|Cocktails are fashion--they bespeak the era of their
creation. Cocktails are an expression of style, and like music, art,
architecture, theater, and design, in many ways they reflect the attitude
of the nation. Right now cocktail culture is soaring. No matter where
you look--in magazines, newspapers, films, and on television--you
see people drinking cocktails.
Many of our favorite cocktails reflect our mindset. Some are based
on classic combinations, some are casual and irreverent, often verging
on downright silly, and many are the result of any number of incredible
new ingredients in the marketplace. You couldn't get root-beer schnapps
in the fifties.
Cocktail trends are an aspect of pop culture. Although some drinks
hearken to our childhoods, scores of others take their inspiration
from foods, films, television, songs, books, and world events. One
sizeable group of drinks are alcoholic concoctions that taste like
something entirely different--a cookie or a candy bar. Another group
of drinks requires a helper--it takes two to drink a Mouth Margarita.
And then there are the drinks whose names are X-rated. Don't object.
That's the way it is. And they sell like wildfire.
Who is the bartender's best friend? The best tipper at the bar?
Probably. But in writing this book, I've tried to be a friend to
the bartender by including many cocktails and mixed drinks that
are actually ordered at bars nationwide. When someone orders a Manhattan,
you might not have to look in this book, but the recipe is here
if you need it, and if somebody asks you to fix them a Schnapp,
Crackle & Pop, and you're a little bewildered,just turn to "S"
and you'll be serving one up in no time.
On a more serious note, the bartender's very best friend can often
be an experienced, sober driver or the local taxi service. Why?
Because as enjoyable and fun as drinking and serving cocktails,
wines, and beers can be, the unimpeachable fact is that alcohol
affects our bodies and our minds, impairing our judgment and reaction
time. Don't drink and drive, and don't let others drink and drive
either. What's ultimately most fashionable is being alive to enjoy
Making a cocktail has just four requirements. The first three are
easy: You need ingredients--the spirits, the juices, the ice, the
sodas, the garnishes. You need equipment--a shaker, a strainer,
a spoon. And you need something to serve the drink in, be it the
finest lead crystal cocktail glass or a paper cup. The fourth requirement,
however, is the tough one. You need to understand how to use these
elements, and, ideally, you must acquire a grasp of how they intermingle.
And therein lies the rub: You can make drinks or you can master
drink-making, the craft of bartending. The choice is yours; the
basics are outlined here. Mastering the craft requires thought,
effort, and just like getting to Carnegie Hall--practice, practice,
Tools and the methods of using them define the quality of the job
performed. And just as a carpenter invests in his saws, a chef in
his knives, or a painter in his brushes, a bartender needs to have
the right stuff on hand to make the job easier and more professional.
Once the proper tools are in place, you're good to go. Here's what's
Barspoon: An ingenious long-handled spoon that has an almost teardrop-shaped
bowl and a twisted shaft that makes stirring with one hand very
easy. Absolutely essential if you want to do it right.
Bar towels: Two kinds--small, absorbent terrycloth towels that
can be used as a bar mat to soak up spillage, splashes, and condensation;
tightly woven, flat-weave cotton or linen dishtowels for polishing
glasses or grasping wet, chilled wine bottles that are being held
in a wine bucket. You'll need several of each.
Blender: A heavy-duty machine capable of rendering ice cubes and
other ingredients into slush. Can opt for the 32- or 48-ounce container;
I prefer a metal to a plastic base. Essential for frozen drinks.
Distilled spirits have been with us since the 1100s when the art
of distillation, which had been practiced for centuries at that
point, was finally used to distill alcoholic products, such as wine.
Initially, because spirits were liquids that could be set on fire,
they were known as ardent spirits, from the Latin adere, meaning
"to burn," but because they were first used as medicines,
they became known as the water of life, and this name is still with
us today. France produces eaux-de-vie; Scandinavia makes aquavit,
and both of these terms translate to "water of life."
Even the Gaelic word uisga beatha (Ireland) or usquebaugh (Scotland)
which was anglicized to "whisk(e)y," means water of life.
Here are some definitions for the main categories of distilled spirits,
along with some explanations of various specific bottlings, and
the most important distillation terms you should know.
Absente: See Absinthe and Absinthe Substitutes.
Absinthe and Absinthe Substitutes: Absinthe was outlawed in many
countries during the first couple of decades of the twentieth century,
and although its popularity waned, it has recently made a big comeback
in countries where it wasn't banned--notably Andorra, the Czech
Republic, England, Germany, Japan, and Spain. The reason that absinthe
was banned was that it was said to be addictive and hallucinogenic
because of one ingredient, wormwood, a bitter herb, that contains
thujone, which has a molecular structure that's strikingly similar
to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. In all probability,
though, it was the high alcohol content of absinthe--most bottlings
verged on almost 70 percent alcohol by volume (abv)--that caused
absinthe drinkers to act so strangely.
In the United States, where absinthe was made illegal in 1915,
we now use absinthe substitutes--Pernod, Ricard, Herbsaint, and
Absente--when absinthe is called for in a drink. These spirits are
often consumed after dilution with water, but in the case of Absente,
it's best to add sugar, too.
