Skip to content

The Unfussy Cocktail

January 28, 2011

TV is wonderful stuff. Most of the commercials are crap, but there are really some great shows being made these days. The thing is that I rarely ever watch them when they air. It’s a combination of many factors, none of which need to be addressed right now.

Instead of watching TV live, for serialized dramas I like to bide my time and wait. Then I can watch multiple seasons in the span of a couple of months. It saves me from counting down the days to the next episode and dealing with the disappointments of reruns and preemptions, not to mention the annoyance of commercials.

That said, I’m in the middle of the third season of Mad Men, and really enjoying the hell out of it.

There was one scene where Don was mixing himself a drink at Roger’s wedding. He was making an Old Fashioned. And for the most part, it was an effortless affair. Sure he had to muddle a sugar cube with some bitters, but the drink was quick to prepare, and he could hold a conversation while assembling it.

This is the gold standard of cocktail making, and it’s within your grasp.

Cocktails are all about making booze palatable. Seriously. Cocktails are cold, which dampens their flavor. Cocktails add a spoonful of sugar, which as Mary Poppins has taught you, “helps the medicine go down.” Cocktails are also diluted with water, regardless of whether they are shaken or stirred, and this dilution reduces the heat of the base spirit’s alcohol.

The basic components to make a cocktail are a base spirit, something flavorful, something sweet, and ice. Things start getting complicated when fruit or some other produce is involved. So let’s leave anything that was recently alive out of the equation for right now.

The thing that is flavorful and the thing that is sweet can sometimes even be the same thing.  This is the advantage of liqueurs and flavored syrups. A liqueur is like a flavored syrup that will last indefinitely. They are wonderful, but can be expensive. Any fool can make a good flavored syrup, using sugar, water and a flavoring agent. And making a ginger syrup with fresh ginger root and black peppercorns is certainly mere economical than buying a bottle of Canton Ginger Liqueur. But that stuff is fabulous and worth every penny of its $30 price tag.

In the gripping cold of an upstate New York winter, warming drinks are in demand.

Both ginger and bourbon play nicely together. So one simple drink would be to combine the two.  My go-to proportion for liqueurs is 1:4. That means I would add 1 tablespoon of liqueur to 4 tablespoons of base spirit. You may want a touch more sweetness, but that becomes a matter of personal preference. And for God’s sake, if you are combining two spirits, stir that drink.

Only shake if you are using citrus, eggs, or other ingredients that need extra help being incorporated into the drink.

These kinds of simple combinations can provide you with a different drink for every day of the month, and then some. Gin with a bit of Chartreuse. Scotch with spoonful of Drambuie.  Bourbon with a hint of coffee liqueur. Vodka with a touch of Chambord. Brandy spiked with crème de cacao. You get the picture.

And from there you can play around with bitters: The anise of Peychaud’s, the warm sweet spice of Angostura, or the deep orange of Fee’s.

Remember, the goal here isn’t necessarily inventing a drink that’s going to be the next Martini. The goal is to make something good without working at it too hard. It’s important to understand the tools at your disposal and the role they play. And trust your instincts about what tastes good together.

Then you can start serving up delicious cocktails, without breaking a sweat. Just make sure to keep it simple, and you’ll be just fine.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2011 4:58 pm

    One of my favorite winter cocktails is a dark and stormy. Ginger beer isn’t a liqueur, but I think it qualifies as sweet and flavorful.

  2. January 29, 2011 12:33 am

    Season three is, by far, my favorite (I mean, it’s only out of four so far, but still).

    I’m not sure how accurate these are, but I find them pretty and fun:

    I cannot lie. I started trying different cocktails after watching a lot of Mad Men. Before that it was anything someone in Brideshead Revisited might have ordered.

  3. January 29, 2011 1:19 am

    Here, here. Again, I’ll second you on your wisdom (not that you need my seconding). I think the finest drinks in life are those that are ready when you need or crave them. Tonight was a demerara sugar cube and copious amounts of Dandelion and Burdock bitters at the bottom of my favorite cheap German sparkling — two seconds to throw together, but it can put a lovely tint on the evening.

  4. January 29, 2011 8:37 pm

    Just the other day I had to google what an Alexandria cocktail was from an episode of Mad Men (Peggy ordered it on a date and it looked similar to a white russian). I’ve been reading your blog for about three weeks now, looking at the archives and I became absolutely giddy when I came across the Mad Men reference.

  5. January 29, 2011 10:50 pm

    My cocktail of choice is usually just a martini but filthy and for some reason, a lot of bartenders seem surprised that a woman wants a martini made with gin. It’s so strange. However, you can also have a lot of fun when you order it: “I’ll have a martini *eyebrow raise* and make it extra dirty.”


  1. The Buck | 12 Bottle Bar
  2. The Makeshift | 12 Bottle Bar
  3. The Buck | 12 Bottle Bar

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: