The Cocktail Connoisseur
Walk into any supermarket or liquor store’s wine section and there will be a new label from a different winery each week. The selection and shelf space devoted to simple choice keeps growing. Pick up any lifestyle magazine and there will be articles on food and wine pairing, vineyard holidays, power couples and their Provence wineries.
Amongst all this hoopla it is perhaps surprising to note that it is the spirit industry which has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last six years or so. Almost every category is “on fire” and this growth is based not only on major jumps in terms of quality or innovation, but also on the return of the cocktail.
While the cocktail phenomenon is strongest in the larger metropolitan markets, you will find “mixologists” (a fancy name for a bartender with imagination and a boss willing to let him play) plying their trade in Bermuda at some of the trendier bars. (Check out Ryan Gibbons at Barracuda Grill, Shawn Lekki and his group at 1609, The Dock at Waterlot, Red and Harry’s.)
Tools of the Trade
Ice. No matter what type of drink you make, ice is key. Most machine ice is too small and will quickly water down a drink. Ice made from filtered and boiled water will give a perfect crystalline, long-lasting cube.
Glassware. Presentation is key. Riedel, long known for its stemware, also has a selection of highball glasses (tall & thin) and old-fashioned glasses (short & fat) – well-dimensioned, simple shapes of a good weight that allow the drinks to show themselves off.
A stainless steel shaker and shaker glass (a Boston shaker). The shaker is partly filled with ice; the cocktail is “built” in the glass and poured into the shaker with the glass capping off the shaker. With both hands pick up the shaker and glass, and ensuring there is a seal between the two, shake (holding the glass closest to the shoulder). The bigger the ice, the longer the shake, but there’s more to chill than making slush puppies. Tap the glass against the side of the bar to dislodge the seal, and then strain from the shaker into a serving glass.
A cocktail strainer the same diameter as the stainless steel shaker. A small sieved strainer is also useful for double straining – giving a polished finish to the drink.
A muddler. The lightsaber of mixologists. In today’s terms it looks like a short, skinny police baton, used to crush or bruise fruit, veggies, herbs or spices, releasing the aromatics and flavours.
A powerful blender. Necessary for the brain-freeze pina coladas, margaritas and other adult smoothies.
A long-stemmed mixing spoon, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a jigger to measure, a cork screw and a church key to open.
Rum. Bermuda is a rum market and it is not unusual for the same drink to be served with black, gold or white rum. All three play a key role in cocktails (daiquiri, mojito, swizzles, punches and coladas, to name a few) and can knock almost any spirit from its classic-ingredient perch. A manhattan or a Bloody Mary made with rum, especially Gosling’s Black Seal, has to be tried, and then you can go down the list of other classics. Don’t worry about creativity gibes, at the right moment any association between plagiarism and alcohol is forgiven, even blessed.
Vodka. For a spirit meant to be tasteless, there sure are a lot on the market, and somehow huge differences in flavour, mouth feel and ultimate enjoyment. The ingredient for creating vodka has been, for the most part, whatever is the cheapest source of sugar. Today the choice has evolved to include grapes (Ciroc and Grey Goose), corn (Tito’s), grain (Absolut), potato/rye/barley (Ultimat) and some vodkas from Iceland and New Zealand using milk! What has to be recognised is that you can’t put a poor-quality item into a cocktail and expect premium results. “Trash in, trash out” is the maxim. To counter that, use the brands mentioned above to make that special-flavoured martini, sea breeze, etc. Vodka is also great for making infusions. Seasonal fruit, jalapeno peppers, basil, cilantro and other herbs, even sour gummy bears, can be steeped in vodka for several days to give a completely new look – and taste! – to that same old recipe.
Gin. The Lazarus of the spirit world. Gin was once relegated to staid martinis and G&T’s, until Bombay Sapphire presented a lighter, more elegant flavour profile a couple of decades ago. Today, Scottish Hendrick’s Gin is leading a whole new school using regional/native botanicals, lavender, rose petals, cucumber and other uncommon choices. Barrel-aged gin is the latest, latest thing. It seems a shame to dirty the spotless elegance of a good gin, sort of like tattooing an Audrey Hepburn or a Grace Kelly.
