‘I think this calls for a drink’ has long been one of our national slogans.”
*Edit: TheSecretAtheist tipped me off to this video, and it’s sweet, so I’m posting it here. It has the origin of the word “cocktail” and how to make a Sazerac.
A cocktail is a mixed beverage containing alcohol and mixers. Sounds so dull when you phrase it that way–especially compared to the beauty that is a well-crafted cocktail. The cocktail is my preferred delivery of alcohol into my bloodstream, as they’re smaller and more potent than beer or wine
but also don’t taste like crap (okay, I admit, I like a lot of beers, and even a couple of wines). There’s a cocktail for everybody; every palate can find a cocktail to suit its fancy–unless you don’t drink alcohol, in which case, what are you doing on a blog post about cocktails? There are whole books containing nothing but cocktail recipes. They’re stylish. They’re timeless. And they get you crunked (apparently you’re supposed to stop before you get totally blitzed).
Your basic cocktail-mixing equipment includes a shaker, a strainer, a jigger, a stirring device if you prefer stirred cocktails. You’ll need garnish prepped (lemon twists, lime slices, olives) and glasses pre-chilled to ensure that your cocktails stay to temperature longer. You’ll need ice and mixers. And, of course, you need liquor–rum, vodka, gin, whiskey, tequila, liqueurs, and even beer and wine go into cocktails. If it will get you tipsy, you can find it in a cocktail. Here lately, your repertoire of cocktail-making equipment may have expanded to include a blender; although cocktails are not traditionally blended, the gaily-colored frozen concoctions seem to be getting more and more popular–probably because they are tasty and easy to suck down. Unless you get brain freeze. Which can suck when you’re drunk.
The decline of the apértif may well be one of the most depressing phenomena of our time.”
If you’re new to the realm of drinking, ordering cocktails might be intimidating. After all, it’s bloody difficult to imagine how any of that stuff tastes when you see it on the menu–and every bartender makes cocktails a little differently. I recently(ish, it’s been like two months) went to a bar where I ordered a martini–I’ve had martinis before, mind you–and got a rather overly potent concoction that I had a hard time consuming gracefully. (But I did, because I never want to admit that I can’t handle a drink.) It’s quite possible to be completely and utterly surprised when you receive a cocktail because it didn’t sound like that on the menu.
I confess–I would like to order more classic cocktails. I, however, grew up in the frozen mango margarita generation; I never even had a real margarita (on the rocks–that means “over ice,” not frozen) until I went to San Quintín, Mexico. I was twenty-five before I knew the wonder of a true margarita. And even when I’m out, I’m still not totally sure what is what, or what drinks are called, or what I should expect from them. So, this post will be a learning experience for me, as well.
[Note: As I'm going through here, I'm finding that many of these cocktails are the same damn drink with a slightly different ingredient list. This might be a little tedious. You've been warned.]
Your most basic cocktails aren’t even really mixes, and they’re only really cocktails by virtue of the fact that they’re not consumed in shot form. You can order your favorite alcohol on the rocks and simply sip it; you can also order them straight (or neat) meaning that they won’t be served with ice or water (but you still sip–these aren’t shots, you heathens). You can order liquor with water, which dilutes the flavor a bit to make them more sip-able, or with club soda, which isn’t sweet but adds a little bit of a fizz while diluting your liquor just a bit. These aren’t really my kinds of cocktails anymore than the frozen mango margaritas are. Once in a great while, I’ll find a liquor that I would drink just slightly diluted–such as OYO vodka from Middle West Spirits, which is produced here in Columbus–but I generally like a little bit of sweetness to counter my firewater.
There are a few generic cocktail mixes that you can order at any time and mix up with just about any liquor. You can order just about any kind of liquor with sours (although whiskey and the liqueur amaretto are among the most popular); whiskey and rum are often mixed with cola, and lighter spirits like vodka–especially flavored vodkas–mixed with citrus soda, like Sprite, or with tonic. Ordering a Collins, you can get your liquor of choice with lemon juice, sugar, and soda water, garnished with lemon and served in a “Collins” glass–the most famous of these is the Tom Collins, which is made with gin and purportedly named for its creator. Most cocktails, though, have a very specific identity–if you change the ingredients, you have invented a wholly different cocktail. I’m going to break it down by liquor, because that’s as good a way to categorize cocktails as any.
