Category: General Cocktails
General Cocktails
Rule 2

Outstanding Video on Cocktail First Principals

I just want to highlight an outstanding new video from The Mixology Guys on the Small Screen Network's YouTube cocktail channel. Embedded below it is a brisk 90 seconds of slow-mo drink pr0n and four bedrock principals in making any drink the best it can be. For those who can't watch it for whatever reason, here are the four elements that go into a truly good drink:
  1. Mix Ingredients. You might say, "duh", but until you understand why this is important, you don't really understand the Dao of cocktails. The purpose of making drinks is to produce a potable that is better in some fashion than any and all of its component ingredients. A few years back, I went to a session at Tales of the Cocktail where some of my favorite big names in the liquor industry discussed how seldom they actually drank cocktails any more. The gist of the argument from much of the panel was, "the distiller's art has reached previously unheard of heights. There are so many beautifully crafted spirits out there, it makes sense to enjoy them on their own to fully appreciate them." Fair enough. There are indeed many truly fine, expensive bottles of whiskey, brandy, rum, and even gin out there that are so crafted as to make them immune to the "improvement" of the mixed drink. But if you can spend your life drinking nothing but ultra-premium liquor with naught but the occasional splash of water or ice, you are either a wealthy alcoholic... or a brand ambassador. (Some might argue that the difference is that brand ambassadors are seldom wealthy.)
  2. Dilution. Enough said. Until you understand the effects of dilution, you can't really understand how to make a really great drink. Anyone who sneers at dilution on general principals doesn't know the first damn thing about cocktails.
  3. Temperature. Make sure your cold drinks are cold. (And your hot ones actually hot.) Ever get into a really good argument with someone and turn back to your Sidecar, only to discover it has gotten warm? Ew.
  4. Aeration of Ingredients. This is both perhaps the best element of this video, and the only part I have a quibble with. For the vast majority of mixed drinks, air is critical to making it the best it can be, for the reasons they outline beautifully. But not for all drinks. I strictly adhere to the "clear ingredients—no shake" credo. I like my Martinis stirred. I will call Child Services and report you if you shake your Manhattans. I don't muddle fruit in my Old Fashioneds, so I also don't add any soda. Air is amazing in what it can do to for drinks that can benefit from it. 90% of the drinks I make can, and I take great care to ensure that I apply aeration liberally there. But please, please remember that this rule is NOT universal!
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Bartenders
General Cocktails
Marketing
Rule 4

The Next Word We Need To Banish: Curated

Can we talk? It is time to recognize that another word has gotten out of control. It is rampaging through the cocktail (and general culinary) industry, making those who employ it look insufferably twee. And worse, making the entire industry which is perilously close to embracing it look twee as well. I mean more twee than craft cocktails already kind of are. To be sure, this word is also being abused in many other arenas as well, but I write about cocktails, so that's where it pisses me off the most. It's just pretentious as hell. I'm talking about our sudden need to claim that we "curate" everything. Stop it. First off, most people don't know what it means, even if they just read the bare bones definition a few minutes ago. Most folks hear curate or curator and think of it as someone who collects and presents rare and precious things in museums. The positive image that probably lurks in their subconscious when they think of curators, especially if they are considering identifying themselves as such, is this guy: indiana-jones-curator No. That guy is in "Purchasing". A curator is more this guy. X1QAr1GR_400x400 Not quite the same, huh? But either way, the subtext cocktail types who employ the word curate want to portray is collecting, organizing, presenting, and protecting things that represent the great works of a civilization. You know, as in, "This belongs in a museum!" And that is the subtext most people who see the word employed have as well. And that's the problem. A cocktail menu, I don't care it is Dead Rabbit's or Smuggler's Cove's, is not a collection of the great works of a civilization. Sure, the Manhattan may well be the single greatest culinary achievement of American civilization. I happen to think it is. But let's face it, your list of house-created seasonal recipes is not the Louvre. It's not even Ripley's. And even if a cocktail menu is made up of nothing but time-honored masterworks, prepared to perfection... it's a list of drinks. And putting them on a menu does nothing to protect them for posterity. It is a colossally pretentious word for a list of products available for sale in, for practical purposes, unlimited quantities. Even if you have a "carefully curated selection of rare whiskeys", it is still a bunch of bottles on a shelf or three. If a particular bottle is still made, it is something for sale, again, in relatively unlimited quantities. If it has been discontinued, the purpose of offering it for sale is ultimately to destroy it permanently. None of all this is curation. The most charitable interpretation of this phenomenon is just another cutesy element in an industry that already dances so close with being "precious", a chaperone needs to swing by with a ruler to separate them for the craft's own good. JAEb383 At it's worst, this "curation" fetish is self-important, "Tulip Bubble" kind of thinking that encourages a dangerous disconnect between the value of a product as perceived by customers and by producers. Whether you are Le Lion de Paris or Bob's Bar (The Cultural Hub of the Midwest!), You. Are. A. Business. You are not a revered academic institution. Seriously guys, this term is creeping into use by people I both like and highly respect. Stop it. You are only damaging your industry and your own enterprise. And looking just a bit like an ass doing it.abc
General Cocktails
Marketing
reviews
Rule 4

