Recently, Culture of Spirits writer Chris McCollum mentioned his affinity for vodka tonics, and how they are, essentially, “impossible to mess up.” Indeed, one part vodka blended with one part tonic water over ice is a fairly simple concoction to create, and reading this prompted me to look at a variety of the beverages I order when I visit a bar… and the ones I avoid like the plague for the very reason Chris states: many fine beverages are messed up in public bars.
Take for instance the Old Fashioned. At a very fine restaurant in Asheville, NC (which Chris and I happened to visit together this past Saturday night), I ordered an Old Fashioned some time ago. The lovely bartender asked what kind of bourbon I would prefer. I requested Makers Mark, and the gal proceeded to take a nice, rounded old fashioned glass and muddle an entire orange slice in the bottom, crushing not one, but two cherries with it. I was shocked and amazed; not only was the pleasant “sting” of the spirits being removed with an over-abundance of fruit juice (since a proper Old Fashioned recipe calls for merely the peel of the fruit, not the actual pulp), insult was added to injury as I watched her blend water with the ice and bourbon she added. I remember mixologist Robert Hess referring to a poorly made Old Fashioned as “swamp water”, and hereby move that the beverage I was made actually be given this name officially, so as to remove the actual drink I had ordered from any negative stigmas that may result from poor tastes. When properly made, no Old Fashioned cocktail could be compared to “swamp water”!
Similarly, I see people ordering Singapore Slings and making them with gin, grapefruit or pineapple juice, and Grenadine. An actual Singapore Sling (one of the famous Dr Hunter S. Thompson’s favorites) calls for gin, cherry brandy or liqueur, Cointreau, Grenadine, Pineapple Juice and fresh squeezed lemon juice, Angostura bitters, and to top it all off, Bendictine (a liqueur that’s becoming hard to find here in the states; I have a gentleman from Holland bring me a bottle every so often when he comes to visit).
The “watered down” versions that exist in most bars accross the US hardly compare to a properly made Singapore Sling, garnished with a big chunck of pinapple, and yet the erroneous recipe for this and so many other fine beverages is so often served… that is, of course, if the bartender even knows how to make the drink. On many occasions I am asked by bartenders “what goes in one of those” when I order beverages so simple as a Manhattan cocktail! In such instances, I admit that I often just order straight whiskey on ice; if they don’t know how to make the first drink I ordered, I won’t take the chance that they’ll ruin the next one!