Saturday, May 13, 2023
It’s World Cocktail Day. Somehow I only know these things about five minutes before they happen, which gives me no time to prepare. Had I know it would be an entire day dedicated to cocktails, I would have at least bought a fresh grapefruit or something.
Cocktails I’m having a love affair with right now: anything with grapefruit.
It’s World Cocktail Day because on this day in 1806, the first known definition of cocktail (or cock-tail as it was so put) was published in a New York newspaper.
New York, people. Greatest city. I rest my case.
The definition appeared thusly:
“A cock-tail, then, is a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind—sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called a bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion, in as much as it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time that it fuddles the head.”
It may not have been the first printed use of the word, but it was the first time it was actually defined. And in the end, does the date matter as much as the ability to drink one in commemoration?
As if I haven’t talked about cocktails before, I’m going to honor this day with a little cocktail love. Just for fun, because that’s exactly what a good cocktail should be.
To be fair, I have not always appreciated or enjoyed a good cocktail. My early drinking life mostly centered around gallon jugs of wine. In college, I drank [insert the cheapest thing here] which usually amounted to free keg night or half price Long Island Iced Teas.
I drank a lot of Long Island Iced Teas and somehow remember liking them at the time, though I suppose when your choices are free keg or gallon jug wine, your standards are not very high.
I think, to be completely fair, that nobody ever referred to a Long Island Iced Tea as a cocktail. It was a “mixed drink” as opposed to a shot.
For those times when you didn’t want to drop two ounces of vodka down your throat, you “mixed” it into something more civilized, like a Screwdriver.
Only much later in my adult life did I understand that drinks could be made with finesse, to be enjoyed rather than tolerated. That beverages, like meals, could be crafted with an interest in the result, not just functional, but delicious.
I don’t know when my interest in cocktails began. Unlike that New York newspaper there is no date printed in my mental archives with “first real cocktail enjoyed.”
All I can tell you is that I wouldn’t drink a Screwdriver or a Long Island Iced Tea these days any more than I’d eat a bucket of papier-mâché.
What I would drink is an ice cold martini. Three olives, please. I recently learned that it is bad luck to have an even number of olives, and one olive is not nearly enough olive, so three it is.
It would be impossible to pick a favorite cocktail when the best thing about cocktails is that you don’t need a favorite. There are endless combinations of things to try.
There is a sinfully delicious cocktail that has Frangelico and Nutella, which is really just dessert that can get you drunk. I tried that one over the holidays and it certainly made things merrier.
In the fall I’ll take anything apple or pear or cinnamon or clove.
In the summer you can’t go wrong with mint or basil. Blueberries and basil make surprisingly good cocktail companions.
I discovered a cocktail around Easter called a Bunny Mary. It’s a riff on a Bloody Mary with carrot juice instead of tomato, and a salted cayenne pepper and smoked paprika rim. It’s transcendent.
Cocktail flavor I dislike in any way, shape or form: peach. I don’t like peach flavored anything. The only time I want something to taste like peach is if it’s a peach.
I also don’t like banana, but I don’t like banana anything, not even actual bananas.
And I don’t like coffee cocktails or coffee ice cream or coffee coffee. Sadly, it’s all the rage these days and you can’t go two recipes without someone telling you to put Espresso into your vodka.
Single cocktail ingredient I absolutely hate and have never not once found a drink using it that I could tolerate: tequila.
It makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it.
Coolest garnish I ever made: a slice of lemon with a Luxardo cherry speared through the center, as a topper for a Saturn. It wasn’t my idea, but it looked fantastic.
Favorite cocktail glasses: the ruby-red coupe glasses with the sliver stems that used to be my grandmother’s. They are striking and gorgeous, and also they used to be my grandmother’s.
When Kevin was visiting recently, he would periodically stand in front of my liquor collection and pull out two different bottles, perhaps Cynar and Gin, or Ancho Liqueur and Cherry Heering, and tell me to invent a new cocktail.
That was a fun and usually tasty experiment.
I really enjoy trying new recipes because even things that sound like they would be really weird together usually end up being, if not amazing, at least interesting. It’s like cooking, but with instant gratification.
I’m going to start an online cocktail course soon, and I’ve been reading up on the concepts behind flavor combinations. By this time next year I’ll be ready to celebrate in style. Assuming I still have a place to live and my bar hasn’t taken over the entire apartment.
Photo, top: The second best mojito I’ve ever had: mine.
Photo, bottom: A mojito we had at a Cuban restaurant in Kentucky. Also known as Not A Mojito. They made it by putting mint into a blender with sugar syrup so it would be quicker to batch. Wrong!!