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Candy Cocktails

October 22, 2010

Before we begin, I have to say that I love Drink Up NY.  In some ways I think people can be harder on the ones they love.  When you know what someone or something is capable of, when you know how good they can be, it is a bit more disappointing to see them miss the mark.  

That said, yesterday I was catching up on Twitter, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I read the most upsetting thing from one of the must unexpected places.  What follows is the first part of our dialogue.

DUNY: New Cocktail Combo: Peanut Butter Cup – Castries Peanut Rum Creme Liqueur, Meletti Cioccolato & Sobieski Vanilia Vodka
FLB: Oh no. No, no, no. [Holds head in hands and silently weeps for humanity]
DUNY: what’s wrong with something candy-inspired for Halloween?
FLB: Nothing is wrong with candy inspired. It is candy *sweet* cocktails that give mixed drinks a bad name.

Now you may not be like me.  You may look at the Peanut Butter Cup cocktail and think it sounds perfectly lovely.  In fact, you may want to click on the link and buy all three bottles of the stuff so you can make it for your Halloween party next weekend.

I’m sure you will be surprised that I’ve got very strong feelings about sweet drinks.  Let me try and explain why this is a problem.

A long long long time ago when my friends and I started drinking, we started making cocktails.  All the other kids were drinking beers or doing shots.  We were making daiquiris.  And by daiquiris, I’m not talking about the classic combination of rum, lime and sugar, shaken and strained.  The daiquiris that we enjoyed back then were fruity and blended.

Cold sweet drinks are great for kids.  The cold numbs the palate and reduces the aromatics of the spirits.  And you know what they say about a spoonful of sugar.  Oftentimes the goal of these drinks is to pack a bunch of booze in a glass but not to taste it.

These drinks have taken the stuffing out of cocktails for decades.  

Great cocktails, like many fantastic foodstuffs, are about balance and contrast.  The sour is a classic example where the goal is for the base spirit to express its character, but to be brightened with a bracing level of acidity, which in turn is kept in check with a more modest dose of sugar.

When made properly the daiquiri, margarita, and whiskey sour are just a few of the cocktails that follow this timeless formula.

Besides sours, there are aromatic cocktails, which tend to be the ones I make for myself most often.  These are drinks that tend to involve bitters, vermouth, or liqueurs.  But like sours these cocktails are all about balance.  Is there a sweet component to these drinks?  Absolutely.  But they have depth and complexity should you take the time to actually taste them.

Sweet drinks tend to border on the phantasmagorical.  They’ll have swirls of chocolate & caramel syrup in glasses rimmed with cookie crumbs and topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.  Or they will be impossibly packed with odd and artificially flavored or colored booze like peach schnapps, midori, crème de banana, root beer schnapps, apple pucker, goldschlagger, coconut rum, blackberry brandy, et al.

Still, I can be a fun guy.  I meant what I said about having nothing against candy-inspired cocktails, especially for a holiday that’s all about candy.  And that got me thinking about how I would go about making a candy-inspired drink without it being too sweet.

Please note, these are all just brainstorms and none of them have been field-tested.

The one confection that is most evocative of Halloween for me is candy corn.  It has been so long, I can’t tell you exactly what it tastes like, but I think it’s just sugar.  But it was never the taste I was into.  As a kid I loved the layering of the three fall colors, orange, yellow and white.

To that end, a layered drink that incorporated these three colors in a narrow glass would be completely inspired by the candy, and can be executed in a way that isn’t too sweet.  I chose gin for white, even though it’s clear, Aperol for orange and yellow chartreuse. The hope would be that the bitterness of the Aperol would keep in check some of the sugar of the chartreuse, and both should play nicely with the gin.

The build would have to be in reverse candy corn order, with the white on bottom and the yellow on top.

Good and Plenty is the other candy that called out asking to be included in this game.  After all, there are a lot of anise-based spirits to play around with.  Sure, this may have been your least favorite candy as a kid, but now you are all grown up.  Hopefully you aren’t afraid of the complexities of black licorice.

My version stays on the sweet side being based on sambuca, but gets a ghoulish twist both in color and reputation from an added dash of absinthe.  The absinthe should also help to bring the sweetness level down a bit.

If you are playing around with this idea in advance of Halloween, and it’s a bit too sweet, try substituting ouzo for the sambuca, and adding a small dash of simple syrup before chilling and straining the drink into a glass.

As it turned out Drink Up NY liked my cocktail ideas and respected my opinion on sweet cocktails. And if it weren’t for them, I would not have had the chance to write this rant and hopefully change people’s mind about sticky sugary drinks. So all’s well that ends well.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 22, 2010 10:08 am

    Well, as you know, I’m a martini man, but a long time agao I enjoyed two classic “candy” cocktails that were really good: one was a Brandy Alexander, and the other was a Grasshopper.

  2. October 22, 2010 6:54 pm

    Sweet drinks are the only kind I’ll drink, ’cause honestly, I’m not much of a drinker, and the taste of alcohol is off-putting. The sweetness hides the taste of the alcohol, so you can enjoy a drink with your friends, and perhaps a buzz, without your nose wrinkling.

  3. October 22, 2010 9:49 pm

    A good recipe I got years ago for the Good and Plenty is equal parts Sambucca and Chambord. Not my thing, but it’s popular.

  4. October 22, 2010 9:53 pm

    I am a fairly new reader (post-Freshly Pressed), but I was just thinking that your take on mixed drinks is very much in line with your take on coffee. Purity and complexity of flavors, no masking. Your cringing at a mixed drink layered with chocolate and caramel and topped with whipped cream (I’m assuming) would be on par with a ‘specialty espresso drink’ prepared similarly. They both avalanche over the base flavor (spirit or coffee bean).
    Personally, the only time I would indulge in a drink like that would be in place of a dessert. As a rule, I stay away from sweet drinks.
    I have to say that both of your suggestions for ‘candy-inspired’ drinks sound intriguing though, especially the licorice. If I were having a Halloween party this year, I’d be in the kitchen now for some field testing!

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