Drink Fresh – Part One
Last night Albany Jane, Albany John and I went out to Ruby Tuesdays for cocktails. I know that doesn’t really sound like something I would do, but I had a very good reason. And it wasn’t just the free drinks nor was it the cocktails made with açaí liqueur.
I was excited about the Drink Fresh mantra of their cocktail menu and its seasonal offerings.
This was not something I expected from the bar of a national restaurant chain: muddled watermelon, fresh lime juice, and lavender infusions. This was something I needed to see to believe.
And it didn’t hurt that a PR representative of the spirit company was encouraging me to get down there and see what the bar was doing with their product. Later today I’m going to get on the phone with them and fill in a few gaps to bring you the full story next week.
But in the meantime, let’s talk a bit more about drinking fresh.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The only reason cocktails exist is because booze used to be bad. Not all booze, mind you, but most of it. And you needed to do something with this bad booze to make it a bit more palatable. So you made it cold, and you made it sweet, and imbued it with all other kinds of potent and distracting flavors.
But today’s booze is much much better. And a large portion of it requires little doctoring, if any at all. Spirits are now more refined and fastidiously crafted. So if you are going to add anything to them, you should be putting in the best stuff possible.
Often that means fresh, seasonal ingredients. Other times it is equally exquisite mixers. Although I suppose a little of both isn’t the end of the world.
Just this week I made an impromptu cocktail with the leftover garnishes from my Thai dinner: limes, basil and cilantro. Each of these works very nicely with an aromatic gin and a spicy ginger liqueur. Shaken with ice and strained it was a lovely, refreshing summer drink.
The secret to successful cocktail innovation is balance. Yes, the flavors of everything have to work together, but I can’t stress enough the need for some ingredients to keep the others in check. I’m convinced that the margarita is so popular because when made well it is a perfect balance of sweet, sour, bitter and salty (the bitter coming from the lime peel and pith).
Perhaps the quintessential fresh drink is a bellini, primarily because it is less of a cocktail and more an expression of fresh ripe white peaches. It’s a fruit purée enhanced and enlivened with some effervescent and aromatic prosecco.
But really anything fresh and flavorful that you can put in your muddling glass can make a magnificent cocktail, from blueberries, to pear slices, to melon, to lemongrass, et cetera. However, when taking the time to work with very good ingredients the mantra should always be K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) because you really want to taste the fresh ingredients without covering them up behind a veil of sticky liqueur.
I still recall that surprising drink from P.F. Chang’s many moons ago called the Zen Press. It was great gin with muddled cucumber and lime juice with some lemongrass. This fellow suggests there was Sprite involved, but I recall it being on the very dry side, so I’m surprised by this bit of hearsay.
Ruby Tuesday is now muddling cucumbers too. And I promise to tell you more about them next week. In the meantime, Albany Jane may be a bit more forthcoming in the near future. I’m trying to be more diplomatic than usual, mostly because I salute the effort being put into improving their bar program. But there is still work to be done.
However, I did find a drink there that I liked. More on that and the spirit all our cocktails had in common next week.