The Smoking Cocktail

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I would first like to apologize for the ads WordPress is inserting into my blog. Please ignore them. And now, on with the story:

One warm summer evening, I was suddenly surrounded by a flurry of pink. It was everywhere – feather boas, hats, tutus, bags, cocktails. There was a charitable event going on that involved ladies swarming the town.

 

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All the shops offered them appetizers, cocktail specials, gifts, hand massages, eyebrow trims, pink cupcakes and candies, clothing discounts, etc.

 

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On a corner, a deejay played dance tunes in the open air. The pink ladies converged in all directions, laughing, exploring and having a blast. It was joyful chaos, for a good cause. I wandered into a cocktail bar for liquid refreshment before rejoining the crowd. I was about to have one of the most unforgettable cocktail moments of my life.

 

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As I looked through the menu, this stood out almost immediately:

SMOKEE MUSKOGEE • ROCKS • 12
jack daniels honey whiskey, lemon juice, lime juice, simple syrup, cedar plank smoke

Cedar plank smoke?? You saw that right, the bartender said with a smile. I ordered it right away, dying with curiosity as I waited for the show. The bartender came out of the backroom with his ensemble, including a blowtorch and a wood plank.

 

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Other customers turned to watch, as he held up the piece of wood and torched it to a fiery glow. It was so close that could smell the burning cedar.

 

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While the flames were still dying down, he placed the burned wood plank down in front of me, then inverted a rocks glass over the char.

 

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I stared fascinated at the roiling smoke captured in the glass, but also wondered nervously if the glass would suddenly explode and shatter from the air pressure and heat.

 

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I was suddenly distracted by the bartender shaking up a cocktail – one of my most favorite sounds in the world, which I always react to with Pavlovian pleasure. He poured about an ounce of the cocktail into a small glass and set it aside, but kept the rest in the shaker.

 

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In a few seconds, he turned the rocks glass upright. With the smoke still inside the glass, he poured in the cocktail, infusing it as the smoke slowly drifted up and around the rim.

I was given the small glass with the ounce of cocktail, to first try the cocktail without the smoke. It was delicious and fresh.

And then I tasted the smoked cocktail.

 

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Mind blown! It was AMAZING! The smoke infusion gave the cocktail depth and dimension that no other ingredient on a bartender’s shelves ever could. Now I’m wondering what other cocktails can be smoked and taken up several notches.

This definitely made it on my shortlist of greatest cocktail experiences and cocktails that are simply beyond!

Cheers!

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Small Craft Spirits: Yaletown Distilling Company

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Not that long ago, Yaletown in Vancouver BC was pretty seedy. After telling him I planned to spend a day wandering over there, one of my street-savvy cousins rattled off areas to avoid, due to drug activity, prostitution, etc.

“Just stay away from Main.”
“And stay out of East Hastings.”
“Careful, that place is drug central and a sketchy area.”

I wandered around Yaletown on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, and saw no disreputable activity anywhere. Turns out, this once sketchy area is now a charmingly gentrified little berg with loads of hip, trendy perks – restaurants and bars (with patios!), cafes, shops, galleries, plus upscale apartments and condos.

 

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Not surprisingly, a handcrafted distillery is part of that mix. Seeing their premium spirits creation machines from the sidewalk through huge glass windows, I just had to wander in and pay my respects to Yaletown Distilling Company.

 

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Camera-shy Craig, the distillery manager, hooked me up with a couple of shots in their tasting room. The refreshing mandarin-infused vodka had good flavor definition. And the honey-infused vodka was luscious, smooth, and not at all syrupy. It was so good, I ordered another shot.

 

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Tariq, the distiller, was checking on equipment before a company field trip was scheduled this evening for a tour of one of the world’s top 10 distillery bars, according to The Spirits Business magazine. Number one rule before the tour begins: Don’t touch anything!

 

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The beauty of small craft spirits distilleries is they can focus on quality, not quantity.
For now.
With rapid growth driven my millenials’ preference for craft liquor made by small local distilleries, the new challenge is maintaining authenticity while mass producing to meet increasing demand.

 

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Unfortunately, Yaletown Distillery only sells their wares within the Canadian borders. But it’s just one more reason to keep coming to this amazing city – to discover and experience cool neighborhoods, with its delights, surprises, and liquid bliss. Cheers, guys!

