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: No. That guy is in "Purchasing". A curator is more this guy. 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. 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
[caption id="attachment_10963" align="aligncenter" width="550"] This "table topper" might be a little over the top....[/caption] Every year, Tiki Month becomes a little more of a MeatSpace thing for me. If you look back, the number of posts each February has fallen off a bit each successive year. While I truly believe that I'll reverse that trend this year, my focus on sharing my Tiki learning and experiments face to face with my local friends in and out of the cocktail world continues to grow. It is definitely proof that I'm getting the hang of this. I really think I've perfected my process for "skinning" my basement bar as a Tiki den, by now. Most of the time, my basement bar is a sleek, modern, black and silver joint that could not look less Tiki if it tried. The first iteration of the Tiki look was essentially "Polynesia by Party City". Everything was plastic and bought either at party stores or from Amazon. Still, it was cool, and looked better than it had any right to. I'll get to why in a bit. Here's what the process looked like. Once I had the vibe, I set out, over the next few years, to replace all the plastic with natural materials, and to flesh out the rest of the space. I replaced the grass skirting and plastic leis with bamboo matting, and the screen-printed vinyl sheeting with real bamboo veneer. A portion of the process now looks like this. It also, despite being a million times better looking, is twice as fast to put up and take down. Once the bar itself had enough natural materials to make things seem homey, I dressed up the other focal areas of the basement. I created a jungle in one corner that is otherwise useless and gets some natural light during the day. Home Depot and Lowes usually have an excellent selection of indoor tropical plants at this time of year. A big problem was the focal couch, with it's metropolitan skyline. It is really not very Tiki. And my earlier attempts to dress it up were... lacking. The solution was Mt Pegu Pegu, which you see atop this post. Here it is in action. Looks cool, right? Now at last, we get to the secret sauce of Tiki decor: Lighting. Here is what that volcano looks like with regular lights on. Rule One of lighting your Tiki bar is this: No White Light Anywhere. You can accomplish this two ways: cheaply or expensively. I do it with a little of each. I turn off the halogen bulb fixtures, or dim them to almost nothing. I replace the can light floods with cheap colored floods is a combination of red, blue and green. For extra atmosphere, I splurge on several Phillips Hue lights. Two are inside the Volcano, and two more pair are located strategically around the room. Hue bulbs are expensive, but very cool devices. You can control them individually over your home's wireless network with a variety of apps on phones or computers. Various apps let you control for time, ambient noise, or with music that is playing through the same phone. After an egregiously long search, I use an app called Scintillator. It allows you to run multiple different programs for your bulbs at once, and has a number of very Tiki-appropriate presets. I have a red-orange rolling glow for the volcano interior, a red-purple sunset for overhead, and a green-umber slow pulsing show over the jungle area. The bulbs are expensive, I want to iterate, but the ever-changing lights has a sense of magic and a little bot of outdoors to the environment. Lighting does so many wonderful things. Darkness makes for a pre-civilized feel. You can use what lights you do employ to accent what you want to feature. And you can use the darkness to hide whatever you can't or can't afford to make thoroughly Tiki. With the right lighting, Polynesia by Party City even looks great.abc
So you got a kit of bartender tools for Christmas. Great! Good for you.
Now, make me a drink. A good one.Right. Now that you've gotten some proper tools, it is time to set aside the Long Island Iced Teas and Rum and Cokes and develop a new repertoire of offerings to show that your knowledge has been upgraded just as much as your equipment. My nephew/apprentice suggested I do a quick rundown of easy, classic drinks that can give you an idea of what you can do with those new bar tools. You can find all of these all over the web, and in books of course. But this is a good list that covers the major spirits, and gives you a quick overview of the sort of flavors sophisticated, well-made cocktails can offer you and your friends.
The Simple Daiquiri
Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)Make this guy first. Yes, I know a blender wasn't included in your bar kit. You don't use a blender to make a real Daiquiri. I suggest you start with a real Dauquiri because virtually everyone will like it, and it teaches the most essential home-made ingredient you will need to "master" to make great cocktails: Simple syrup. To make simple syrup, put 1.5 cups of refined white sugar in a small pot on the stove. Add 1 cup of water. Do not stir at any time. Bring the pot just to a clear, roiling boil, and kill the heat. Once it is cool, you are done. For a few cents, you've produced something that people pay eight bucks for. You can increase or decrease the amount of sugar you use in the mix as you get used to using simple, and decide how sweet you like your drinks. Simple will last quite a while in your fridge. If you add in an ounce of vodka as a preservative, it will last every bit as long as you need.
