2 oz Any aged spirit*
- .5 oz Simple Syrup**
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters** *
- Orange zest, and a cherry, but only if you have the good stuff
- Stir over ice and strain into a chilled glass or over fresh ice
Step one: Chill a cocktail glass. Do not pour a cold drink into a warm glass. You will be undoing all of the tedium I shall tender next.
Step two: Fill a mixing glass top the top with ice. Two points here, more ice dilutes booze less and that is why you never skimp on ice, ice is cheap, booze is costly.
Step three: Measure. If you don’t trust that all good cooks measure, ask a carpenter. Two parts booze to a half part sweet is more than enough. And don’t forget get the bitters. No bitters, no cocktail.
Step four: If a drink is all booze, no juice, it is stirred and not shaken. There are two exceptions, and I’m not going to tell them to you so you can know the rule before you break it.
Step five: Garnish with acidity. It is hard to determine the difference between, “ingredient,” and, “garnish,” and the Old Fashioned continues to blur that. The orange zest for the Old Fashioned must be done over the glass. The gentle mist of orange oils add acidity that lightens what is essentially a sugar mélange. Don’t believe this works? Hold that peel up to your eye and squeeze. When you are done cursing me as a mother fucker, you’ll see that there’s a lot of citric acid in that peel that lends an aroma to the cocktail. Only add a cherry if you have something less than neon and only if it is on a cocktail pick. I suggest Luxardo or Griotine cherries.
Too many details for one drink? Yes, but it’s the details that improve all cocktails.
*tell your bartender which you prefer, they all work
**the sugar cube doesn’t fully dissolve in booze, in this modern world we can move past the sugar cube
***or others if you have choices, try those, Angostura is the oldest most ubiquitous bitters, but many others offer new subtly
Bartender Re-education: The Sour
Spirit + (Lemon or Lime) + Sugar + Shake + Strain = Sour
I could have stopped there for the fastest blog post ever. That is just how simple the sour is. But, my growing disdain for barrel aged cocktails and self-important bartenders (irony and disdain aside, there are exceptions like Jeff Morgenthaler because he is handsome, talented and we can all learn a thing or two from him) has led me to start my bartender re-education program focusing on the basics.
When I’m behind the bar, and I want to show how great a simple drink can be when made correctly, the simple sour is the one I chose to showcase most often.
Slow down nerds, I’m not even talking about egg white in a sour, you can read about that here. I’m just talking about a 3 part sour, which is the drink that 99% of all guests want when they say,
“Uh, I don’t know, I want something not too sweet. I don’t like things that are too sweet.”
To which I respond,
“Well, most people don’t like the taste of cat piss, should I avoid that too? How about you tell me like what you like instead of what you don’t like?”
Or when I’m in a helpful mood I say,
Take any base spirit, gin, whiskey or EVEN VODKA and go 2 parts, to one part FRESH SQUEEZED juice to one part SIMPLE SYRUP. Then SHAKE and STRAIN over FRESH ICE or in a CHILLED GLASS. This recipe works every time and never fails and I have never had even the slightest criticism such as, “Well, it seems a bit pedestrian but it will suffice.”
As for sour mix, don’t. Seriously, there is no reason to buy or use a bottle of chemicals and artificial coloring. It’s a highly processed substitute for limes, sugar and water. Limes are fairly easy to squeeze, I’ve been through several thousand in my lifetime and seemed to suffer no ill effects or even “juicer’s arm.” Simple syrup can basically be made with hot water from the tap with an equal part sugar by volume. So that is pretty un-excusable to fuck up.
Even better than using a trusty base spirit like gin or whiskey, there is the magic of liqueurs.
“I, Andrew Bohrer, on a weekly basis, make an Amaretto sour for at least one guest in my bar, and they fucking love it.”
The liqueur sour works wonders in the exact same way: 2 parts liqueur to 1 part sour to 1 part simple syrup yields a cocktail balanced for a Cabbage Patch Kid. My amaretto sour still bowls people over, I’ll add a dash of bitters when I’m feeling fancy (always). But for less of a Care Bear Stare style sour, try this handy formula:
1 part base spirit-any- maybe GIN
1 part liqueur-any – perhaps MIDORI
1 part sour-lemon or lime- MAYBE BOTH
1 part sweet- SIMPLE SYRUP
STRAIN over FRESH ICE
Hell, throw a cherry on there.
Q: You know what you got?
A: The crowning achievement of 1980’s mixology, a drink fit for a Kardashian, the stately Midori Sour.
Remember the sour. It will save you. Even better than remembering the sour, give, “brown bitter and stirred,” a rest for 3 summer months and just give the people and yourself, what we all need: a simple sour.
Order one up this month.
In an effort to not only throw hate into the universe, I have started a Bartender Reeducation Program. If you’re not familiar with this act of charitable giving, check out this explanatory blog post.
Many friends and readers got back to me on the Daiquiri Bartender Reeducation Program. Some stories came back heartfelt like, ”The bartender was confused, but we were both happy with the cocktail.” Others came back with a more scathing stories like, “The damn thing came out clear as a bell, and it was only rum.” I even think someone tested me and ordered an, “Aged rum Daiquiri” with “your favorite aged rum.” He was only able to drink half of the Navy-strength Smith & Cross Daiquiri, but I loved making it and he liked the half that he could handle. So? A mixed bag was the outcome at best, but it’s getting us back on the path of good drinks everywhere.
This month I thought it would be wise to make July’s reeducation drink even easier and feature a Tom Collins.
Some time in July go into a bar with a television and ask the human standing behind the bar, “Can I get a Tom Collins? You know, just gin and soda with a squeeze of lemon, and a dash of sugar.”
The Tom Collins is a dusty feature in every bar book and worthy of being poured from pitchers in hot summer months. It is also a testament to how far the bar business has fallen that Tom Collins mix is still available.
I was in the grocery store yesterday listening to a group of newly minted 21 year olds try to figure out what to mix with vodka for their Fourth of July festivities. Had I been in my bartender costume I would have steered them to the produce section for lemons, we would have found ice, sugar and soda and they would have a great holiday. But, bereft of my contact lenses, I stood there as Clark Kent and let them buy Redbull.
Tom Collins is easy enough for anyone to become friends with. The way I see it, there are really only two key steps to getting it right.
- Use a Collins glass: Effervescent drinks need to stay bubbling, and a tall glass that pushes perlage up is key number one.
- Fill the glass completely with ice: The Tom Collins needs to be undiluted and ice cold, so as much ice as you can get into the glass is key number two.
Other than those two key steps, the Tom Collins is just a simple mix of Gin, Lemon Juice, Sugar and Soda Water. Really couldn’t be easier, add the ingredients any way you like, go light on the lemon and sugar to let the Gin shine.
The mythos of the Collins is assumed to be from mixing up Old Tom Gin with the very fancy new invention of the time: soda water. And, in doing so, it created a template that works with every spirit.
Here is a list of the more common variations on the template:
Vodka Collins or Comrade Collins — with vodka — Ostrovia!
Tom Collins — with gin — Cheers!
Brandy Collins (I call this one Jacque) — with cognac — A Votre Sante!
Juan or José Collins — with tequila — Salud!
Jack Collins — with applejack — Have a wicked pissah!
John Collins — with bourbon — Yee Haw!
Michael Collins — with Irish-whisky — Guild Forder!
Ron Collins — with rum — Fuck Embargos!
Sandy Collins — with Scotch-whisky — Slàinte!
Phil Collins — with 7-Up or Sprite. It is a mocktail — SusuSudio!
Jallu Collins — with jaloviina — Opa!
Here is a list of variations I made up:
Jin Collins — with sake — Kampai!
Erik Collins — with akavit — Skol!
Jonah Collins - with Manischewitz — L’Chaim!
For the record, Jonah Collins is legit if you omit the extra sugar.
Lastly a note on garnish, do so. At least get a cherry in this thing, I like to add and orange too even though a lemon would be more traditional. To avoid flashbacks to college try using a good gin. You’ll find a whole new drink.
What the fuck is so hard about making a Daiquiri? That is what my alarm clock chirps as I spring out of bed every afternoon. I really do wonder this every day, so many cocktails I slide across the bar are so simple, why can’t everyone do it? Ten years of practicing grace and nuance aside, the reason is simple, they can’t because of the lack of experience and education.