 

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The Bard & Banker: A Tale about a Pub, a Poet, and Damn Good Beer

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It was a relatively warm and sunny late Saturday afternoon in Victoria, and 3 pm seemed like a decent time to pause my wanderings for a pint. Just off Government Street was a wondrous, blessed sight – a Scottish pub (Bard & Banker), an English pub (Garrick’s Head), and an Irish pub (Irish Times), all in a row. Or as I like to say, just staggering distance from each other!

 

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And as a bonus, right smack in the middle of the English and Irish pubs is Bastion Square, where locals could watch public hangings back in the day, then hit the nearby watering holes afterwards for some conversation. I love a town with a rich history!

 

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In addition to being a lover of classic cocktails and hard spirits, I am a huge fan of craft beers. Expanding my horizons has been very good for the soul. Having never tried a Scottish ale, I decided today was the day!

 

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Bard & Banker was beautiful inside, shiny yet cozy, with its cream walls, dark wood, and many chandeliers. Awfully fancy for a Scottish pub, I thought, as I headed for the bar.

As I sat down, I beheld yet another wondrous sight: A place of honor for their best Scotch whiskeys! Next to it was a shelf for the rest – bourbons, vodkas, less special Scotch, etc.

 

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But I mustn’t get distracted from my mission. I told the bartender I wanted a Scottish ale. He handed me a menu, and there it was – big, bold red letters, burning into my eyes and brain, like Destiny: Stone Fired Scottish Ale. I ordered it immediately, and was told it was a fine choice.

 

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“Barkeep”, says I, “What be this ‘Phillips Robert Service’?”

“Phillips is the brewing company”, he replied, “As for ‘Robert Service’, aye well there’s a story there!”

The bartender hurried to the other end of the bar, and brought back my ale, a poster, and then the tale.

 

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Robert Service started his career working as a banker in Scotland, like his father. During that time, he devoured books on poetry by Browning, Keats, Tennyson, etc., and started composing his own poems. He later moved to Vancouver BC, and wandered up and down North America, doing odd jobs, falling in love, hitting his family and friends up for money, and having one crazy adventure after another (something about a cowboy outfit, a bordello in Mexico, and so forth). During that time, he published several pieces.

When he was flat broke, he worked for a bank again, as a clerk at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria BC. This building and pub, where I was having my beer, was that very bank where Robert Service worked, which explained the fancy architecture. Plus, he lived upstairs, where he kept composing his poems and verses. As you might have already guessed, the pub itself was named after him – Robert Service was both the “Bard of the North” and the banker.

 

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As for the Stone Fired Scottish Ale, it was absolutely delicious – rich, flavorful, yet light and fresh! It’s now one of my favorite craft beers. I highly recommend you order this beer when you’re at the Bard & Banker in Victoria BC.

I raised my glass to the man, his poetry, and especially his extraordinary life. Robert Service’s journey continued to the Yukon, where he had many more adventures that inspired some of his most famous poetry.

One of his funniest and most popular poems is the famous “The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail“. Below is a snippet. Click the link if you want to read the entire poem:

“…”There’s been a run on cocktails, Boss; there ain’t an ice-worm left.
Yet wait . . . By gosh! it seems to me that some of extra size
Were picked and put away to show the scientific guys.”
Then deeply in a drawer he sought, and there he found a jar,
The which with due and proper pride he put upon the bar;
And in it, wreathed in queasy rings, or rolled into a ball,
A score of grey and greasy things were drowned in alcohol.
Their bellies were a bilious blue, their eyes a bulbous red;
Their back were grey, and gross were they, and hideous of head. 

And when with gusto and a fork the barman speared one out,
It must have gone four inches from its tail-tip to its snout.
Cried Deacon White with deep delight: “Say, isn’t that a beaut?”
“I think it is,” sniffed Major Brown, “a most disgustin’ brute.
Its very sight gives me the pip. I’ll bet my bally hat,
You’re only spoofin’ me, old chap. You’ll never swallow that…

Cheers!

 


All photos taken by Alexandria Julaton

 

Martini Mixology: The Classic Martini

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The movie “A Simple Favor” came out in theaters last month (I won’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it so far). Just as fascinating as watching two lovely ladies sipping classic gin martinis in a film noir was a mixology lesson from the gorgeous villainness herself.

 

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Turns out, femme fatales, especially the psychopathic ones, make their own rules, even when it comes to martinis.

