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phlip

Spirits, Selection, and Standards

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Part of my worries with the current cocktail scene, when I start to see "premium" ingredients seep down to average cocktail programs, is that it seems like the wrong lesson is being learned.

What bars and restaurants seem to be starting to think, simply, is if they use premium spirits to make their cocktails, that's all they have to do.  They are running a cocktailian bar.

I think the problem with most bars and restaurants is that they're thinking primitively when it comes to cocktails.

They think if they can latch onto the growing cocktail awareness by stocking hot-topic spirits and dropping the right cocktail names they can bank on the movement without any real thought or dedication toward creating a quality product.

They're still not really taking cocktails seriously.

You can stock the right spirits and drop the right names on your cocktail menu but that doesn't mean you're really taking the whole thing seriously.

I'm quoting Philip here but it's one thing to put a drink on the menu and quite another to put it in the glass.

When you are creating something special and taking what you do seriously you should be much more reluctant to put something inferior in the glass. Even if someone is asking for it.

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Actually its quite cost effective and a brilliant idea to use super premium spirits in cocktails and to good results. Rittenhouse bonded: 13 a bottle. Lairds Apple Brandy: About 16. Plymouth Gin 22ish. Barbancourt white: Practically free. Rule of thumb though: avoid adjetives.

FreshHerbs I thought that Bittman guy was a total moron. I'm trying to block the episode out of memory, but for you: My favorite part he says there is no where in the city to get a good margarita then goes on how to demo a good margarita on film with Patron(Were we mentioning something about superpremiun overpriced rott-gutt somewhere in this thread), simple syrup and Lime AKA a tequila gimlet with a bad tequila. There would be nothing wrong with demoing such at home to his friends, but this was for the NY Times which contrary to this article actually has a history of writers and readers who know what they are talking about. It'd almost be comprable to me going on the food network tommorrow to demo kraft macaroni and cheese to the viewers.

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I think a certain amount of "coypycatting" is going around bars as well. To a large degree the whole "classic" cocktail revival is nothing more than the next booze fad for many people. I've even seen the "classis cosmopolitain." Many bars are simply blindly following where they think the trend is going without actually thinking about it. No measured drinks, no knowledge of product, and not a good end result. Maybe people overuse Hendricks because of the old-timey bottle. "hey, looks old, must be a classic!" Then charge 12 bucks.

I went to a local bar recently that had a Gin Fizz on their otherwise 'tini based menu. I ordered one, expecting the worst and more curious to see what was actually going to happen when I did. I was not dissappointed when BOTH bartenders had to run around to find out what the hell the drink was and how to make it. I did this because I saw a drink on their menu that was poached from mine . What bothered me isn't that they used a drink from my menu (itself poached from somewhere else :biggrin: ), because that is flattering and how many of us expand our repitoire and knowledge, but because if they F****ed up the gin fizz, what the hell were they doing to the egg white drink? I just worry that some people with open minds will see these "classic" style drinks and order one without regard to where they actually are, and the results will blow the perhaps one chance to wean someone off stoli raz and sprite. Makes my job harder when I have to explain that THIS gin fizz isn't like the last one you had. trust me? :unsure:

I try to explain that these drinks are not just a fad, while admittingly gaining in popularity and media exposure, but are also an honest attempt to bring back some of the craft and professionalism lost in the last decades back to the bar. The overmarketing and use of certain spirits helps and hurts this endeavor. Sure Hendricks is overused (and a bit pricey, but tasty) but for those people who like the marketing, I no longer have to open their eyes to the possibilities of gin. So, we're one step closer in some regards.

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There's a thread from 2005 about cost of spirits and suitability for cocktails, wherein I offered the following that may have some relevance to this discussion:

In a strict dollar model, I think it probably goes something like this:

gallery_8505_276_21229.jpg

But there are many reasons why this is so.

On the cheap end of the curve, you're dealing with ingredients that fundamentally don't taste very good to begin with.  This speaks to Dave's rule to "never mix a drink with anything you can't choke down straight (although I suppose this doesn't account for bitters).

In the middle part of the curve, you're getting a lot of ingredients that not only taste good and have a refined flavor profile, but also often have good intensity of flavor.  I don't think anyone would argue, for example, that Booker's doesn't have a more intense flavor than Jim Beam White Label, or that Cointreau doesn't have a more refined flavor than Hiram Walker triple sec.  In the middle point of the curve, you're going to find more liquors bottled at higher proof, and you're going to find liquors with some age on them, but not so much that they begin to become less assertive or overly mellow in character. 