Amer Picon: Hard to find in the United States, this is a French
apéritif wine with orange/herbal notes.
American Brandy: Distilled from a fermented mash of grapes, American
distillers have a huge advantage over many other brandymakers: the
law does not proscribe which grape varieties can be used, and thus,
they can employ whichever grape variety takes their fancy. The result
is some truly great American brandies that are loaded with complexity,
perhaps because they are made from top-notch grapes.
Apple Brandy: Distilled from a fermented mash of apples, apple
brandy is usually aged in oak barrels, sometimes for decades, but
more usually for about three to five years.
Applejack: A blended apple brandy used in many cocktails.
Armagnac: A grape brandy made in the Gascony region of France,
which is divided into three subregions: Ténarèze,
Haut-Armagnac, and Bas-Armagnac. Armagnac must be made only from
white grapes, Ugni Blanc (also known as Saint-Emilion), Colombard,
and Folle Blanche varieties being the most common. Armagnac is usually
aged in black oak casks, and the minimum age of the brandy is noted
on the bottle using the same terminology as cognac.
Bourbon: Distilled from a fermented mash that must contain a minimum
of 51 percent corn, the other grains used are malted barley and
either rye or wheat. Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels
for a minimum of two years, though most bottlings have spent at
least four years in the wood. The name, bourbon, comes from the
Kentucky county from which whiskey from the area was shipped in
the late 1700s. Bourbon can be made legally anywhere in the United
States, although, with the exception of one Virginia distillery,
at the time of writing it is all made in Kentucky. Bourbon is the
only spirit that was born in the United States; all others originated
Small-batch bourbon usually denotes whiskey that has been selected
from a small quantity of barrels that has aged into what the distiller
thinks is a whiskey that's superior to his regular bottlings. Keep
in mind, though, that each distillery has its own criteria for using
this term, and it has not been legally defined.
The Home Bar
A home bar can take whatever form suits its bartender or its location.
When I was growing up, we had no bar--liquor was stored in a kitchen
cabinet, wine was in the garage, and the manual ice crusher sat
next to the grater and the measuring cups. Some of my friends' parents
had incredible bars back then, though, usually in the basement rec
room, often with a real wooden bar, tall bar stools or swivel chairs,
and a back bar area to display the liquor bottles, mechanical toys,
neon signs, and beer paraphernalia that were highly sought-after.
Collectible decanters were all the rage, as were beer steins in
a multitude of sizes, and Highball glasses emblazoned with pictures
of pretty women--Vargas girls, usually--whose bathing suits disappeared
when cold liquids were poured into the glass.
If the bar area was located upstairs, it tended to be much fancier
and more sophisticated. Really wonderful Art Deco or Danish Modern
cocktail carts were outfitted to contain liquor decanters, tiny
ice buckets, special glassware, and often some strikingly beautiful
glass stirrers. Sometimes the living room had a wet bar in the corner;
glass shelves displayed liquors--often in crystal decanters--and
more often than not, a number of bottles of sweet liqueurs. One
family I knew had a beer tap that jutted out from the stones of
their floor-to-ceiling fireplace--now, that was cool.
Today, though, your home bar is what you make it. If you have a
collection of lovely cocktail accoutrements, show them off. If not,
your homely collection of Boston shaker, barspoon, and Hawthorne
strainer plus your ingredients simply need to be where you can find
them at a moment's notice.
The Cocktail Party Bar
Some people are partygivers; others can't imagine throwing a party.
Here's my thinking: For a dinner party, holiday meal, or special
celebration where I will serve a meal, my limit is 12 for a sit-down
and maybe up to 20 for a serve-yourself buffet or barbecue. On the
other hand, one of the greatest hosts I ever met, the very stylish
Lee Bailey, taught me a secret many moons ago: Have a cocktail party--all
you need to serve is nuts. And that's just what he did--with great
élan, mixed cocktail nuts in bail-handled shiny paint cans
direct from the nut supplier--at the many parties I attended chez
Well, I'm a big copycat. That's just what I do, too. The best aspect
of cocktail parties is that you can invite dozens--hundreds, even--of
people, and though you'll run yourself ragged getting everything
ready on party day, you'll be free to enjoy your guests, your cocktails,
and the crowd.
Now, don't get crazy about this party; you can limit its difficulty.
Indeed, I hereby give you permission to be different: You do not
have to have a full open bar . You can make it, say, a Cosmopolitan
party--the only alcoholic drink served will be the Cosmopolitan.
You could have a vodka party that features iced vodka, flavored
vodkas, and no other liquor. You can have a punch party if you want
to do absolutely everything ahead of time. In fact, making a tasty
nonalcoholic punch that individual drinkers can spike for themselves
is an excellent ploy for a get-together that can include children
My best tips for large-scale partygiving are these:
* have large trash cans handy;
* have lots and lots of cocktail napkins around;
* don't run out of ice;
* serve nuts--or equally simple-to-put-out and replenish store-bought
* hire a bartender, if possible;
* don't let anyone overdo it;
* appoint designated drivers and have a taxi service number handy;
* pray for good weather.