A Review of That New Fancy Cocktail Bar Near You

That Bar I want to review today that new bar that recently opened nearby. It is actually a restaurant, but the main architectural feature is the bar, which dominates the wall. The food is really quite good, though a little weird in some parts of the menu. But as this is a cocktail blog, I'll concentrate on the drinks, which are what make this place part of a newer phenomenon anyway. A tremendous amount of thought and skill went into the physical design of the bar. The long, sweeping extent of the bartop, with its natural surfaced top, sends the message, "this is a place for serious drinks of substance." The seating is also striking and unusual, but I think they spent a bit too much time and money on the unique legacy look, and not quite enough on the comfortable place to park my butt functionality. About half the stools wobble a little bit. When a cocktail lover like myself sits down, the huge wall of the back bar shows so much promise it can't help but bring a smile of anticipation to the face. There are tons of bottles back there, but no rows of identical flavored vodkas. There is no prominent display of any major, commercial brands, actually. They are all there, even the vodkas, but the bottles filling the featured spaces are a varied collection of the kind of product that is the hallmark of modern craft cocktails. Bottles from micro-distilleries, especially the local ones, are front and center, surrounded by an exotic imported gin, an Irish whiskey you don't often see, and a bottle or two of Whistle Pig I think, or maybe it was some good Templeton. I'm not sure, but they have some good rye. The rum selection is a little meager, but hey... There are a number of the more useful liqueurs, all topped off by the real clinchers of modern cocktail insiderdom, a bottle of Fernet, another amaro or two, and a full bottle of Creme de Violette. In the bartender's workstation near your seat, you see a selection of bitters. Most of them are Fee's though. I like Joe Fee a lot, and many of his products are extremely useful, but I do get a little sad when I see a bitters tray that is filled with a lone bottle of Ango and a bunch of Joe's kids. Whatever, the menu is very promising. A single sheet, the back side is all beverages. The front is a fairly mouth-watering array of that slightly weird food I mentioned above. (Even if you are only there for a drink or two, get the fries.) On the side that matters for this review, there are a bunch of micro-brews. Someone has gone to great lengths to ensure that each one has been carefully selected so that a guy like me will have never heard of any of them. But the hops nerd three stools down will be making excited noises, which is as much recommendation as I need if suds are your thing. The wine offerings are perfunctory. The cocktail list will reignite your anticipation. It is a nice collection of standards offered correctly (the Margarita is served up, not blended, for instance), and some appealing sounding house cocktails. Only a few of them are vodka and sweet things in a glass, the rest are made with real spirits. One of the better bartenders downtown consulted on the list from what I hear, so there is a nice, broad selection. The renewed anticipation is a problem, since it may take a bit for one of the surprisingly large number of bartenders to actually take your order. The problem isn't sloth. Everybody back behind the stick is working their butts off. But the head bartender is a grizzled vet of maybe 28 years old, and his underlings, all identically attired in jeans and black logo-bearing t-shirts, are fresh-faced and, um, fresh-fingered. When you watch them work, you can see that they each need to think about each move as they do it, work on only one drink at a time, and spend time searching each time they turn to get a bottle from that marvelous, promising back bar.... They aren't fast, is what I'm saying. The lead guy seems to know his stuff reasonably well, but he's spending most of his time taking care of the servers or answering questions from his assistants. The house originals from the menus, when they finally arrive, are quite tasty. They are not up to the finest offerings from Dead Rabbit, but they don't cost sixteen bucks, and this isn't a multimillion dollar signature bar in lower Manhattan either. But the test of a good bar is how they deliver drinks beyond the 14 menu items