Click below to watch director Paul Feig and Blake Lively’s hilarious lesson on how to make the “perfect martini” featured in the movie.

 

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As for you hardcore, no-messin’-around martini aficionados out there, master mixologist and Liquor.com adviser Simon Ford shows you how he makes the classic martini, which he calls “The greatest cocktail on Earth”.

Click the image to watch the man in action!

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If you want to try this at home, I’ve listed the ingredients below. Remember to always start with a chilled martini glass and/or ice cold gin. Cheers!

The Classic Martini

2.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Dry vermouth
1 dash Orange bitters (optional)

Garnish: Lemon twist or green olives without pimentos

 

 

 


Images are still shots from the youtube.com videos for:

  • How to Make a Martini Cocktail – Liquor.com
  • A Simple Favor (2018) – Regal Exclusive – The Perfect Martini

 

 

Distilled Discovery: The Liberty Distillery

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It was late morning when I walked out into a perfect Spring day – rainless, sunny and cool enough to wander aimlessly for hours. I took the Aquabus ferry across from dowtown Vancouver BC to Granville Island, with its sensory-overload foodie paradise markets, art galleries and curiosity shops – one of my favorite places on earth. I usually go before the crowds arrive, so I could get to my treats fairly quickly.

 

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After loading up on gourmet treats, I wandered beyond the markets. Beneath the bridge on Johnston Street, I saw the sign for The Liberty Distillery, creator and purveyor of fine liquid spirits – mainly vodka, gin and whiskey – since 2010. I opened the door for a peek, and was pulled inside by a loud, friendly Scottish accent and a good-looking barkeep.

 

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Not being Happy Hour yet, there were a few people inside. I chatted up the bartender about Scottish and Irish history for a bit,

From the bar’s seating area, I could see the handmade copper stills and other equipment where their liquor is distilled and fermented onsite. According to their website:

The Liberty Distillery chose CARL, Germany’s oldest distillery fabricator to custom design our stills because of their rich 140-year family tradition and uncompromising dedication to aesthetics, design, innovation, and patented ‘aroma plates’ in the rectification columns.

 

 

Eventually, I decided to taste two of their gins: Endeavour Gin and Endeavour Old Tom.

Their Endeavour  Gin was created in the London Dry style, boldly fragranced and flavored by a blend of 10 botanicals, including juniper and citrus. Instead of a smooth finish, this gin had a bite. Definitely a gin to have as a martini, with vermouth to tame its spicy personality.

 

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The bartender told me about a gin’s Navy strength, a term that came from the days when hard liquor was transported by Navy ships. In case any of the liquor leaked or spilled out of the barrels during transport, the warship’s gunpowder had to be able to still ignite even after being soaked in it.

But being stored in barrels has a price, due to its porousness. Some evaporation occurs during the aging process, about 2%. All that wonderful liquor rising up to the heavens has been called the “angel’s share”.

 

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The Endeavour Old Tom was a different story. This gin was stored in French Oak barrels for several months, during which it gained both its deepened flavors and interesting mahogany color. I held the shot glass up to my nose; fragrant and heady. The flavors that came with each sip were complex and many – more fruit-ish than fruity, like a pastry would be, but balanced and smooth. On top of that, the oak added that extra level of sublime and deep character.

Waves of blissful joy. As a whiskey and bourbon lover, this was my kind of gin!

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There were bottles on the showcase shelf that looked like they held something liquid in a very pretty shade of pink. They were the Endeavour Pink Gin. Yes, PINK gin! Of course, I had to have a shot!

 

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The Endeavour Pink was a “limited release” gin, due to its seasonal main ingredient – wild rosehips. The berries, combined with the juniper base, resulted in a fresh, flowery fragrance enjoyed by my palate and nose.

Like a booze-y kiss from a rose.

And the pale, beautiful pink hue added to the whole experience. Sadly, at $45.99/bottle, plus sin tax, this was destined to become a recurring memory instead of a repeat experience. Ouch!

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I’m looking forward to coming back for these creative, expertly crafted gins on my next trip to Granville Island. But next time, when I’m not tipsy from gin shots, I’ll definitely give their cocktails a try.

 

Pics of Endeavour Gin bottles courtesy of the Liberty Distillery website.
All other photos by Alexandria Julaton.

 

Cocktail Backstory: The Communist and Tom Collins

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A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” – Noël Coward

 

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“Barkeep!” says I.
“Aye, miss, what shall I make for ye?” says he.
“I would like a cocktail…with an interesting backstory.”

