Well, now that we’ve covered how to avoid and/or compensate for a hangover should we overindulge, let’s get on to the business of appreciating all (okay, some) of what the world of cocktails have to offer.
Of course I understand some people have religious, dietary or other reasons and restrictions as to why they don’t drink alcohol. (If you find yourself in that group, no worries: we’ll cover non-alcoholic libations next week.) But many time I’ve hear folks say: I don’t like the taste of alcohol. And I’d hazard a guess that the majority of them, and maybe you’re one, were just served a bad drink.
If you’re only encounters with a mixed drink or cocktail were at a college party or ladies’ night at a local bar, chances are you didn’t experience the best the world of cocktails has to offer. If you’re only taste of a margarita was from a slushy machine at a dive Mexican joint, chances are there’s some improvement to be had. And if you’ve ever started a night with a Long Island Iced Tea (and remembered nothing else), you could stand to give the bar menu another shot.
And let’s talk about shots for a moment: I’ve never been fond of them. Yes, I did an entire series of so-called shots, but my recipes were merely cocktails small in stature but big on flavor. And they were meant to be sipped, not shot. Shots are for getting drunk as quickly as possible, and I’m not really down with that.
Back to the cocktails, though. It’s pretty impossible to distill (okay, I meant that pun) all there is to know about cocktail appreciation into 1000 words or less, but I’m going to break it down to a few important points.
They say you get what you pay for and that often translates to if you want quality, you have to pay for it: a lot. This is not always the case in alcohol (think of how many excellent bottles of wine can be found for $10 or less) but it does, often, pay to go “top shelf” or premium if you really want to enjoy your drink. For instance, if you’ve ever been served a Cosmopolitan made with Triple Sec (a low-cost type of orange liqueur) and didn’t like it? Consider trying one made with Cointreau (a higher-cost and -quality orange liqueur)–the difference will astound you!
Another good example is vodka. A really good vodka might make your mouth tingle a bit but it shouldn’t burn in the back of your throat. A jug of cheap vodka will need a lot of mixer to make the drink smooth, but a good vodka can be sipped and enjoyed for it’s bracing quality (though good vodka also has little to no flavor–on purpose–so sipping an all-vodka martini has always baffled me).
Which brings us to balance, which can be achieved as much in the recipe of a cocktail as in the technique of your bartender. Since, again, my qualification for a good cocktail is one that doesn’t beat me over the head with the alcohol, the cocktails I love as well as the ones I design make use of mixers (non-alcoholic ingredients) to balance the alcohol. Â This also makes a cocktail a bit easier to customize for individual drinkers. If it’s all-alcohol, there’s not really much you can do to tone it down, a mixer allows you to add a bit more if it’s going to suit the recipient’s palette.
Where technique comes in is with the mixing. Traditionally, cocktails that are all-alcohol are stirred (yes, think of Bond’s “shaken, not stirred” line), whereas those with mixers included are shaken. There are always exceptions to this rule, of course. Drinks that include carbonated beverages are shaken without the soda, perhaps, or not shaken at all so that the bubbles are still present. And I’ve been known to shake an all-alcohol cocktail because a well-shaken cocktail gets up to 25% of it’s volume from the melted ice, and sometimes that’s all you need. I also include garnishes and rimming glasses with salt, sugar or other items a mark of technique.
Finally, alcohol is an amazing conveyor of flavor. Don’t believe me? Think about vanilla. Yes, the vanilla that you use in baking. It is actually a very low-proof alcohol that serves to contain and confer the flavor of costly vanilla beans better than any other liquid. You can even make your own vanilla with a few beans and a little brandy, rum or vodka (and a fair amount of time–but the results are amazing).
With all that said, why drink alcohol at all? It’s certainly not a required element of being an adult! But I look at it as the same as people who start their day with coffee, or have soda to pep them up. Alcohol has a similar (if opposite) affect on us and I fully admit to liking that tipsy feeling a good cocktail can impart. The languor from sipping on a nice drink at the end of a long week is just as fabulous as the flushed, convivial atmosphere some spiked punch can add to a party. Can these things be achieved sans-alcohol? Sure, but it’s not near as much fun!
Of course, I must close with the following caveats:
- Don’t ever let anyone pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do.
- Drink responsibly
- Always use a designated driver