In the expensive part of the curve, you're going to find two categories of ingredient.  The most obvious example is an ingredient that is simply too expensive to be consumed in anything other than its pure, unadulterated form.  This is where you find your $300 bottles of XO cognac, etc.  As Dave pointed out, it's unclear that his "Paradis Sidecar," which would retail for around $120,  actually tastes all that much better than a still very expensive "XO Sidecar" that would retail at around 35 or 40 bucks.  All the stuff you pay for in a $300 bottle of cognac would be obscured by the other ingredients in the cocktail.

The less obvious example is an expensive ingredient that actually doesn't work as well in a cocktail compared to the less expensive one.  Many liquors come to be dominated by wood flavors after a certain amount of aging and to lose some interesting characteristics that are present at a younger (aka, less expensive) age.  A perfect example is apple brandy.  A younger calvados still tastes strongly of apples, whereas one with more age often tastes more of "aged spirit."  Other expensive spirits are too subtly flavored to be employed to good use in a cocktail.  If you're going to obscure all the subtle floral character of a boutique grappa di moscato by mixing with it, you might as well be using vodka.

So, looking at the curve we can think about something like the Jack Rose, a simple cocktail composed of applejack, lemon juice and grenadine.  At the lowest end of the scale is regular 80 proof blended applejack, 30% apple brandy blended with 70% neutral spirits.  This is actually pretty good.  More expensive is Laird's bonded applejack, 100% apple brandy at 100 proof.  This has a stronger apple flavor due to the increased percentage of apple brandy, and has more intensity of flavor due to the higher proof and is even better at making its presence felt through the lemon and grenadine.  The Jack Rose is better made with the bonded applejack.  More expensive still is Laird's 12 year old apple brandy.  A Jack Rose made with this wouldn't be very good, because it doesn't taste all that much like apples.  Lemon and grenadine would also obscure much of the delicate character.

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This is a fun and enlightning discussion. Mixologists seem to be both parts at once. I love going to a bar or restaurant that takes it's cocktails seriously, like Beaver's in Houston, and simply tell the bartender that I am in the mood for something with mint and lemon and let him do all the work of creating a tasty beverage.

On the other hand it is a bit over the top to call Grey Goose "filth" and "swill"! It's a good spirit. I do like a vodka martini once in a while with GG. More often than not I drink a gin one though, made with the moderatly priced Broker's.

What I'm saying is there is a place for both and if the bartender is good enough to open people's mind's and palates to new spirits then more power to him. If he does not want to stock GG or Crown Royal then that also is his bar and his choice. It might not cause any issues for me as long as there is a suitable substitute, but it might for others.

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On the other hand it is a bit over the top to call Grey Goose "filth" and "swill"! It's a good spirit.

I think there's nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing about it that makes it worth 250% more than Luksusowa -- especially in a cocktail. And don't even get me started on (570% more than Luksusowa) Stolichnaya Elit. In that sense, they and their ilk are all "swill."

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Snowyisdead, your talking about a two sided sword(most are). If those folks down the road cant make the gin fizz on there own list in a way they make your job easier if you actually can. All you have to do is make the drink correctly.

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On the other hand it is a bit over the top to call Grey Goose "filth" and "swill"! It's a good spirit.

I think there's nothing wrong with it, as far as it goes. On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing about it that makes it worth 250% more than Luksusowa -- especially in a cocktail. And don't even get me started on (570% more than Luksusowa) Stolichnaya Elit. In that sense, they and their ilk are all "swill."

Fair enough, this makes sense.

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I think the flip side of the argument can be stated that if you walk into a bar and start scanning what's up on the shelves you take a certain comfort in spotting certain bottles. If the bar is either taking the time to go find certain liquors or paying for certain bottles then you feel a little bit better. I'm not talking about Hendrick's or Junipero - though at least that means I can get a decent G&T, but maybe some Vya down in the well, or a bottle of VEP or Sazerac. It's not a guarantee that a place is taking the whole thing seriously, but it's hope.

Rocky

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Not always, though. Here is the back bar at Eagan's in Milwaukee. One of the most impressive collections you are likely to see. Probably the only bar in Milwaukee with Luxardo maraschino. And yet... crap cocktails.

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Not exactly directly in line with the GG problem, but I think in the "spirit" of this topic: I was at a place recently where their drink menu said, "Muddled drinks available."