The gauntlet was thrown, and he met the challenge with two words,”Communist Cocktail.”

 

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He didn’t know the details, but said the cocktail’s name had to do with the era during which it was created. As I sat waiting for my cocktail, he handed me a book entitled, “Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails”.

 

I looked up The Communist:

“This enjoyable number with the unforgettable name derived from a crude and otherwise quite forgettable cocktail pamphlet from 1933 titled Cocktail Parade. As photographers say, though, it just takes one picture.”

 

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Huh. Not much of a backstory. When my drink arrived, turns out it wasn’t much of a cocktail, either. My reaction after a couple of sips was a shrug and a “Meh.”

It became apparent that the only thing this cocktail had going for it was its cool name. And clearly, it did belong in a “Forgotten Cocktails” book. Not only should it be forgotten, they should also put a “Do Not Rescucitate” warning next to the recipe.

 

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Here’s a cocktail that actually has somewhat of an interesting backstory:

Tom Collins

Back in 1874, someone decided to play a joke a bunch of New Yorkers. He’d go to one person, asked them if they knew someone named Tom Collins. “Nope, never heard of him.” they’d say. Then they’d be told Tom’s been bad-mouthing them all over town, ruining their reputation. Of course, the enraged person would go on a revenge-seeking manhunt for Tom Collins, ready to lynch the slandering bastard.

This would be done over and over again to different people, until what began as one upset person became a vengeful, angry horde. This lame joke went so viral it became “The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.”

One bartender decided to capitalize on this trend by creating a cocktail called Tom Collins. Anyone popping into his bar looking for Tom Collins would end up ordering the cocktail. Hilarious, right?

Here’s a youtube video, in case you wanted to try making this at home. The recipe itself is after the post.

Click on image to watch video

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Corpe Reviver #2

This cocktail doesn’t have an elaborate backstory, but I like the name. In my last blog post (Cocktails – Craft versus Cool), I ordered a Corpse Reviver #2. When made properly, it’s actually one of my favorite cocktails. Interestingly, it was one of several other concoctions of the same name that was originally created in the 1930s as a hangover cure…

Hangover cure = Corpse reviver.

Get it?  :^  )

 

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Tom Collins Cocktail
Recipe courtesy of New York Times

2 ounces Old Tom gin (like Ransom)
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
Soda water
Lemon wedge, for garnish
Cocktail cherry, for garnish

Shake gin, syrup and juice with ice until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with soda water. Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge and a cherry.

 

 

 

Cocktails – Craft versus Cool

 

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It was Saturday evening, in a city known for its (over)abundance of local character and characters. I was shopping for next season’s lipsticks, when a huge fight broke out at the department store’s entrance.

Shoppers inside and bystanders outside ran with their camera phones towards the drama. Security guards lowered the massive steel doors to keep rioters from breaking through the glass entrance walls, and looting the high-class, designer-label merch. An ambulance and cop cars showed up.

Helluva way to start a bar crawl.

 

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The bar I went to for some post-riot Zen showcased their offerings beautifully. It was almost happy hour, and the place was filling up quickly. I managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a dry martini with olives.

 

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In under a minute, I felt that something was off. I looked around to see what it could be. There was no background music. The chatter was getting louder as more people arrived; the noise was crashing against the concrete walls and low ceilings. Plus, the lights were too bright.

I could usually chill at a bar with a normal-ish vibe, but somehow, this evening, everything and everyone at this particular bar was getting on my nerves. Maybe that adrenaline rush from the riot was making me crave another kind of cocktail experience – something odd/interesting/dangerous. And so I just didn’t have the patience for “normal” right now. I finished my cocktail and left.

 

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I wandered over to a bar with a balcony like a stylish penthouse overlooking downtown, and had the Shen cocktail, an Asian spin on the Manhattan. Sipping it was like floating in a volcano-heated pool in the middle of a forest on a warm summer night. Pure bliss.

I was ready for my next experience.

 

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Just for the sake of contrast, a dive bar was next on my list. In every Chinatown I’ve been to, I have always felt that walking alone in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by grime, crime and shadows was really stupid. And I was feeling all kinds of stupid now. I hurried over to the bar. The last thing I needed to be doing was standing alone in an alley in Chinatown, pulling out a camera phone in front of these staring, homeless men to capture this Instagram moment. If I kept moving, I might just be okay.