Vodka is a neutral, unaged liquor that is clear and very nearly flavorless (the OYO is a welcome exception). The term vodka comes from the Russian for “water of life,” and that’s an apt name, as vodka does resemble water in almost every way–the difference being, of course, that I can drink a pint of water all at once and not die.
Vodkas are versatile, because they don’t have a particular flavor and they can mix with damn near anything. I would wager that the most famous vodka cocktail, though, is the James Bond gin and vodka martini as described in the book Casino Royale: “Three measures of Gordon’s [gin], one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.” (Kina Lillet, apparently, is a wine-based spirit, not vermouth, which you would often find in a martini.) Although that’s quite a specific combination that most bartenders probably couldn’t come up with if you just asked for the Bond martini, his predilection for the cocktail–and his preferences for stirring over shaking–is widely known. (This is, by the way, also commonly called a Vesper martini, after the dame in Casino Royale.)
The screwdriver may be the most common vodka cocktail consumed, despite the fame and glamor of the Bond martini. A screwdriver consists of vodka and orange juice served over ice. The origins of the mix are unknown, but The Book spins a popular tale about American workers stationed at oil rigs in the Middle East during the 1950′s; apparently, this mix came in cans (???) that they popped open and stirred with their nasty, oily screwdrivers. How it ever caught on with that kind of ringing endorsement, I’ll never know; but, I’m glad they did, since they’re quite good. A Harvey Wallbanger is a screwdriver with a float of Galliano, which, The Book doesn’t say what Galliano is, so I guess your guess is as good as mine. If I come across it, I’ll let you know.
(I know, I could just Google it, but I don’t feel like it right now.)
Long island iced teas also feature vodka, although I can’t figure out for the life of me why, since they also feature three other liquors and a liqueur. A “Long island” contains vodka, gin, light rum, tequila, Triple Sec, sours, and cola–all of that, and it’s garnished with a lemon. It’s a veritable cornucopia of alcoholism, and I order them quite frequently. Be warned, though–despite the high alcohol content, they don’t taste like liquor, and they will knock you on your ass if you aren’t vigilant. (I have direct experience with this. Trust me.) Also, they’re a bit more expensive as a general rule, again, because of the high alcohol content.
More cocktails with vodka include the cosmopolitan, recently having regained popularity because of some television show about women having sex, which is vodka with cranberry juice and Cointreau. If you want to be cool, order a “cosmo”–don’t say the full name, you’ll just sound like a poseur. Gimlets, a cocktail made with sugar syrup and lime juice, are sometimes made with vodka (that’s a hard G on “gimlet”, like “ghim”). A black Russian, or a white Russian if you add cream, contains vodka and coffee liqueur. The bloody Mary is a concoction comprised of vodka and a tomato juice mixture that often contains Worcestershire sauce, tobasco, and other flavorings (many bars have their own “house” mix). If you want to be really esoteric, order a Moscow mule, which contains vodka, lime, and ginger beer, all in a copper mug; this cocktail was developed as a promotional cocktail by Smirnoff in the 40′s, and according to the book, “has been popular ever since.” (I have never seen anybody ordering this, and I imagine if you did, they wouldn’t have the mug.) [Update: I just Googled Moscow Mule, and one of the first pages returned was from Oprah's website--the site says it's a perfect cocktail for camping. I kid you not.]
Gin is another clear spirit, but gin has a more distinct flavor than vodka. Gin is produced by distilling a grain mixture down to the desired alcohol level, and then re-distilling it with juniper berries and other ingredients–which include, but are not limited to, anise, cardamom, citrus peel, coriander seed, or ginger. Dutch gin is a little sweeter, and dry gin not sweet at all.
(This person has the right idea.)
