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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
Well, there is more than one, but not many more. Think of it as half and half drinks, 2 thirds to 1 third, equal thirds, equal forth’s and “other.” You’ll find to make drinks “good” or “not all taste the same” you’ll need to tweak these ratios a bit, but start with simple ratios to understand how flavors work together. Shortly there after, you’ll be subbing sugar for St Germain and adding dashes of bitters to everything. For this example I’ll say “sugar” to mean simple syrup or sweetening agent. Follow these examples:
Two Fourths to a couple others
Caiphrinia 2 oz Cachaca 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar
Daquiri 2 oz Rum 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar
Papa Doble 2 oz Rum 1 oz Grapefruit 1 oz Maraschino
Margarita 2 oz Tequila 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar
Bartender’s Magarita 2 oz Tequila 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar splash Cran
Cosmo 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar splash Cran
Kamakaze 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Lime 1 oz Sugar
Lemondrop 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Lemon 1 oz Sugar
Aviation 2 oz Gin 1 oz Lemon 1 oz Maraschino
Bay Breeze 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Cran 1 oz Pineapple
Madras 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Cran 1 oz Orange
Sea Breeze 2oz Vodka 1 oz Cran 1 oz Grapefruit
Half and Half
Greyhound 2 oz Vodka 2 oz Grapefruit
Salty Dog 2 oz Vodka 2 oz Grapefruit salt rim
Chihuahua 2 oz Tequila 2 oz Grapefruit
Salty Chihuahua 2 oz Tequila 2 oz Grapefruit salt rim
Paloma 2 oz Tequila 2 oz Grapefruit top with soda salt rim
2 Thirds to 1 Third
Manhattan 2 oz Rye 1 oz Sweet Vermouth 2 dashes bitters
Rob Roy 2 oz Scotch 1 oz Sweet Vermouth 2 dashes bitters
God Father 2 oz Scotch 1 oz Amaretto
God Mother 2 oz Vodka 1 oz Amaretto
Vesper 2 oz Gin 1 oz Vodka Splash Lillet
This is just a basic bartender’s short list, its much more important to note that these are really just ideas on how drinks evolve and how changing one ingredient makes a new drink. I would also like this table to show “list of 5,000 new cocktails,” books as utter bullshit. Seattle local hero chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas would sell you his cookbook, but that doesn’t give you the skill to execute on all recipes nor secure the bank loan to open 6 or 7 restaurants. Do buy, these “5,000 new cocktail” books for ideas, and because they are indeed pretty, but mostly they are only for reference and ideas. There are too many variables and too little information in these books. Take the Manhattan, one of the best right? If you answered no, you might consider how odd it is that you have an incorrect opinion.
The Manhattan is a ratio of 60-85% bourbon, rye or whiskey, to 40-15% sweet vermouth to 1-4 dashes of bitters. If that’s not enough of a variable in ratios, consider the rich complexity of rye, to the earthen smoke and maturity of bourbon or the caramel sweetness of a Canadian blend to a dry Irish whiskey. The quantity of vermouth matters but lets not forget, they have more brands than I could list here. When it comes to bitters, everything changes, normally you’d get Angostura, but it’s not unusual to get a different brand of aromatic bitters, orange bitters and sometimes Peychauds. Then there is my fave: a Bookers (126 proof cask strength bourbon) Manhattan with heavy Punt e Mes (very grape-y sweet vermouth) and 3 dashes of Angostura bitters.
To flog a horse be it not already dead: take Pernod, an 80 proof anisette liquor that is an aperitif in not America but commonly used as an absinthe substitute in old timey recipes. Though not dissimilar in flavor, characteristics and ingredients, it is half the proof and is nowhere near the pervasive flavor of absinthe. The use of more Pernod just results in anis like watery mélange. Brands and ingredients matter but what matters more if the end result of the flavor. Unfortunately there is only one way to insure that drinks taste right, or that the recipe needs to be tweaked for the brands being used: taste the drink. The pro way and the sanitary way to do this is to dip a straw into the drink, then put your finger on the top of the straw to taste a sample. Any bartender worth a damn does this all shift long if not to every drink. I use a straw if some one asks me to taste any drink even at a party. Why? Because I have no intentions of getting herpes whilst answering the question, “does this taste funny to you?” I hope you aren’t laughing.
What you should have learned:
Most recipes follow very simple formulas
Change those formulas to achieve the specific desired results
Recipe books are pretty, slick packages of ideas, not rule (including these)
The tasting straw is one of the most useful bar tools
The Manhattan is the best drink