 

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The bar was populated with beardos with attitudes, hipsters, sex industry workers and “tourists” who drove in from the west side for some atmosphere. The booze selection was limited to beer (NOT the craft brew variety), hard liquor shots and PBR. Their idea of a cocktail would be Jagermeister in a clean shot glass. I opted for good, reliable Makers Mark – also my bourbon of choice for Manhattans.

I love bars with an interesting history. Back in the day, guys who got falling-down-drunk at this and other bars in the area would be kidnapped and transported in underground tunnels. When the men woke up, they found themselves on a ship, out at sea, and forced into servitude.

I sipped my drink while trying not to stare at a couple of call girls, dressed like Barbie doll twins. They sat, silent and bored, next to a couple of young, clean-cut, obviously drunk guys dressed in business casual, talking and laughing overly loud about software companies and upcoming projects. Suddenly, one of the guys looked over at the two rent-a-dates, yelled “Yeah! YEEAAAAHHH!” and pumped his fist into the air. The girls looked at him briefly then away, still silent, still bored. I finished my drink, left quickly, and burst out laughing as soon as I was outside.

 

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One of my girlfriends texted me to meet up at a downtown bar, one of her favorites. It was named after a thief that operated within a labyrinthian network of hideouts in the criminal underworld of 1930s Morocco. She was downstairs, saving me a seat.

 

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The foyer was bright, but the lights got dimmer as I walked down a stairway to a small, subterranean cocktail bar. I spotted my friend waiting for me at a table in the far corner, glaring at me like some moody European when I walked over and took her picture.

 

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The bar’s ceiling was curved, the walls decorated with tastefully framed porn, and I found “secret” meeting spots just around the corners. I was enamored with the place. The cocktail, though, was another story.

 

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The drinks menu was a short but impressive selection of house cocktails and classics. According to my research, the bartender at Pepe Le Moko was outstanding, but he wasn’t working that night, unfortunately. Because I was enjoying myself so much and thought nothing could possibly go wrong, I decided to order off-menu. Nothing strange, just another classic cocktail.

 

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I was sure a place with a reputation for cocktail greatness couldn’t possibly screw up the Corpse Reviver #2. I checked with the server, to see if the bartender had the knowledge and materials to create the cocktail I wanted. I was assured that she did.

And yet there it was, a very pretty cocktail that tasted like disappointment. First of all, the absinthe was missing. The cocktail should have had either a rinse or a dash of absinthe. There was no smell or delicate flavor of absinthe at all. After just a couple of sips, I pushed my cocktail aside.

 

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Second, instead of fresh lemon juice the bartender used some liquid that poured suspiciously out of a white plastic bottle. And that citrus flavor – that wasn’t Cointreau or Triple Sec, plus there wasn’t an orange peel in the glass. Oh no…did they use…pre-packaged citrus flavoring instead of fresh??

I made the mistake of not observing the mixology and methodology before ordering my cocktail, like I would usually do, because I was busy chatting with my friend. But now, I watched the bartender as she used that citrus liquid to prepare other cocktails. When a classic cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, it must come directly from actual fruit.

My takeaway from this night’s final crawl is, a bar’s choices of liquid refreshment,  combined with its ambient offerings, can definitely affect your state of mind, what drink you order, and your level of enjoyment while sipping it.

 

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However, a bar’s fun theme – sexy cool, edge-y, moody, freaky or quirky – will not make up for a cocktail’s poor execution. Ever. This is especially true if they’re charging a lot of money for it.

Ambience is just the opening act to the real star of the show – the cocktail. Bartenders should learn to create each and every cocktail on their menu to perfection, or be honest and offer an alternative if a special request is beyond their ability or expertise.

When it comes to the art of the cocktail, precision and mindful creativity are key.
Faking it ’til you make it just doesn’t cut it.

 

 


Corpse Reviver #2

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Here’s are recipes for this delicious classic cocktail, courtesy of Saveur.com and Liquor.com. Cheers!

Saveur’s recipe:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Liquor’s recipe:

Absinthe rinse
3⁄4 oz Plymouth gin
3⁄4 oz Cointreau
3⁄4 oz Lillet Blanc
3⁄4 oz Lemon juice

Rinse a chilled coupe or Martini glass with absinthe and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

Shake, and strain into the prepared glass.