they make over and over again. That is the terrain that separates the craft cocktail bar from the place that has ambitious cocktails. This place has ambitions.... Try ordering an Aviation, or some other new era rediscovery. The results, after further delay to consult with the Boss on its recipe, will not excite. I don't mind a bartender consulting a recipe book or app. I do it myself on drinks I've been making for ten years. But go to the book. Don't ask over the shoulder of head bartender who is frantically trying to get orders out to the servers who are stacked up over the service bar station like FedEx jets over Memphis airport at 3AM. If he knows the answer, and if he gets it right, and if your bartender hears it correctly, it still will take forever and still be spotty in the results. I really shouldn't harp on the service speed in and of itself. I'm a Craft Cocktail™ guy. We fetishize slow service as the hallmark of hand-crafted excellence. A really good cocktail bartender takes her time making a drink because she is being exacting, and frankly because she understands what is happening in the tin or glass before her. The staff here is taking a long time because they don't. The jiggering is neither crisp nor consistent; the shake is either just long enough to combine the ingredients, or so long as to over-dilute the drink; and the stirs last until something else distracts the bartender. They don't pipette the drinks, so they don't know whether, in their distraction, they got it right. And if they did pipette the drinks, I'm not sure they have the palate developed yet to judge the results, especially for a drink they don't often make. To be clear, this staff is a bunch of good, hard-working kids. They deserve a good tip. They are friendly and genuinely want to serve you a quality drink. The problem is that they don't know if they are or not, and they don't know that they don't know. The place isn't very near the main entertainment district, so most of the clientele don't often hit any of the really good cocktail places in town, if ever. They don't know that they are getting really pretty ordinary cocktails, billing themselves as this new wave of Craft Cocktails. In fact, chances are a Manhattan they order here would be no better than, if not worse, than the one they'd get from Steve at the dive bar a few blocks over whose t-shirt has stains older than the staff here. This upsets me because for most of these customers, this is their sole experience with what is billed as Craft Cocktails. What they will get here will be OK, of course. And certainly a slight cut above what they are used to from their usual haunts. But what they are missing is the magic. And because they haven't had it anywhere else, they won't know they are missing it. They won't insist that this place keep training hard to eventually deliver it. And worst of all, won't go looking for it and reap the enriching rewards of doing so. Instead, all they will remember will be the fries. They really are good. So what's the name of this place, and where is it? Well, this is a bad review, and I don't name names in bad write-ups on this blog. It's just a policy of mine. But more to the point, this isn't a review of any specific place. It's a review of hundreds of bars all over the country. Most of them are in suburban areas, but not all. The details may differ a bit from those in this post, but not much. I guarantee that you've hit a few of these places yourself. And they piss me off. Every time I got to one for the first time, I'm first disappointed, then grumpy. I see a joint where the owners are simply chasing a trend that they just. don't. get. Worse, I see a whole bunch of customers, some portion of which might really catch the drinks bug if this place delivered, and a lot more of which would appreciate and patronize other premium bars if their experience here was a higher value. Instead, I view a place like this as almost poisoning its own micro market area. If they fail, locals will say of the next place, "They say they are doing craft cocktails? Didn't the place down the street have those? They weren't anything special. And they went OB, so I doubt this one will work either." Worse, the place might succeed. Then it will keep reinforcing the image of mediocrity in craft cocktails and make it even harder for someone else to come in and do it right.abc
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