Whisky. In some respects the cocktail argument is whether to add a cube of ice (possibly), water (sparingly), soda water (never). While the sales of speed-well scotch (what you get when you are not specific) continue a long slow decline, the sales of 12-year-old, and older, blends and single-malt whiskies continue to soar. In fact, a shortage of age-statement malt whiskies has begun; non-specific-age blends are becoming an economic reality, though not fully accepted by the consumer – yet. Strangely, given such a conservative consumer, cask finishes – where the whisky is aged for a final period in a cask that previously held another distinct spirit or wine – is seen as a valid “expression” of the distillery.
The whiskeys of America, Canada (whisky) and Ireland have just taken off. The mixability, certainly of the last two, has helped them gain a younger consumer base. The distillery bar, like the brew pub, is a growing phenomenon with whiskey flights preferred over rounds of beer. Old favourites are being explored, discovering the difference, for example, in a manhattan (whiskey, sweet vermouth) made from a true rye whiskey – while Canada makes rye whisky, most of it is used in blends made from other grains – or from a sour mash (Jack Daniel’s) or a whiskey made from wheat (Elijah Craig) or corn. On top of that the whiskey makers are following the vodka market with flavours. Honey (JD and Jim Beam), maple (Crown Royal, of course) and cinnamon are the current leaders.
Bitters and vermouth. Angostura Bitters has long been the bartender’s friend, similar to the close relationship between a chef and salt. Like salt, it can draw out new perspectives in flavours or bring a recipe to a round completion; it can also dominate the drink’s core. To be treated as a true tincture of essential essences. A number of new bitters are coming onto the market and some enterprising mixologists are creating their own alchemy. (Buyer beware – delight and despair aren’t that far apart!) Vermouth, in a way, is a tepid bitters and one that can easily be enjoyed on its own. Wine based, with herbal and bark infusions, the dry (white) turns a vodka or gin shooter into an elegant martini, and added to a whiskey, the sweet (red) “turns Manhattan into an isle of joy.”
Tequila. We all have our entry-into-adulthood stories about tequila; ’nuff said. The recent move to super-premium status has essentially focused on two aspects of quality, control and choice. Multiple distillations can carefully remove the harsher alcohols from the distillate; various fermentation methods can add complexity to the flavours; aging in select, old or new casks can soften and again bring new dimensions. While brands like Patron can be sipped by themselves, they can also add a twist to a caipirinha or a daiquiri, or replace the gin in a negroni (equal gin/Campari/sweet vermouth, stirred in ice-filled glass, decorated with orange slice).
This is not an exclusive list, just an essential one. M
oving on to include cognac, brandies and liqueurs is a necessary second step, just as necessary as considering the codependent role of the canape, tapas and hors d’ouvres with all of the above.
A crisp, refreshing, moreish Bermuda twist on a summer classic by Andrew Holmes, Gosling’s export brand manager and mixologist.
1 1/2 oz. Gosling’s Gold Rum
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1 1/2 oz. Bermuda Gold Liqueur
6 mint leaves
3 lime wedges
3 oz. Gosling’s Ginger Beer
In a highball glass, muddle lime and mint.
Add ice, rum and liqueur, top with ginger beer or club soda.Garnish with a lime wheel and a fresh mint sprig.
Italian Ice Tea
A refreshing lunchtime aperitif
1 1/2 oz. Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
Into a tall glass filled with ice, pour vermouth and top with ginger ale. Add a splash of soda if you want a dryer cocktail. Stir and serve with orange wheel and mint sprig.
Essentially a margarita with whiskey and a sparkle
1 oz. Jack Daniel’s
1 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
Juice 1/2 lemon or 1 oz. sour mix
Add all ingredients to a glass 2/3 full of ice; stir and top with 7 Up.