Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm No Alcoholic, But...

Sometimes there is nothing better than a well-mixed adult beverage. Notice that I said well-mixed, because that's the crux. If you're simply drinking to get hammered it doesn't really matter what you drink. Axle grease and vodka. Gin and Mountain Dew. Miller Lite.

But if you're drinking for the sake of drinking, with an appreciation for what it is your swallowing, not just any old beverage will do. There's a certain level of refinement necessary to enjoy alcohol for the flavor alone. Care must be given to your choice of alcohols, the mixing components, temperatures, relative densities of liquids and many other factors. And it's very clear to anyone paying attention when the mixture succeeds and when it flops.

I've recently begun drinking Old-Fashioneds. My sister can attest to the level of my devotion. What I've found is that the devil (and the angel) truly is in the details, because the recipe itself is very simple. Here's the recipe as written by Esquire magazine:

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • club soda
  • 2 ounces rye whisky

Glass Type: old-fashioned glass


Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the rye (or bourbon). Serve with a stirring rod.

That's it. Bourbon, bitters, sugar and a splash of club soda. Mostly bourbon. Too much sugar and it's like candy. Too little and the bourbon clobbers your tongue. Same for the bitters. And of course, the better the bourbon (I've never had one with rye) the better the result. I've had some really stellar Old-Fashioneds now, and some pretty pitiful examples. One of the worst had Sprite added. Blah!

Finesse is the key. Knowing proper proportions and knowing proper procedures. Not to say that creative experimentation is excluded. But you have to have a sense of where you're going. Kate did that tonight and cooked up a freaking delicious drink. If I remember correctly, she said she created a simple syrup with water, sugar, honey, a cinnamon stick and some cinnamon basil from our front yard. To that she added guava nectar, gold rum, and a splash of Ginger Ale. I don't know the exact proportions of it all. She poured the final concoction over ice and a sprig of fresh basil.

It was really phenomenal. You could taste every element of the drink, each one amplifying the rest. The basil was the most interesting flavor component, just subtle enough to be noticed, but adding a really unusual edge to the drink. It sounds like a lot of disparate flavors, but, well-mixed the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

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