Martinis with gin and vermouth are very common gin cocktails, as are the aforementioned Tom Collins and a simple gin and tonic. Gimlets, when they are not made with vodka, are made with gin, and the gin fizz contains only gin, lemon juice, sugar, and club soda; many people who drink gin enjoy the flavors that are infused into the liquor, and complement it often with ingredients that will enhance the flavor rather than mask it.
This isn’t to say that gin doesn’t have its fair share of complicated cocktails, though. The Singapore sling, a famous variation on the sling cocktail, contains gin, cherry brandy, lemon juice, and soda water. A pink lady, and yes, it’s a girly cocktail, contains gin, lemon or lime juice, grenadine, egg white, and cream. The Negroni cocktail, created in 1919 when Italian Count Camillo Negroni supposedly asked a bartender in Florence to add gin to his Americano, consists of gin, Campari, and vermouth (sweet or dry), finished with a splash of soda and a lemon twist. Gin fizzes can be tarted up in all manner of ways, as well–The Book mentions a Silver Fizz, which has an egg white added (ick), a Golden Fizz, which has egg yolk added (double yuck), and a Royal Gin Fizz that adds the whole damn egg (blech). These people certainly know how to ruin good gin.
Look how damn fancy that is.
Rum is one of my personal favorites (and what isn’t?). There are a lot of rum-centric cocktails that are clean, refreshing, and magical. Rums have different levels of aging that change the flavor and body; light rums are aged 6 to 12 months in uncharred barrels, to retain their light color and clean flavor; medium, añejo, and dark rums are aged longer, and have more complex flavors. Spiced rum has been distilled with aromatics and “other tropical flavorings.” (My favorite cheap rum, Lady Bligh–don’t judge–has really nice hints of vanilla.) Rum is distilled from fermented sugarcane juice–clarified molasses–and has sweet characteristics.
My all-time number one favorite cocktail is the mojito. Mojitos (moh-heeee-toes) contain lime, sugar, rum, and usually soda–this is common for rum cocktails, but mojitos also contain fresh mint that has been muddled or crushed slightly, and it is phenomenal. Word of caution, though–if you ever plan to order one, make sure they use fresh mint and not a mix. Mojito mixes are nasty.
(Yes, please, many mojitos.)
Rum is often used with other tropical ingredients, which makes sense, given that it’s largely produced in the Caribbean. A Cuba libre contains rum, lime juice, and cola; a daiquiri is traditionally made with rum, lime juice and sugar (although you will find many Technicolor fruity slushies that also call themselves daiquiris). A Caipirissima is a rum-based take-off of the Brazilian beverage Caipirinha, which traditionally uses a Brazilian sugar-cane brandy that isn’t really that common in the states; the drink also contains muddled lime wedges and sugar.
The mai tai features both light and dark rums mixed with orgeat syrup (made from almonds, sugar, and rose or orange water–I had to look that one up), Curacao, orange and lime juice, and basically whatever the hell else the bartender wants to throw at you; the drink is served with what is practically a fruit salad. This is a famous cocktail, not only because it was mentioned in Office Space (it was), but because–well, I really don’t know why it’s famous, to be honest. But it is. A related cocktail is the scorpion, which has a more badass name, and contains light rum, brandy, orange juice, lemon juice, and that weird-ass orgeat syrup. I would totally order a scorpion.
[Looking for a decent picture of a mai tai, I realized that there are a lot of snooty people who think that x place makes a "better mai tai" than the original, which was invented at Trader Vic's--their "mai tais" are not reddish and orange like the original, but light, with big sprigs of mint . . .
. . . I'm thinking, their bartender doesn't know the difference between a mojito and a mai tai.]
Another badass rum drink I would order? A zombie. Yeah, a zombie. A zombie has two types of rum, at least, and two types of liqueur (it’s sketchy on what kind), plus two or three fruit juices (okay, really, does a zombie even have a recipe?) such as pineapple, orange, and lime. It’s usually served in “a large goblet” over crushed ice with another fruit salad and a maraschino cherry. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t order a zombie after all–I’d have to ask the bartender what the hell is in it first. (Looking for a picture of a zombie cocktail is just freaking fruitless. It’s just pictures of people dressed up like zombies.)