Hmm, I've heard of that, sounds sophisticated and cocktailian. I didn't know quite what to make of this, did they actually know when to muddle a drink, was it a clue to someone that they would make your drink properly if you knew the list of drinks that should be muddled, was it marketing hype, or just an indication that they had a stick of wood behind the bar?

So I ordered an Old Fashioned and got a blank look from the waitress. Said I preferred bourbon to rye and wanted fruit. She didn't have a clue what rye was anyway and pointed to their bourbon list. I decided to play it save and go high end. I think the bartender had to look it up but the drink was ok. I wonder if I should have just said "bartender's choice" for the spirit or if that would be asking for trouble?

So this brings up another issue, it isn't only the bartender that needs to have a clue regarding drinks - a quality experience depends on the knowledge of the whole staff, just as if I was wondering what wine to order.

Their specialty cocktail list was dominated by flavored vodkas so I assume it is indicative of the fad aspect rather than a desire to present a wide range of innovative choices.

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Not exactly directly in line with the GG problem, but I think in the "spirit" of this topic:  I was at a place recently where their drink menu said, "Muddled drinks available." 

Hmm, I've heard of that, sounds sophisticated and cocktailian.  I didn't know quite what to make of this, did they actually know when to muddle a drink, was it a clue to someone that they would make your drink properly if you knew the list of drinks that should be muddled, was it marketing hype, or just an indication that they had a stick of wood behind the bar?

If I had to guess, I'd imagine they got their muddling stick expressly to make mojitos.

Christopher

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Not exactly directly in line with the GG problem, but I think in the "spirit" of this topic:  I was at a place recently where their drink menu said, "Muddled drinks available." 

Hmm, I've heard of that, sounds sophisticated and cocktailian.  I didn't know quite what to make of this, did they actually know when to muddle a drink, was it a clue to someone that they would make your drink properly if you knew the list of drinks that should be muddled, was it marketing hype, or just an indication that they had a stick of wood behind the bar?

If I had to guess, I'd imagine they got their muddling stick expressly to make mojitos.

Christopher

yup

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i should point out that i do like saint germain. i've had a huge amount of fun with it. i just don't like the price. i like hendricks and think its a georgeous product. i just don't like the price...

I think Hendrick's is overrated. Like you said, it's a fine gin, but it certainly doesn't justify the price. (On a personal, note, I'm glad it doesn't really taste of cucumber, since I don't like cucumber and I find the idea of a cucumber flavored gin somewhat repulsive). I have a bottle only because it was a gift, and while it was very much appreciated, I am not likely to buy another bottle once it's gone. At $30, it's no better than most of the $25 gins out there. Besides, you have to wiggle the bottle to determine how much you have left.

Bombay Sapphire seems to get beat up on because it's trendy. It's a good gin, but then again, the Original Bombay Dry tastes just as good as costs significantly less (though it is lower in alcohol).

Some look down their noses at Seagram's gin probably because it's inexpensive and domestic. Actually it holds its own against premium gins and gets high ratings among professional tasters. It's also unique among modern gins in that it's actually cask-aged for 3 months in charred oak. I don't think that is widely known. The Distiller's Reserve brings it a step up, yet still keeps the price tag under $20.

When I hear someone declaring a particular brand of vodka to be their favorite, especially when it's a heavily marketed brand like Grey Goose or Absolut, I usually wonder if they've just been conditioned to think they like it. I can't help but think, "Are you claiming that you've really tried most of the brands of vodka out there and genuinely came to settle on that one as your favorite?" "If your palate is really that discerning, why are you drinking vodka in the first place, and not something more challenging?" I'm convinced that Stoli Elit is a marketing experiment to see how far they can push the envelope.


Edited by brinza (log)

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When I hear someone declaring a particular brand of vodka to be their favorite, especially when it's a heavily marketed brand like Grey Goose or Absolut, I usually wonder if they've just been conditioned to think they like it.  I can't help but think, "Are you claiming that you've really tried most of the brands of vodka out there and genuinely came to settle on that one as your favorite?"  "If your palate is really that discerning, why are you drinking vodka in the first place, and not something more challenging?"  I'm convinced that Stoli Elit is a marketing experiment to see how far they can push the envelope.

Just pour them Smirnoff or Luksusowa out of an Elit bottle and see if they can tell the difference.

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Besides, you have to wiggle the bottle to determine how much you have left.

