Why Did It Take Me So Long – Discovering Cocktails.
I should probably point out to start that I am not a big drinker. I can hold my liquor, to be sure, but I don’t feel the need to consume it often or in any great quantities. Nearly two weeks after I turned 21 my roommate finally insisted on buying me a drink when I still hadn’t bothered with the rites of passage of legally leaving prohibition. She bought me what I consider to this day a great dessert in a glass – Bailey’s Irish Cream, Frangelico, and Amaretto with cream served shaken over ice. It is sweet and creamy and lovely like an ice cream sundae, but the first time I lifted it to my lips I smelled the alcohol and thought of cough syrup. It didn’t turn me on to the pleasures of drinking as it should have.
The first time I remember alcohol being really interesting to me was when I learned to make hazelnut creme brulees with Frangelico. It had such a delicacy in it’s flavor – a shock to my Californian style of putting bold flavors into everything. I loved that I finally had a subtly complex dessert in my repertoire. I was still a long way from starting a liquor cabinet in my house, but it inspired me to keep more than some Captain Morgans in the house.
Years went by and I learned that, even though people have insisted for a decade that I’m wrong, I don’t like beer. I still cannot abide drinking whiskey or scotch. Tequila might be delicious but I’m not sure it makes me a very fun person. I would go to bars that had hard ciders. I just wanted so much to be the kind of girl that could order a beer to show how low-maintenance a kind of girl I was… but I’m just not that girl. Low maintenance to a fault most of the time in life – but uber high maintenance as a drinker. I stuck with rum and cokes. Rum makes me happy and for years I would hide in the world of that safe go-to drink.
So it makes sense then that the mojito would be my first loved cocktail. Mint and lime, sugar and rum, with enough sparkle to make it easy to drink and a simple enough recipe that most places that offer it won’t mess it up. …they won’t mess it up – that isn’t to say they will make a life-changing mojito, they just won’t be able to make a really bad drink with that ingredient list. I love just about anything that starts with a fresh herb.
When I moved to New York City it was a cold January. Though by this point I brought a few bottles of wine along for the move. I was almost 30 years old and still hadn’t become very interested in the world of cocktails. That was all about to change. In New York you will find not just people filling your glass with liquor, not just bartenders, you can find actual mixologist. A trendy new title – yes – but one that is necessary to acknowledge these artisans from among their peers, because something magical happens when you actually make a drink perfectly. Something I’d never really experienced and it struck me with an awe much like the first time I ever tasted a true chef’s creation. It was like finally understanding why so much of the world could be so in-love with something I’d yet to see as even attractive.
In a very short time I have come to explore bar-tending with the same passion I had as a chef in the kitchen. Such a huge world of inspirations suddenly having a new place to re-discover them. If you’ve ever been so lucky as to stand in a fully stocked walk-in refridgerator and wonder about what you will create next you can understand how exciting this discover was to me. Some girls want a walk-in closet – I dream about a walk-in fridge for my house. :)
If you’ve seen the movie Cocktail, or just are old enough to have been in a bar, you’ve seen bartenders just lift bottle and pour randomly into your glass and serve you a drink. Sure, at a certain point you can just have great skills and know how to pour a perfect ounce without measuring – but for the at home training of a future mixologist you definitely want to invest in a jigger (the little 1 ounce cups sitting near the shakers that lesser bartenders always have but never seem to use). Great cocktails are like baking a pastry science and measuring. Once you take the time to measure from a recipe and master a few basic traditional cocktails you might just find yourself investing in creating recipes for drinks even more than you do for new cookies.
This is a twist on the very traditional mojito. It has something fancy to make it feel special but is simple enough to serve with your summer barbecue. You can make it in a pitcher (key to serving at a party) and who doesn’t loves mojitos?! Way to fast-track to local drink-making stardom.
The Kumquat Mojito
2 oz Light Rum
1 oz Lime juice
1 oz Simple syrup*
4 Kumquats (halved)
4-6 Mint leaves
Put the mint and kumquats into the glass with the rum and muddle (aka “smash”). Add your lime and simple syrup and fill the glass with ice. At this point ideally you’d use a shaker to shake the cocktail strongly – if you don’t have a shaker you can stir then – but cocktails with fruit juice of any kind really need to be shaken well. Beauty of a mojito – it won’t get messed up by lack of perfection – but our goal here is a life-changing moment so try and find a way to shake it. Pour everything back into the original glass and top with soda water.
*Simple syrup is an easy ingredient to keep at home and will instantly turn bar-tending into a non-intimidating task. Simply cover 1 part sugar with 1 part boiling water and mix until all the sugar is dissolve. I’m convinced that this one ingredient is the main reason we pay other people to make our drinks for us – how silly is that?
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