Tequila is made from the nectar of the agave plant–a plant which, as we learned in the A’s, is quite poisonous if not handled properly. Mexican law demands that tequila (which is made in and around the town called Tequila) be at least 51% blue agave; tequilas that are 100% blue agave are generally considered superior. Tequila can be bottled just after distillation (blanco, or white, or joven abocado, also called gold–the latter has coloring and flavoring added, but is still tequila blanco), aged for a short time (reposado) or aged for at least a year (añejo). The more the tequila is aged, the more mellow the flavor becomes.
Tequila isn’t often the cocktail’s liquor of choice; tequila has a very distinct flavor that doesn’t always play well with other flavors, and tequila aficionados like to consume their tequila straight. (Not to mention, tequila has made more than one person black out or, in the case of yours truly, spend an at least an hour slumped over the toilet at Skully’s wishing that I would die because I can’t stop puking after my “best friend” fed me alternating rounds of beers and shots of cheap-ass well tequila until I completely lost count. Sometimes, people don’t want to re-live those tequila experiences. I still love tequila, though.) Tequila sunrises, which aren’t even in the book, and Long Island iced teas are two cocktails that utilize tequila. The heavy hitter of the tequila cocktail, though, is the margarita. A lot of Tex-Mex restaurants in America serve those slushy fruity things and call them margaritas; don’t be fooled, though. A real margarita is served straight up or on the rocks; it consists of tequila, orange liqueur, and a splash of lime juice. That’s it. And it’s awesome. One night, while we were in San Quintín, we bellied up to the hotel bar; Cruz, our bartender, made the most amazing margaritas I’ve ever had using tequila reposado, Cointreau, and freshly-squeezed limes. They were so good, in fact, that we got totally hammered before we even knew what was going on. One of us, and I’m not saying any names (not me) was completely hungover on the drive back north.
Livin’ the dream.
I also enjoy a good bloody María, which is a lot like a bloody Mary, except with–you guessed it–tequila. I’ve also seen additions of lime juice, extra spicy tomato mix, and picked jalapeños in bloody Marías, all of which are welcome as far as I’m concerned.
Yeah, I love whiskey, too. I’m from Kentucky, it’s like, a law that you have to love bourbon there.
Whiskey is another one of those liquors that people tend to like to enhance rather than mask. Whiskey and coke is one of the most basic whiskey cocktails one can order; whiskey sour is another. A classic whiskey cocktail is the Manhattan, which traditionally includes whiskey or bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, all garnished with a maraschino cherry. (Although, BAR l’etranger in Columbus makes a killer “Manhattan” with OYO vodka and ginger liqueur. I’m not even sure why they call it a Manhattan since it is missing the key ingredient and has another totally off-the-wall ingredient, but it is damn tasty.) Subtract vermouth and add a minute amount of water and an orange slice for garnish (that’s along with the cherry), and you have yourself an old-fashioned–that’s an old-fashioned cocktail, not what you train for using the Shake Weight. (South Park? Anybody?) A rickey is very similar to a whiskey collins, only there’s no soda water added; a rickey can also be made with gin.
One of my favorite whiskey cocktails–can you guess it? I’m from Kentucky, I love mint . . . oh, yeah, you know it–a mint julep. The simplest form of the mint julep is crushed mint, bourbon and ice, although sugar can be added so you can muddle the mint. It’s a classic Kentucky Derby beverage–the most exciting, and probably the drunkest, two minutes in sports. (Quite frankly, the Derby is my kind of sport–it only lasts a short time and you get real drinks, not that watery ballpark beer nonsense. Plus, come on, the hats.) Apparently, you can make juleps with just about any kind of liquor, but why would you?
You know she’s getting her julep on.
Scotch whiskey can also be blended into cocktails–although, again, this is generally a sippin’ liquor. A Rob Roy is a Manhattan made with scotch, and a rusty nail is made with equal parts scotch and Drambuie, a scotch-based liqueur, served over ice. In New Orleans, the Sazerac, which originated at the Sazerac (big shocker there), is a popular cocktail containing whiskey, bitters, simple syrup, and Pernod, a yellowish, absinthe-y liqueur from France. (Okay, I don’t actually know how popular the Sazerac is in New Orleans. I’ve heard of it, so I assume it’s popular, but I have no idea.)
