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Drink Fresh – Part One

July 22, 2011

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.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. AddiesDad permalink
    July 22, 2011 9:12 pm

    Interesting that the Ruby Tuesday’s in Times Square has a bar on the second floor that is home to a “mixologist” who is gaining quite the following. It’s become the go to bar for the afterwork crowd in the area.

  2. Ellen Whitby permalink
    July 22, 2011 9:49 pm

    I am eager to read your full post about the bar revolution at Ruby Tuesday. In the meantime, maybe you could explain what muddled is. It would be a welcome distraction from all the mosquitoes sharing the night air with me.

  3. July 23, 2011 11:05 am

    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.

    That sounds delicious.

    Living on the park, means putting up with Tulip Fest every year. This year, as our kiss off to Tulip Fest, my husband and I hosted some of our friends for an impromptu Derby-watching party. We decided last minute to do this, and I of course wanted a mint julep (my husband was content to drink straight bourbon). The Price Chopper was out of mint, and driving anywhere during Tulip Fest was out of the question, so I thought I was going to be watching the Derby sans cocktail.

    Then, one of our friends who came over (who, though she grew up in Jersey, her entire extended family is from Georgia, so she is very much a “Southern girl”) and mentioned that she read in Southern Living (her favorite magazine, of course) that basil could sometimes be substituted for mint, and though it would change the flavor profile, it would still complement the dish. Hopeful that this would be true for cocktails as well, we made a Basil Julep.

    They were stunning.

    Now, I want to try more cocktails with basil, because it’s not something I ever would have thought to put in a cocktail before.

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