I’ll say it, I tended bar for 3 years before I knew what a Daiquiri really was. Any bartender that says otherwise must have grown up in this cocktail renaissance we are STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF (not nearly over) and likely doesn’t know how to make an Alabama Slammer. Anyway, despite the good efforts of the Bar Smarts crew, there are still plenty of bartenders that don’t know the most basic of basics. I want to bring the simple back to the people.
Two months ago I was in Hawaii and at any point during my trip I would have paid over $20 for one perfectly made Daiquiri.
It never happened, I made my own.
But, I did manage to instruct a polyester-ed hotel worker on how to make a Negroni that I sipped with my lady at sunset while watching whales in the distance. The creation of this moment wasn’t that hard. This bartender did me a solid, and I tipped him for it, why can’t this exchange be more common?
On June 1st I want everyone who is able, to go into a normal bar, one where no one has a vest or a mustache, and order a Daiquiri. But wait, don’t just order it, ask, “Could you make me a classic Daiquiri, just light rum, a few squeezes of lime and a whisper of simple syrup?” You don’t have to say “whisper” that is just my fruity pants style. It is important to “ask” and not “tell.” No iPhones out at the bar, no comparing the drink slinger at your local to this, “one time I was somewhere better,” just extend an olive branch.
And then hope for the best.
We can teach ‘em ’bout fine straining and rhum agricole some other time. But I think that offering up a sincere order for the simplest of sours could create an epiphany moment.
I scheme to myself that this kind of thing could catch on, a new simple drink every month getting re-introduced into the bartender’s vernacular. So please, June 1st, order up a Daiquiri and help us all get a better drink.
Paul Clarke’s stewardship over Mixology Monday, otherwise know as MxMo, did a great thing for bartenders, drinking, and the Internet. I don’t think that outside of contributing the occasional rant to MxMo I could come close to creating something as long lasting and influential, but Paul inspires me try. My love of simple drinks gave me an idea called, “The Bartender’s Re-Education Plan.” Simply understood as a plan to re-introduce simple classics to airport bars, corporate consultant bars and neighborhood locals. These are places that have skill at tending to the bar’s patrons but they have long forgot the actual craft of the cocktail*.
This fall from grace makes me think of this depression era anthem:
Once I build a railroad, made it run,
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done.
Buddy, can you spare a dime?
- E. Y. “Yip” Harburg
Think of the archetypical bartenders, like Motherly Mavis at the airport lounge, with great care beyond what her nametag would purport, always offers a discounted double before you board a plane. Actually-an-Actor Alex at the Fried or Fricasseed Family Fun Franchise, may warn you against which menu offerings are weary over worked wuss drinks. Surly Sully down at your local always prodigiously pours a proficient pint and always asks about your ability to alliterate. I am so thankful for these three sainted bar folks, who all help you when you need guidance, a bar to lean on and alcohol in a glass but that is where the skill set ends. But what if it didn’t?
What if Mavis could mix you a Manhattan and not mistake bitters for worcestershire? What if in between picking out head shots you could get a Gimlet from Alex? What if you could convince Sully that he didn’t really need an odd mutilated muddler to make an Old Fashioned? I pose this questions not because I think that crafting quality cocktails are beyond their abilities, so much as as the the archetypical bartender’s desire to hone this skill has been forgotten by the lack of consumer demand. We gave up on these three bar saints and then they gave up on us.
Let’s say, instead of offering a lame carrot or beating them with a stick, what if we began to request the simplest of drinks, in a straight-forward way? Sully’s eyes might light up if you asked him to mix you a Godfather and the instructions to do so are so easy and unpretentious. I pose that on the first of the month, a very simple drink gets ordered, the same simple drink, in several of the just average bars that keep us, “not dry.” Go to Mavis, Sully and Alex, at the first of each month and say:
“You ever heard of a ________? They are really easy to make, I have it on my mind because of [convincing cover story] Could you make me one?”
I’m not talking about ordering a god damned Last Word from Sully, I’m talking about ordering something that you know he can make quickly, easily and that might inspire him to dust off the Mr. Boston.
I’ll put up a post at the end of each month with a new drink to call for and of course with the rant about why I want it to be standard, and then please, help that dusty classic cocktail shine again. Know what else? You might remember the joy of the simple drinks, too.
*Perhaps Dale’s excellent turn of phrase could help them learn more about The Craft of the Cocktail.