DAIQUIRIAll the recipes in this post will be in "parts" rather than specific measurements. What matters when you make a cocktail, any cocktail, is the ratio between ingredients. How big a part is depends on how large your glasses are, and how many drinks you are making at once. More importantly, you can easily adjust any recipe to your personal taste by modifying the ratios. Many people like a 2:1:1/2 Daiquiri, which will be much more sour. The point is, put in some effort to determine what ratios you like. And since you are putting in this effort to get those ratios right, measure your ingredients. That's why you have those fancy jiggers or measuring cups in your kit!
- 3 parts light rum
- 1 part fresh squeezed lime juice
- 3/4 part simple sugar
The Mighty Manhattan
Spiffy new tools used: Stirring pitcher, bar spoon, jiggers, julep strainerLearn to make good Manhattans to impress the older, very experienced drinkers in your life. Show skill in making these, and a significant portion of the people who employ people in the world will take you just a bit more seriously. And while you are at it, slip one to your younger friends as well. You will open their eyes. The Manhattan can be made with most any North American aged whiskey. But you will likely only be happy with one made with either bourbon or American rye whiskey. This is a bold drink, and benefits from the bolder flavors in those spirits. While you are learning, I'd use bourbon, as you can get a drinkable call brand (e.g. Maker's Mark) for less than an equivalent rye. Once you know what you are doing, buy a bottle of good rye. Lots of us think it makes the superior Manhattan.
MANHATTANThere are three things to learn from making this drink. First, the vermouth makes this drink. And with vermouth, you generally get what you pay for. Spring for the good stuff like Dolin, or Antica Formula if you can get it. And buy it in the smallest bottle you can, because vermouth is a wine, not a liqueur. It goes bad after opening... fast. Keep it in the fridge, and you may get a month out of it before it turns on your drink. As a home bartender, you will pour out a lot of vermouth. Get used to this. The ratio of whiskey to vermouth will vary greatly from drinker to drinker. Second, learn to dash bitters. Do not tentatively tip the bottle over the vessel and jerk back when the first hesitant drops seep out. Similarly, don't just let it pour. A dash is a big, swift, sweeping motion, followed by a quick return to upright. Bitters a cheap. Practice. And clean up the inevitable spills at once, or you will need a scouring pad, because it stains. Start with three dashes in your Manhattan until you know what you like. Third. Do not ever shake a Manhattan. Don't make me come over there.
- 4 parts quality American whiskey
- 1 part Italian vermouth (the sweet, red stuff)
- Angostura Bitters, dash to taste
The Quintessential Martini
Spiffy New Tools Used: Stirring pitcher, bar spoon, jiggers, julep strainerThis is a gin drink, padawan. Put down the vodka. If you've never drunk gin before, I suggest that you try a different gin drink to learn to love the spirit. And if you do drink gin, but have not had a Martini you like, try it again, made right, with fresh, good vermouth. Everything I said about sweet vermouth above, goes double for dry vermouth.
DRY MARTINIMaking your Martini is very similar to making a Manhattan. Martinis are the diamonds of the cocktail world. Like diamonds, the freer they are of inclusions, the more valuable. Shaking a Martini leaves bubbles and shards of ice on the surface. This would be great if your intent is to drown Leonardo DiCaprio in there, but not if you want to drink it. Not only is a stirred Martini more beautiful, it will taste better, as the bubbles injected by shaking will mask and muddle the flavors. And yes, a really good Martini should have a dash or two of orange bitters in it. You won't be able to taste them, but you will be able to taste the difference. People who don't drink Martinis will happily drink your Martinis.
- 3 parts gin
- 1 part French vermouth (the dry, white stuff)
- Orange bitters
The Sumptuous Sidecar
Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)This is a drink every bartender knows how to make, but since few have any idea how to make one well, it is one you can really show off with. It is a brandy drink, so be careful about what you use. Good brandy (sorry America, that usually means French cognac) gets pricy fast, and will be wasted in a Sidecar. But crappy brandy is just a shame in any terms. Keep a bottle of something French with the letters "VS" on it around, and you'll be golden.