I'd like to throw out a side gripe for bottles like this (and others) that are so bartender-unfriendly. Hendrick's, new Plymouth, St. Germain, etc...there seems to be an obnoxious trend towards neckless and otherwise awkward bottles that are difficult to be pulled out of a rail with wet hands. It's so dumb, it's incredible. I'd be curious to know what % of liquor sales are to (and thus through) bars. Seems like the kind of thing they could be keeping in mind when designing the bottle. This is especially irritating on Plymough Gin since they went to a difficult bottle from a terriffic one.

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I think that they figured (and probably rightly so) that they would do much more business to consumers than they do in bars, in consideration of the fact that none of these spirits is likely to be used in the well by any but a very select few establishments.

What about Tanqueray and Cointreau? Are those bottles any more "bartender friendly" than the St. Germain bottle?

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You can't really place the blame on the bartender at certain establishments. There's bars that I go to that are regularly busy. Most of my friends are/were bartenders at one point. I always hear the complaint about people walking in and telling them "I don't know" or "Just make me something" when they ask what they want and the house is packed.

But then again I like in a college town with few high end bars.

But I do see the trend. I have friends that drink Hennesy, Belvedere, Gray Goose, Patron, and any other liquor that's considered high end that you always see a ton of advertising for. I'm not a fan of Vodka in the first place, but I don't think that more money = better spirits. I prefer Smirnoff over GG or Belvy.

The only liquor that I really like where I see more $$ = better quality is in scotch. Buying a $20 bottle of scotch usually doesn't get you the flavors you can find in a $40 bottle, not to mention it's tough to find a single malt for under that price in my area.

Same thing with tequila. Out of the limited selection I've tried, I prefer Reserve 1800, cuervo, and then Patron in that order. I'm just not a huge fan of the Patron I've tried, but I can drink 1800 on the rocks.

I guess I'm not that big of a cocktail drinker though. Unless it's gin, I prefer most of my good liquor over a few ice cubes. I do like Gin Martinis though.

This is really making me want to go to the store and find a good bottle of single malt tonight...

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I think that they figured (and probably rightly so) that they would do much more business to consumers than they do in bars, in consideration of the fact that none of these spirits is likely to be used in the well by any but a very select few establishments.

What about Tanqueray and Cointreau?  Are those bottles any more "bartender friendly" than the St. Germain bottle?

Cointreau at least makes available neck extensions to remedy the problem, although getting my hands on one has proven difficult.

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Bottles with large wide shoulders, like Hendrick's and St. Germain seem to be difficult to pour from, which is especially bad when it's a syrupy liqueur. Another one is this particular bottling of Clement Creole Shrubb, which is the one I happen to have. The Drambuie bottle, on the other hand, has the best cap design I've ever seen. In fact, I use empty 375ml Drambuie bottles to store simple syrup. You can always get that cap off no matter how sticky the rim of the bottle may get.

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Not sure if this is exactly the right topic...

But anyway, I had the pleasure of helping out in the Slow Food Expo Spirits pavilion this last weekend.

First, I gotta say the San Francisco Bartender's Guild members and the Slow Food volunteers rocked this thing. You might have seen some of those guys pretty sloppy drunk at Tales, but put a suit on them and they clean up real nice.

Anyway, I worked with one of the spirits vendors and made the Corpse Reviver No. 2 variation with Swedish Punsch instead of Kina Lillet.

These were mostly not cocktail people drinking. Foodies, yeah, and sustainable whatsit hoozle folks. Restaurant and food geeks. Restaurant and food service professionals. Maybe some wine geeks. But mostly not cocktail geeks.

I'd work on selling it to the ingredients to them after I hooked them with the name. "Gin, Cointreau, Lemon Juice, Swedish Punsch and a touch of St. George Absinthe." I usually had to explain Swedish Punch and often about the nature of the gin.

But, like everyone else making drinks there, I got great reactions. We were all gunning for bear and pulling no punches, despite the volume we were preparing for. Comments like, "Why can't I get a drink like this in a bar?" "Where can I get this cocktail?" "I usually don't like drinking cocktails in bars, they're always too sweet."

For me it was a lot of fun on so many levels.

First that I was making a 50 year old cocktail and surprising people with it, even many of the bar professionals who were there. Second it validated my idea that many people are thirsty for well made cocktails, especially those people with some interest in taste and food.

To try to bring it back around, at least at our booth, we were not sponsored by or serving really big name booze. Southern, I guess was involved, with some sponsorship, along with the USBG, which I suppose is pretty big.

But there were no fancy displays, booth girls, or anything else. Pretty much just sincere bartenders, (and others, like me,) doing their best to wow people with really good drinks.

And from what I can tell, it was a roaring success.

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