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Minimalist Cocktails

Posted on  | March 25, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Thunder Road, by Natalie Jacob

With eight minutes being the longest a customer will comfortably wait for a craft cocktail, bartenders have a limited amount of time to prepare something memorable. Thirsty/hungry customers are in a hurry to get down to the serious business of drinking/dining without waiting too long for their tipples.

The hurdle for the bartender—besides the typical demands of attentive service—is technically challenging, multi-step drinks. Your bar should keep things as simple as possible on the busy nights. Complex cocktail preparations slow everyone down.

So let’s consider a simple solution for both speed and success: Make brilliant cocktails with four or fewer ingredients. Make them fast and make them memorable. Classics of cocktail history should be rote in your bag of fast, simple drinks. But there are many more to be created.

Starting with a spirit base you love can be half the ballgame. Natalie Jacob, who is leading a storied career behind the stick—at Dutch Kills, PKNY and Barcade, among others in the NYC metro area—shares: “There are two spirits that changed my professional life forever. They are Lairds Applejack, something I like to call the original American drink, and rum—all sorts of rum. To me, rum is one of the most diverse spirit categories, because depending on where they are produced, rums  can bee entirely different from one another.”

Another trick in Jacob’s bartending bag is not surprising, but definitely worth remembering: Why reinvent the wheel when you can readjust it? Sometimes a little twist on a classic can go a long way. Such is the case with her take on the Manhattan:

Thunder Road
1½ oz. Jamaican Rum (Appleton Reserve)
¾ oz. Laird’s Apple Brandy(100 Proof)
¾ oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass,
stir over  ice, strain into a chilled coupe
glass, garnish with a brandied cherry.

Christopher James, head barman at The Ryland Inn in Whitehouse, NJ, specializes in handcrafted yet simple drinks. One of his readjusted classics is the Hudson Mule, made with vodka, ginger beer and unfiltered, apple juice—the essence of simplicity and style.

Two ounces of each flavorful ingredient goes into this fast and easy-to-prepare cocktail. The unfiltered apple juice gives depth and concentration, the ginger beer gives lift and the vodka; well, that’s what the oft-harried diner needs to relax. James prefers a vodka that ties the drink together: Tuthilltown’s Spirit of the Hudson Vodka, distilled from apples.

The Hudson Mule
2 oz. Spirit of the Hudson Vodka
2 oz. Unfiltered, all-natural apple juice
2 oz. Ginger beer (made with cane sugar,
not syrup)

Place a spear of hand-cut ice in a Collins
glass. Add the unfiltered apple juice, and
then the vodka. Pour the ginger beer over
the top of the juice and vodka and serve,
garnished with an apple slice.

In my book Apothecary Cocktails, Restoratives from Yesterday and Today, I adapted Hot Buttered Rum, a favorite of ship crews and armchair sailors alike. Rum, sweet butter and strong dark tea makes for easy sipping. This drink offers a speedy preparation when time is of the essence during the after-dinner drink rush.

In this twisted rendition of the classic hot buttered rum, a whisper of handmade, small-batch Barr Hill Vodka from Vermont—distilled from fermented raw honey—adds clarity to the hot toddy. This finely textured vodka adds more than just depth to this simple, toasty hot drink, which I named after a Robert Louis Stevenson essay.

To Reckon Dangers
1 oz. Barr Hill Vodka
Hot Indian-style Chai tea
or dark English tea
Pat (¼ oz.) of Butter
Freshly scraped nutmeg
(optional garnish)

Add the Barr Hill Vodka into
a preheated mug (mugs stored on
top of an espresso machine are toddy-
ready at a moment’s notice). Add the
hot tea. Add a pat of sweet butter
over the top. Scrape the nutmeg over
the top just before serving
(assuming you have the time).
If not, you can use pre-grated.

When Ice Is Really Nice

High-quality, hand-cut ice from double-boiled water is arguably as significant as flavor-driven liquors when it comes to making memorable cocktails. I’m a firm believer in the clarity and the quality of ice. And while it is true that hand-cutting can take a little extra time, the impact can be profound. By utilizing a tall spear or hand-cut chunky cube of pristine ice in a simple cocktail, you are adding a handcrafted touch—and something visibly different from other establishments!

Simple, Yet Simply Delish!

From Sex on the Beach to the Harvey Wallbanger, the Martini to the Manhattan, the Mimosa to the Bellini, the White Russian to the Cuba Libre, 7 & 7 to a G & T, the mantel of mixology is chock full of classic simple combinations.

What makes some drinks endure? It’s a question probably best answered over a few Negronis, but balance is certainly one of them. As Dale DeGroff often reminds budding bartenders, the earliest mixed drinks were based on a formula that accounted for balance first, with ingredients left flexible; witness the Colonial-era recipe “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.”

As modern mixologists continue to chase the liquid equivalent of PB & J or a BLT, options have never been greater. Aperitifs make a great core of cocktails that push flavors in new directions—usually with modest alcohol. Campari fits the bill. Ditto Aperol and Lillet.

Next up in this vein may be Sherry, whose distinctive rich briny, slightly oxidized character can bring surprising complexity to a drink. Wine shop Lush Wine & Spirits in Chicago has been hand-selling Sherries in part by developing easy drink recipes. One customer hit is the Cherry Apple Crisp, made with bourbon, Maurin Quina and Alexandro Palo Cortado Sherry. Another is The Sherry Fizz:

The Sherry Fizz
2 oz Gin
1 oz Manzanilla Sherry
Dash Bar Keep Baked Apple Bitters
Splash ginger beer

Put sherry, gin and bitters in an
iced cocktail glass. Stir. Top with
a splash of ginger beer.

Liqueurs are ideal cocktail building blocks, too, whether it’s a bitter-edged Amaro or something new and exotic, such as St-Germain. Consider the Wild Raspberry Jam, created at Reichenbach Hall in NYC: it’s a potently fruity mix of Schladerer (raspberry) Himbeer-Liqueur, fresh lemonade and vodka.

And ZU, the distinctive vodka infused with bison grass, is another cocktail base that works amazingly well for novel yet simple synergy. The “Szarlotka” (Polish for “Apple Pie”) is a nifty combo of 1½ oz. ZU and 5 oz. unfiltered apple juice over ice.    


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