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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.
I was born March 12th 1980. Since that date, the Godson cocktail has only been ordered 7 times the whole world over. It was ordered 6 times in Brooklyn in 2005 by a Joe Musstash who failed in starting an ironic trend and once by a young man, Sean O’Leary, the fanciest man in Ireland, and in 1986 he proclaimed it, “yummy.” But Sean then went back to white wine spritzers.
Today’s Cocktail Advent Calendar is a drink that every bartender knows and no bartender ever makes, the Godson. Us IBA trained tenders no doubt know the Godfather(scotch & amaretto) and may have occasionally served a Godmother (vodka & amaretto) or 2 but the Godson is a sweet-pie, scotch outlier.
The Godson has never caught on because scotch drinkers are a bunch of stubborn sons of bitches. I write you as one now. But I can tell you that the scotch cocktail is nothing to fear and I’m not talking about some bitter Ardbeg Float, I’m talking about Rusty Nails, Cameron’s Kicks and cocktails that only real men that wear Steve McQueen turtlenecks, and that talk about their feeling, are able to drink.
The reason the Godson is such a winner is:
- Amaretto is amazing: everyone loves it, underage drinkers to the elderly love an amaretto sour
- Cream: enjoying dairy is what makes us different from animals, eat a brie wheel and enjoy your place in the food web
- Scotch: not smoky, but we’ll use a full bodied round scotch to cut the dairy fat and mellow the sweetness of the amaretto
- 1.5 oz Scotch, no islay, keep it Highland or Speyside
- .75 oz Amaretto. Nut allergies fear not! Amaretto is made from apricot pits
- .75 oz Heavy Cream. Dairy allergy? Isn’t there medicine for that?
What does all of this mean? Balance. Good drinks have balance, you have that here but what makes it great? Luxury. The Godson today will be over hand cut ice. Only the finest for you, keeping the drink sub zero cold. Drinking one is tantamount to sipping fresh spun silk backed by fine whisky. Man up and have a great sweet drink.
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
Rule 4: Jack Daniel’s Is For Pussies
If vodka is for weak babies, Jack Daniel’s is the vodka of the whiskey world. It isn’t so much that Jack is bad, (but it ain’t great) it is that outside of being drank neat, it isn’t detectable as whiskey, it’s more of a light sweet water. Jack & Coke is something that children vomit from on their birthdays. Much like light beer, Jack’s loyalty lies is the fear of something different and the fear of not knowing what to order in a bar. But I am here to help you understand the whiskey world, because it is the key to camping, business meetings and Manhattans. So think of Jack Daniel’s as barely whiskey, and pick out what little flavors are there and then choose your whiskey path:
Dryer: Irish, this is a broad category of whisky (no “e” is whisky in Ireland, Scotland and Japan) but generally, Irish are lighter bodied but fuller flavored mixes of grain, unmalted and malted barley. They are lightly sweet and have great sublety when sipped straight, with a splash of water, or a rock or two. Try Jameson, then advance to Red Breast and end with Kilbeggan and Connemara.
Sweeter: Canadian, generally sweet, from Canada, always blended by law, means made from several grains including rye. It pains me to say it but if you don’t have a bottle of rye, Canadian whiskeys make great cocktails, and a better Manhattan than Bourbon. You know Crown Royal but try their nicer labels like Cask 16.
Spicier: Rye, generally made in more Northernly parts of America, you know, where they grow rye. Rye has a very dry spicy edge, and when it is the base for a whiskey expect peppery, nutmeg and cinnamon notes. Most rye whiskey is also a blend of grains (rye being over 50%) because the flavor imparted by rye is too intense to not blend. Another way to explain the dry spice of rye would be to point out that it has less sugar than most any other grain, this low yield also makes is more expensive. On the cheap and easy try Old Overholt, for the dry get Wild Turkey Rye (green label) and for the best all around try Rittenhouse 100.
Earthier: Single Malt and Blended Malt Whisky (most people call it Scotch, but only when the whisky is from Scotland, and only if the speaker is not actually Scottish) require explanations of words and laws.
Single Malt: Whisky made from one distillery, made from malted barley.
Blended Malt Whisky: There are 2 main kinds: 1) vatted whisky- a mix of single malts from different distilleries, all malted barley. 2) Blended whiskey- grain whisky blended with malted barley. Blended malt whisky is looked down upon for the simple reason that it is associated with the cheaper whiskies, though some of the world’s greatest whiskies are blended, and even more peculiar, they are malts blended from Japan.
For malts, just go to a good bar with friends and order one whisky from each region of Scotland, you’ll figure it out fast. Just remember, it isn’t all smoke and peat, there is a big world of different malts.
Full Bodied: Bourbon is the American spirit, it is mostly corn and then the rest of the bill is any mix of barley, malted barley, rye and wheat. Bourbon can be made anywhere in America so long as it is at least 366 days old and in new American oak barrels (thanks lumber lobby). Bourbon county blah blah you say? THERE ARE NO DISTILLERIES IN BOURBON COUNTY, IT IS A TINY TOWN IN PART OF KENTUCKY THAT USED TO BE PART OF VIRGINIA! Anyway, other thanrye, Bourbon is the only one of these whiskies that is always going to have that big taste of new oak. Bourbon’s remainder of its malt bill determines much of its flavor, as does the position of the barrel in the rickhouse (big barrel storing building). Some bourbon tips: Maker’s Mark is on the sweet side, Eagle Rare is on the earthy side, Wild Turkey has the spice. Jim Beam is actually a quality one right there in the middle.
Simple Pleasures: Classic drinks are classics for a reason, simplicity. And respect the grandma.
