When I first saw the theme for this month’s Mixology Monday (hosted by the great ladies of LUPEC Boston) – after gasping at what time of the month it was at and floundering for ideas – the thought in my mind was “The first time? For who? A beer drinker? A wine drinker? A casual drinker? A non-drinker?”
Because there are all kinds of people out there, and I’m not going to deny it – not all of them love cocktails the way most of us love cocktails. That’s fine, that’s their own choice, but you’ve got to keep in mind who your audience is when coming up with the drinks for somebody. It’s not useful to give them what YOU think is good – you need to give them what THEY will think is good, and if you can slowly introduce them to new tastes and concepts that pull them into the world of better cocktails, well, bully for you!
A prime example of that is in my last post about my brother’s wedding. I knew that most of the people there would not be cocktailians the way Marshall and I are, and I also knew the bartenders – to be completely honest – probably wouldn’t be as deft as the ones who usually serve me cocktails. That’s not to impugn on their reputation or skills at all, but it’s also why I don’t order cocktails at most bars.
So I kept it simple – I made a variation of Crown Royal and Coke that just added some depth of flavor to it, and for people who were paying attention, it might’ve been the first experience with orange bitters. I know I’ve gotten a lot of responses about it in person so there will be people out there who might be willing to give something a bit more “out there” a chance now. Had I come up with some kind of Manhattan variation, for instance, most people probably would’ve tried it, said “oof, too strong” and gone to beer or, well, Crown & Coke.
2 ounces Crown Royal
1 ounce Grand Marnier
2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
Build in an ice filled Collins glass, give a brief stir.
My brother’s wife is another example. A few months ago Marshall and I went to New Heights restaurant back when John Wabeck was there to visit and hang out. After a long night at the bar, I came back and Cathy wanted something, but not her usual Kir Royale – the mix of Chambord or creme de cassis and Champagne that she prefers. It might’ve been because the only sparkling wine we had was something like a sparkling pinot noir.
That night I came up with what I called (at the time) a Cathy cocktail – creme de cassis, Hendrick’s gin, and orange bitters, topped with Sprite. Perhaps some mixologists or cocktailians might say “Oh, ewwww, Sprite” but it helped keep the sweetness up and provided some sparkle. Tonic water would’ve been too bitter, club soda wouldn’t have added the right taste, and, most importantly, it was what I had.
1 ounce Hendrick’s gin
1/2 ounce creme de cassis
2 dashes orange bitters
Shake and strain into a glass. Top with Sprite, give a quick stir. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
Now, both my brother and my brand new sister-in-law drank liquor at times before. So do they really count?
What if you’re just a wine drinker?
In that case, I’d start leaning someone towards a vermouth based cocktail, personally. The Gibson has a delicious one that goes down WAY too easily, but since I seem to be keeping up a theme here, I might try something a bit more complex. Obviously, the most important part is that you have good, fresh vermouth, but any wine drinker will appreciate why that is. Personally, I might make them what I randomly named the Sazeritif the other week.
2 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash simple syrup
1/2 dash absinthe
Stir, strain into a rye whiskey-rinsed glass.
The taste is primarily going to be vermouth, but with more complexity to it, and a sweetness that might help avoid the hit of rye you’d have if you’d done it as a straight Sazerac.
Someone who is primarily a beer drinker might be the hardest to figure out. You could try a drink like Gina Chersavani’s delicious Duvel based cocktail at PS7 (the delicious White Velvet), or perhaps even go a simple “duo” drink. The Dark & Stormy is a classic cocktail that’s nothing more than Gosling’s dark rum, a bit of lime juice, and ginger beer, and I’ve had friends rave about them.
So, in the end – it depends. I think the overall theme is to talk to the person you’re trying to get into cocktails, and see what they think.