For years I’ve been sharing the gospel of cocktail technique. On my blog, in my book, here in this column, and during talks around the country and around the world. Cocktail technique is so often based in rules, particularly rules of science (or, more accurately, kitchen science) that you would think that I’m a hard stickler for rules. And, sometimes I am. But I also think rules are made to be broken by those who fully understand them, so I’ve also spent my fair share of time breaking some of the most common strictures of the cocktail world. Here are four that I think are worth breaking, and why.
1. DON’T USE BOURBON IN A MANHATTAN
If there’s one drink that inspires some of the most blind rage amongst self-appointed cocktail “geeks”, it’s got to be the Manhattan. When made even slightly differently than dogmatic law prescribes (such as with bourbon in place of rye) you’re forced to listen to an endless diatribe about how the roundness of bourbon could never stand up to sweet vermouth and how the spiciness of rye makes it the only spirit acceptable in the drink. Well, sure. But have you ever actually tried it? Go ahead and break that rule, a Manhattan made with good bourbon is a thing of beauty. I reach for Jim Beam Bonded bourbon in a Manhattan about half the time.
2. SPIRITS DRIVEN DRINKS SHOULD ALWAYS BE STIRRED
We’re taught to stir spirit-driven drinks, and to shake cocktails that contain fresh juice, cream, or egg whites. And sure, who really wants a stirred Whiskey Sour? Nobody, to be sure. But are there sprit driven drinks that can stand a shake? A Negroni certainly can, in my opinion. But what do I know, I like mine blended in the summertime. That’s right: take that Negroni and throw it in a blender with some ice. You might have a hard time going back.
3. DON’T MUDDLE FRUIT IN AN OLD FASHIONED
I’ve long been vocal about my disdain for the “no muddled fruit in an Old Fashioned” rule. Have we not learned there’s more than one way to make a cocktail? This “rule” is broken so often that it’s a way of life in Wisconsin. I’m happy to take mine muddled, on crushed ice, with some nice sweet American brandy. Look for the Heaven Hill/Christian Brothers Sacred Bond, 100 proof bonded brandy coming out now. It’s breathtaking in a muddled Old Fashioned.
4. DRINKS WITH EGG WHITES SHOULD ALWAYS BE SERVED UP
And finally, can we dispense with this notion that serving a drink containing egg whites is somehow a crime against nature? Egg whites were employed by early cocktail bartenders to add a creamy mouthfeel and soft texture to their drinks, not to put a 3-inch egg white head on them. Adding a dollop of egg whites is a beautiful thing. Go ahead and putt that drink on the rocks if you want. I promise that it won’t hurt.
Sure, I don’t blindly advocate for breaking the rules of food and drink if you haven’t bothered to learn them in the first place. But once you’ve employed them a thousand times, as I have, isn’t it sort of fun to see what else you can do with them?