Ha! I found Galliano–it’s a saffron-colored Italian liqueur that is floral and spicy.
Brandy, cognac, beer, wine, and miscellany
Most of your girly drinks are going to fall under “miscellaneous,” and a lot of them don’t have any hard liquor in them at all–or they have brandy, which is a fruit-based liquor. Not all of your miscellaneous drinks are girly, though–the classic sidecar is a brandy-based cocktail that has orange liqueur and lemon juice, shaken and strained into a cocktail glass. A boilermaker consists of a shot of liquor (often whiskey) dropped into a beer, which, I suppose, is technically a cocktail. An Irish twist on the boilermaker, the Irish car bomb, (no, I’m not making that up) is a Guinness with a shot of Bailey’s and Jameson (or any Irish stout, Irish cream, and/or Irish whiskey you have on-hand); I’m told that the secret to successfully drinking an Irish car bomb is to chug it before it has a chance to curdle, because that wouldn’t make me throw up at all.
Crème-liqueur-based cocktails often contain brandy or mixes of other liqueurs. A white lady is crème de menthe, Cointreau, and lemon juice, while a stinger is white crème de menthe and brandy. A grasshopper is crème de menthe (boy, people sure do like crème de menthe), crème de cacao, and actual cream–it’s the trifecta of crèmy cocktails. (Yeah, I just coined the word crèmy; don’t hate.)
Possibly my very favorite cocktail name in this whole list is the velvet hammer: Cointreau or Triple Sec, Tía María, heavy cream, and, if you’re feelin’ it, brandy. This is a close second to my favorite all-time cocktail name, multiple orgasms–so-called because it tasted so damn good, you’d think you were having multiple orgasms. (Okay, it may not have been quite that good, but it was pretty good–coffee liqueur, chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka, cream… probably some other stuff, I don’t know, I was always drunk when I was ordering them.) More liqueur-based cocktails: golden Cadillac, with Galliano, white crème de cacao, and heavy cream; fuzzy navel, made with OJ and peach schnapps; and, I thought there were more in this list, but it turns out, that’s really about it for The Book, although there are as many liqueur cocktails as there are crazy names for them.
For those who don’t want liquor or liqueur, there are wine cocktails to be had–and not even those crappy bottled Strawberry Daiquiri wine coolers, either. A mimosa is a lovely cocktail common to brunch that consists of champagne and orange juice; any excuse to start drinking before noon is a win for me. A favorite of one of my lovely friends is the French 75, which–oh, I guess it does have gin or brandy in it, but it’s also based on champagne, which just makes it doubly alcoholic and therefore also a win. A bishop dates back to the 18th century and consisted traditionally of red wine simmered with orange and cloves; today, it can also be a cocktail that contains red wine, orange juice, lemon juice . . . cloves and powdered sugar? Yick.
(Why would you add powdered sugar to a drink? Don’t they know it has cornstarch in it? Bleh.)
So, that’s every damn cocktail (save two stupid ones that aren’t even really relevant anymore) in The Book. I didn’t intend to write out every cocktail for you, but combining my love of drinking with my division of cocktails based on what their primary liquor was, and, well, I ended up doing the whole damn thing, plus a few. That’s how dedicated I am to this blog.
My friend has gone to Maine to attend to some important familial stuffs, so I’ll be making the croquembouche as soon as I feel like dirtying up my entire kitchen and then eating myself into a creme puff coma. Also upcoming are the D’s, which I should be able to catch up on this week, seeing as how I have two glorious weeks off of school before a new quarter starts. (SPRING BREAK PARTAYYYY . . . ahem.) I am also working on a new design for my other blog, and after that, there’s a distinct possibility that I will make one for this blog, provided coding the other one isn’t too much of a pain in my ass.
Signing off for now, my fellow food-loving fiends. I hope I’ve inspired you to
go get wasted drink responsibly.