Every time that I’m asked why my cocktails and mocktails taste so good, my first thought is of simplicity. Why? The rationale for the cocktail business, like the culinary business, (before you get upset, I’m a trained chef from pot sink on up) is that more ingredients must by the mere virtue of all those disparate flavors, must taste good. Friends, nothing could be further from the truth. I call that garbage pail cooking and unfortunately a ten ingredient cocktail is not going to get my attention in a good way.
Simplicity in drinks harken a time when we went out to bars for a drink. Cocktail lounges came later, with mixology out there on the periphery since Jerry Thomas times, but generally not in the small towns that dot the NY/Metro area. In many ways nothing has changed since Prohibition ended. There are still “Dry” counties in New Jersey. That’s pretty slow on the uptake when history is the topic, drinking history that is. It’s still nearly impossible to get any sort of takes on a vodka soda, just like the quality of the spirits in a old fashioned are probably going to disappoint you.
A simple drink doesn’t need to be complex to be memorable. What’s that? Simple? Complex? You could say that French cooking is simple, many steps – yet quite simple. Steps are one thing, ingredients are another. Keep it simple, really.
Look behind you on your back bar. It’s jammed with fancy bottles. Most of them never get opened or even dusted. (A good task for a rainy day) May I suggest creating some really simple drinks with these expensive versions of what is in your speed rack?
Bottles that are pricey do no good to your bottom line. You have to move them through the fold to make them valuable. But how will you do that? By recreating the wheel? Doubtful. Absolutely not. You can “raise the bar” by re-engineering your drinks menu!
Take the classic Old Fashioned. I’m sure you have plenty of bourbon whiskey in your bar, but do you have any rye? What are those bottles doing on the shelf if you don’t use them?
Why not trot back into the walk-in (first asking your chef if it’s ok) and grab some oranges- you know the ones that don’t quite look right for a garnish. Cut them in half. Sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top and some Angostura Bitters. Roast for an hour at 275. Let them cool and cut out the pith and skin. That caramelized orange flesh is going to raise your bar and your old fashioned to another level entirely.
Roasted Rye Old Fashioned
- 2 oz. Rye Whiskey- only use the good stuff!
- 2 tbsp caramelized orange
- 1 Luxardo Cherry
- Large cube ice
- Muddle the caramelized orange with the Luxardo cherry
- Add a large cube of ice to a Double Old-Fashioned glass
- Add the two ounces of Rye Whiskey
- Stir and serve with a smile
The next one is a take on the classic Vodka Soda. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made this drink. I think the only purpose in life is to get drunk, not to enjoy the flavor of the vodka, nor the conversation at the table. It’s a utility drink, nothing more. But stick with me for a moment. I have a solution. That row of cocktail bitters in front of you should have some flavors like lime, lemon or cucumber. There is nothing that I enjoy more in a vodka soda that a few drops of cucumber bitters. Not only do the cucumbers add a touch of depth to the tall drink, but it adds something that is unexpected, tucked into the background. You can even garnish the drink with a cucumber spear! A win/win!
- 2 oz. of the best vodka you stock
- 5 oz. Q Club Soda- or Seltzer water with a pinch of sea salt added
- Cucumber, Lemon or Lime Bitters
- Add a couple large cubes of ice to a Collins Glass
- Dot the inside with cucumber – or bitters of your choice
- Build the cocktail by adding the vodka, and then the club soda
- Add a pinch of sea salt (or not if you are using Q-Club)
- Serve with a cucumber spear as a garnish
To keep simplicity, in the most rational manner – one must not go overboard with superfluous ingredients. One of my most favorite drinks is also the simplest. It involves Pickett’s Ginger Beer Syrup, Mezcal of your choice and a touch of seltzer with dehydrated grapefruit as the floater. Spicy, fizzy, smoky… Yes, that’s the name too.
Spicy, Fizzy and Smoky
- 3 oz. Mezcal of your choice
- 1 oz. Pickett’s Ginger Syrup (concentrated, so use less)
- 4 oz. Q-Club Soda
- 2-4 shakes Cardamom Bitters (I used Fee Brothers)
- Dot the inside of a Double Old Fashioned glass with the Cardamom bitters
- Add one large cube of ice
- Top with the Mezcal of your choice
- Add the Ginger Syrup
- Stir well to mix
- Top with Q-Club soda
- Stir again
- Dot with Cardamom Bitters