- 3 parts cognac
- 1 part Cointreau or other high-end orange liqueur
- 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice
Wait! You told them shaking is all bad n' stuff!It is... sometimes. Other times it is essential. Here is a general rule that will go further to make you a cocktail expert than any other:
If all the ingredients in your drink are clear, then you stir it. If anything is cloudy or viscous (e.g. dairy or citrus) then you shake it.As with the lime in the Daiquiri above, the lemon juice will make the Sidecar cloudy anyway. And opaque ingredients can leave the drink mottled in appearance if you only stir them. Squeeze your own citrus juice. You will quickly learn there is a noticeable difference. Sidecars traditionally have a sugared rim, but some people don't like the extra sweet. Whenever you rim any glass with sugar, or salt as with a Margarita, rim only half to two-thirds of the way around, so drinkers who don't want the rim won't have to partake.
The Not-Really-So-Girly Cosmopolitan
Spiffy New Tools Used: Shaker, Juicer, Jiggers (Hawthorne Strainer)This is probably the greatest vodka cocktail ever invented. And no, a well-made Cosmo is not necessarily a girly drink. Listen guys, if you aren't manly enough to enjoy a pink drink that is this good, well, you are no man.
COSMOPOLITANThis is a good drink to examine to understand that ratios are guidelines. Depending on the cranberry juice brand you use, all of these numbers can change. And of course, your desires for color, sourness, and cranberry-ness will also affect how you put this one together. My ratios here will give a pretty tart, colorful Cosmo. That said, the recipe is pretty bullet-proof. Just understand that the ingredients matter here. Cheap vodka will taste like crap. (Super-expensive vodka will taste exactly the same as the twenty dollar stuff in this and most other drinks.) Do not use Rose's or sourmix instead of fresh lime. Do not use triple sec instead of Cointreau. Use good cranberry. Do not let the sweet pink color and gentle alcoholic impression make you forget that this is a full-power cocktail. Be safe.
- 3 parts vodka
- 1 part Cointreau
- 1/2 part fresh lime juice
- 1 part cranberry juice cocktail
The Old-Fashioned Old Fashioned
Spiffy New Tools Used: Bar spoon, jiggers, vegetable peelerThe Old Fashioned is a drink that is actually easier to make well than it is is to make crappily. Yet every day, thousands of crappy Old Fashioneds are offered to hapless drinkers. Why has this become the norm? Bad booze, that's why. Don't let bad booze happen to you. The first thing you are going to notice about my recipe is that there are no orange wedges or maraschino cherries to be seen. A disgusting mass of crushed fruit is not part of a true Old Fashioned Cocktail. People started adding all that fruit because they were making the drink with liquors like Early Times. Booze like that needs something to cover it up. But if you are using good liquor, why not appreciate it?
OLD FASHIONED COCKTAILThat's it! No muddling, no useless soda water. This is a quick, easy, extremely high-quality cocktail. After a few years of drinks learning, you may well settle on this as your "Gawd! I'm in no mood for crap, but I need a drink now!" tipple. Most people use bourbon in an Old Fashioned. It is an American invention, and bourbon is the American spirit. But most any good quality aged spirit will make a delicious Old Fashioned. For my part, I make a slight majority of my Old Fashioneds with good quality rum. Knock the sugar down a bit when using rum, or if your bourbon is of the sweeter variety.
- 4 parts high-quality brown liquor
- 1 part simple syrup
- several good dashes of Angostura or other complimentary bitters
The Merry Mojito
Spiffy New Tools Used: Bar spoon, jiggers, muddlerOne last suggestion, since you may well have gotten a muddler in your tool kit, and as just noted, it should not be used in making Old Fashioneds. This is actually the most complex of these drinks for your first bar kit, but if you make a killer Mojito, and if you do it with style, you will be King come Summertime.
MOJITOBe careful with muddling. Unlike you may have seen in certain rum ads, you need neither arms like Thor's, nor a half an hour's free time to muddle one Mojito. You are merely bruising the mint, not crushing or tearing it. If you do crush or tear the mint, you will release not only the essential oils you need for flavor and aroma, but also other, less appetizing chemicals. Er, the hotties in short dresses dancing on the tables in the video? Also not required... but recommended. Now, you have your kit of real bar tools. Go out and make yourself some real drinks with them!abc
- 3 parts white rum
- 1 part fresh lime juice
- 1 part simple syrup
- 4 mint leaves per drink
The good photos in this post can be found larger on Rye's site.
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