There are a few reasons why I’m more excited than ever for Mixology Monday this month. First of all, I’m beside myself because our host is Jimmy Patrick, who is a fellow bartender and a good friend.
Bartenders are a surprisingly rare breed in this little cocktail blogger community of ours, so he and I are often awash in a sea of pundits. Sometimes I need to write to Jimmy and ask, “How are we supposed to make 100 of those on a Friday night?”, or “What the heck are they talking about?” when something is too difficult for me to grasp either technically or intellectually. Jimmy also took over my duties when Dewar’s scotch called on my Mixology Monday and told me to pack my bags for a 10 AM flight to Manhattan the next morning. I love Jimmy Patrick.
But I’m especially enthusiastic this month because Jimmy has chosen the theme of variations for his Mixology Monday. The idea really spoke to me, because it sums up exactly what I’ve been obsessing over for the past four weeks at my new job: the makeover of Bel Ami’s cocktail menu.
Taking over an existing drink menu is a bit of a balancing act. While we didn’t want to alienate our customers and servers by jettisoning drinks that had been a part of their experience for many years, we felt that the cocktails needed a facelift. So in the end, we came up with variations of some of the house drinks as a way of introducing a bar program that focused on fresh ingredients, culinary technique, and classic proportions. I’ll illustrate this today with three cocktail case studies.
Case Study #1: The Ginger Lemon Drop
The beautiful, expensive decanter of booze labeled “Ginger-Flavored Vodka” was like a bright red flag to me, and I knew that in order to set the tone of our new cocktail program, this would have to be the first drink to go.
This was the original recipe:
1½ oz Yazi ginger-flavored vodka
¾ oz triple sec
1 oz lemon juice
splash simple syrup
The biggest problem with the Yazi ginger vodka was that it didn’t taste like fresh ginger, which wasn’t going to work with our new plan. So to create something new while still offering a comparable experience, we presented the Gingered Honey Sour: Oregon’s Crater Lake vodka, freshly-grated ginger, honey syrup and fresh lemon juice.
Gingered Honey Sour
2 oz Crater Lake vodka
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz ginger-honey syrup*
Shake ingredients over cracked ice and strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a thin slice of fresh ginger.
*To make ginger-honey syrup, peel and grate 1 ounce (by volume) fresh ginger. Add to 8 ounces honey and 8 ounces boiling water. Let steep for at least one hour, strain through cheesecloth, bottle and refrigerate.
Case Study #2: The Rude Cosmopolitan
A tequila Cosmopolitan is like a raspberry Mojito: it’s a really unimaginative way to spice up what has already become a tired, pedestrian and often poorly-made cocktail.
Here’s the original recipe:
1½ oz well tequila
¾ oz triple sec
splash lime juice
The Rude Cosmo tasted like it sounded: a well-tequila Cosmopolitan. To impart a more intense, fresher cranberry flavor we made a cranberry gastrique, which is a traditional French fruit-and-vinegar sauce commonly served with meats.
We tried a number of tequilas with our gastrique, and settled on Sauza Hornitos for its sweetness and that unmistakable tropical fruit flavor on the palate. Adding some fresh lime juice back in to the cocktail rounded it out nicely.
Flor de Baya
2 oz reposado tequila
¾ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
2 teaspoons cranberry gastrique*
Shake ingredients over cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime.
*To make cranberry gastrique, boil 1½ cups white vinegar with 1½ cups sugar, 10 oz fresh cranberries, the juice and zest of 1 lemon, 1 star anise and 4 cloves for 20 minutes, using a wooden spoon to help break up cranberries. Strain mixture through cheesecloth, bottle and refrigerate.
Case Study #3: The Sazerac Manhattan
Shaking Sazerac whiskey with a splash of well vermouth is a lot like shaking a baby: first there’s going to be a lot of foam, and then you’ll be staring death in the face. Finishing the job with a maraschino cherry is quite literally adding insult to injury.
The original recipe:
2 oz Sazerac 6-Year rye
Splash sweet vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
We updated the Manhattan by swapping the rye for a much bolder Rittenhouse 100-proof, bumped up the vermouth and switched to Carpano Antica Formula, added a dash of our housemade orange bitters, and finished the drink with a housemade brandied cherry. The name comes from the fact that the bar is located in the Midtown Marketplace.
2 oz Rittenhouse 100-proof rye
1 oz Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
Dash orange bitters
Dash Angostura bitters
Stir first three ingredients gently with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Finish with brandied cherry.
*To make brandied cherries, strain a 16-ounce jar pitted cherries and reserve syrup. Reduce syrup by half in small saucepan. Allow to cool. Add ½ cup brandy and two tablespoons Maraschino liqueur to cherries along with reduced syrup. Refrigerate for one week before serving.
So there you have it. Cocktail menus like the one I inherited can be found all over the country these days, but they’re never beyond repair. It just takes a few fresh and natural ingredients, simple culinary techniques, and some very basic mixological proportions to give a drink menu a makeover.
Thanks for hosting, Jimmy. This was my favorite Mixology Monday so far.