Recently, I just like to make drinks out of the Mr Boston drink book. Not true really, I haven’t opened the book since a brutish cannuk ordered a, “wet pussy*,” from me, and I had to make a to do about looking it up. But seriously, these days I mostly want only to drink and to make the most simple drinks possible. Conversely, I most admire people for can balance seven or ingredients in a way that I can taste all of them, so far only Jim Romdall and Daniel Shoemaker are the only bartenders I know that can do this. But I feel like the karate kid approach to bar training is the only way.
It may seem stupid, but I need to show a picture of a 70 year old grandma to every bartender on his first day. The grandma will have a perm, large owl like glasses, and in the picture, she will be smiling and handing a birthday card to you that certainly has $5 inside. This picture of this truly happy grandma, at peace is the joy a young bartender can give if said bartender can make Stinger properly. Most bartenders under 60 have made 3 or 4 stingers in their lives. The first singer was out of curiosity, and the next 3 were funded by social security checks. 2 ingredients, pretty simple, then why do people make the drink so wrong? Well, as I already have explained in previous entries, technique, balance and love.
The Stinger Cocktail Recipe:2oz brandy, .5oz white crème de menthe, SHAKE fine strain and smile, it’s a simple drink.
I won’t go into a 4 paragraph rant on how to make the grandma happy (write letters and call) I’ll just say, if you want to be a great, you must be able to make the simplest drinks with great perfection. Here are 6 base spirits and a drink for each that nobody cares about, and why when made well I love them more than any foam, caviar or infused article worthy drink.
I’m not cool like the mixologists, when regular bartenders swing by to say hi, or I go to a rock club to have a shot with my bartender pal, I do a shot of whatever they are having, 10% Jager, 30%Jameson and at least 60% a chilled shot of vodka**. I love a chilled shot of vodka. In moderation, a chilled shot of vodka even masks the quality of bad vodka, but not the hangover. On rare occasion, I’ve even been known to do a shot of Absolut Grapefruit but only with the most beautiful bartender.
The Gimlet*** is the amazing. This is not the time for history or sailors and surgeon generals and limeys. I prefer fresh limes to Rose’s but either way to make a perfectly balanced Gimlet is very difficult. Too much lime makes a drink indistinguishable from a Kamakazi, too little makes it bitter and astringent. To make the drink correctly the gin’s botanicals need to be enhanced by lime and the citrus cut by just a small amount of sugar.
I’ve taken a mid day 3 Mojito**** nap and its great. Bacardi can be thanked for bringing back the Mojito and cursed for making everybody think they can make one all slapdash. Again, I won’t start to talk about crushed ice vs cubed of how much mint or who invented this drink, the key to making a Mojito is to put the “b” in subtle. I can put Kold Draft ice in a mixing tin and muddle it into crushed ice, I am strong and I am bragging. This skill is of no use when handling the delicate mint going into a Mojito. Oils are bitter, and the more herbs or citrus are beaten, the more they become bitter and require more sugar. Mojitos are delicate and transparent, not the color of the Margarita.
The Margarita***** is the most complex flavored drink that has but 3 ingredients. Tequila’s bouquet is dynamic, evil, silky and sexy. If you can’t see that in tequila then you are doing it wrong. As I said in earlier you need to taste the tequila, otherwise drink a Kamakazi. Salt is the most controversial part of a Margarita, salt is a garnish, and let me set forth a rule for all to follow, a garnish never goes in the drink, that makes it an ingredient. This is my sly way to say, salt only goes on the outside of the glass. There are 2 more failings of the common Margarita, they are retaining ice used to mix the drink and sour mix. Sour mix, don’t, just don’t use fresh, that’s simple. Retaining ice, never do this, strain drinks over fresh ice every time.
The Manhattan****** is my beer. I almost exclusively order Manhattans with crappy whiskey. I do this in airports, dinners and nowherevilles the nation over. If mixed properly the cheap Manhattan has just the right sweetness of bitters and vermouth and still delivers a couple ounces of pretty bourbon, rye if you are lucky. Stirred cocktails are generally the most mis-made of all. 1.-Gentle stirs, 2.-2 dashes of bitters 3.- 20% -33% vermouth and 4. -always strained. 1. Don’t bruise it, don’t shake cocktails. 2. Non bitters, no Manhattan 3. Love vermouth, keep it fresh in the fridge. 4. Men fear cocktail glasses, lame. People who use cocktail glasses are better lovers. Cocktails on the rocks are sloppy and gross.
For me the Sidecar******* is the cocktail that best shows quality ingredients affecting the outcome of a cocktail. Cognac and Cointreau trump non-descript California brandy and triple sec every time. Play with a drink how you think it is and then replace it with the good stuff, most times, when the technique is there, it pays to pay more.
*Wet Pussy Cocktail Recipe-an unfortunately real drink
1.5oz Yukon Jack-I used Bookers and lemon bitters and a dash of simple instead
1oz Grapefruit Juice-I used fresh squeezed
1 Dash grenadine-house made of course
Shake and Strain
Despite the tasteless name, I was an ok drink
-vodka bottle in the freezer, works everytime
.25oz Fresh Lime
.25oz Simple Syrup
Shake and Strain
1.5oz Light Rum
.5 oz Fresh Lime
.5oz Simple Syrup
2 full mint sprigs given a light smack
build over ice, top with a touch of soda
1.5 oz Tequila
.5 oz Fresh Lime
.5oz your choice-Agave Nectar-Coitreau or Simple Syrup
shake and strain
rim out side of cocktail glass with sat
.5oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters
Stir and strain, Cherry garnish
.5oz Fresh Lemon
shake and strain, try to forgo the rimmed glass