Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Hour in the Cocktail Lounge

It's been a little while since the mixmaster presided, but the delay has been worth the wait.

Recently I encountered a bartender at a local posh Italian restaurant, who thought he knew everything. He knew all the traditional mixes, and some of his new inventions were on the drink menu. Some barmen think they know more than the customers do about drink combinations, and resent being asked to mix a concoction with which they're unfamiliar. In this case, I asked the bartender to combine two ingredients which he'd never considered together before. After hearing me call out the first two ingredients, he interjected "I don't think that would work. Let me suggest a variation . . . ." I told him I couldn't make him prepare the drink, either he'd do it or he wouldn't. "I just don't think you know how this would taste," he replied. So I told him to forget the whole thing, I wouldn't have a cocktail before my meal. He jerked his head up like a prideful horse and drifted over to another customer. 

I might have told him I had mixed hundreds of different cocktails in my life, and probably knew more about different drink combinations than most bartenders. Mixing drinks doesn't require a Ph.D., but familiarity does matter. Regarding every customer as a rube is one attitude you occasionally find in taverns. James Salter had a funny take on bad bartenders in one of his stories; one character confides to another about their bartender "all these out-of-work actors think they're everyone's friend!" I often wonder what these bartenders really do for a living, or what they'd prefer to be doing. Either they take their work too seriously, or not seriously enough. I'm never sure which. Some seem to think the customer is never right. 

Here are five recipes which have no precedent in the literature of mixology, to my knowledge. So beware, you're entering unfamiliar territory. I don't have a license to mix, and have never taken a bartending course. I can't flip the stainless steel in the air with the greatest of ease, or pour from a great height, but I can shake with the best. My cocktail glasses will always arrive a lovely frosty white. The portions will always be generous, and I'll never water down the goods. 

They aren't named, but I'll have to think of something, if I ever publish them in the collection I'm planning.

This first is a slight variation on one I posted previously, utilizing the combination of Green Chartreuse and Midori (both deep green), adding rum instead of just dry vermouth. It's another winner, perhaps a bit stronger than the earlier version.

3 Parts Dry White Rum
2 Parts Dubonnet Blanc
1 Part Green Chartreuse
1 Part Midori
1 Part fresh lemon juice


This one is of a clarity and simplicity that suggests a German white wine, the pear and cherry uniting in perfect harmony. 

4 parts Tanqueray #10
1 Part pear liqueur
1 part maraschino liqueur
1 part lime

garnish translucent lime slice


Here's Midori again. Though many bars have Midori, they don't use it much in mixes. There are other proprietary melon liqueurs, and I suppose that there is little to distinguish them from one another. The colors of drinks are a nothing but a gimmick, since a little food coloring can do the trick. Blue Curacao is a traditional liqueur, but the color has nothing to do with the orange basis--it's just an artifice. Making cocktails with colors is a fad. Sometimes, if the color of a cocktail is unpleasant, as they sometimes can be, this can be remedied with a little food coloring. Not something I've ever tried, you understand.    

4 parts white rum
1 part Midori
1 part pomegranate
1 part lime juice


Who'd a'thunk that you could mix praline with orange and lemon? I wouldn't have thought so either, until I threw this combination together. But the result is a revelation. Praline liqueur, for those who don't know, is made to mimic the flavor of praline candy, the kind they sell in New Orleans candy-shops. A dense caramel chock-full of peanuts. When I was a boy, my stepfather used to call it "butter brickle" which may be what they called it in the Midwest. According to Wikipedia, butter brickle is an ice-cream, not a candy. Don't be afraid to try this one, but you'll need praline liqueur to do it.  

4 parts gold rum
1 part blood orange liqueur
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 part praline liqueur


This one uses an aperitif called Genepi des Alpes, an odd fortified goods that's made in France. At 40% alcohol, it's potent, and can be taken straight, but as a mixer, it adds its own specific herbal essence flavor. It's made in the Savoy region, near Italy, where the wormwood that forms its primary flavor component is harvested.     

3 parts sweet vermouth
1 part Yellow Chartreuse
1 part cherry liqueur
1 part Genepi des Alpes
1 part fresh lemon juice

All of these concoctions are seductive and irresistible. You don't want to like them too much, but just one, of an afternoon, or evening, when you don't plan to do any driving, is a pleasure not to be denied. I've saved you the trouble of wondering whether they'd work, since I've put each of them to the taste test, and all have passed with flying colors. 



Ed Baker said...

sounds like you are talking/speaking to
poetry... at it s besets mixological ... conglomeration ?

this bartender that you encountered ? most likely
has a post-graduate degree in post-avant liquoristics?

JforJames said...

Thanks for these cocktail recipes. I'm going to get more adventuresome. I suppose if I don't like the drink, pouring praline liqueur over vanilla ice cream would be a good way to kill the bottle.

Curtis Faville said...

Dear Jfor:

The praline is a perfect sweet dessert liqueur.

Normally, mixing praline with fruit would sound weird, but this one defies ordinary wisdom.

Give it a try.