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Bagool

Tips on the "quintessential" drink of different spirits!

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Hi, me and a few of my friends are planning a cocktail bar-crawl to find out which cocktail bar is the best in our city!

 

This crawl was inspired by a trip to Berlin where we went to Stagger Lee because we heard they had great cocktails, 
after getting multiple recommendations for rum drinks and enjoying them all a lot I'd agree that it is indeed a very good cocktail bar, and now I want to find one in my home city that I can enjoy more regularly!

 

To make a fair comparison we figure that ordering the same drink at each place makes the most sense. The analogue being our hamburger run, where one of our friends stuck with only bun, meat, and cheese.
The question then becomes, what non-signature drink is a good benchmark for different types of spirits?

 

Do you guys have any imput on what rum, gin, and/or whiskey drinks have to best potential to let a bartender show off their skills?

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There are fewer variables in a cocktail than in a hamburger, so I'm not sure the analogy holds. I could just suggest a daiquiri for example, but I don't think the results would tell you which bartender was most skilled--more likely just the quality of rum or the luck of better limes. Maybe a better test of the quality of the bartender would be asking for a bartender's choice with a given spirit and see what they come up with.

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Yes, or the bartender’s signature cocktail.

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On 5/2/2018 at 7:59 PM, Craig E said:

There are fewer variables in a cocktail than in a hamburger, so I'm not sure the analogy holds. I could just suggest a daiquiri for example, but I don't think the results would tell you which bartender was most skilled--more likely just the quality of rum or the luck of better limes. Maybe a better test of the quality of the bartender would be asking for a bartender's choice with a given spirit and see what they come up with.

 

Even for a simple three-part cocktail, just between the choice of ingredient brands (and proofs), differing ingredient ratios, garnishes (or not), mixing method and even the type of ice involved, you're dealing with a complex concoction. Whether or not it's simpler than a ham- (or cheese-) burger is something we could argue about forever (hence eGForums!), but it's not helpful to the OP. Besides, "quality of rum," if we can define it as "what's the well rum at this place?" or "what the bartender chooses to pour," is exactly the sort of information that might inform someone trying to decide on a bar to frequent.

  

On 5/2/2018 at 8:54 PM, Okanagancook said:

Yes, or the bartender’s signature cocktail.

 

The OP specifically said "non-signature."

 

A Sidecar is a great drink to test a bar out on. Don't ask for anything specific besides the cocktail itself, and, if you watch carefully, you can find out a lot:

  • Do they even know how to make it without consulting another bartender, a book or their phone?
  • How good is the base spirit? Cognac or brandy?
  • What do they use for the orange liqueur? Is it of decent quality, or flavored sugar water?
  • Are they using fresh juices, bottled juices, or sour mix?
  • What ratios (spirit : juice : sweetener) are they using?
  • Is the cocktail balanced to your liking? Too sweet, too tart? Watery? Warm?
  • If any specification is unclear to you, you ought to feel free to ask the bartender, unless the place is crazy busy. Anything other than a straightforward answer is grounds for taking that bar off your list.
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On 5/2/2018 at 2:29 PM, Bagool said:

Do you guys have any imput on what rum, gin, and/or whiskey drinks have to best potential to let a bartender show off their skills?

 

Rum- I’d go with a classic Daiquiri. So simple and sublime if made properly. 

Gin- Martini

Whiskey- Manhattan

 

These are classics that any bartender should know how to make, and great bartenders will add their own personal twist. It’s interesting to see what brand of sprits they will pick and what ratios as well. You can learn a lot about their style and preferences if you ask them why they selected a specific rum, etc.

My go-to drink to gauge a bar I am not familiar with is usually a Daiquiri, or a Negroni if I am in the mood for something bitter.

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I agree with a Daiquiri as a test of skill, but a Martini, Manhattan or Negroni? They are good made with almost any reasonable ratio or ingredient choice. This makes them a good choice in a bar I don't trust. If I get a cold glass of gin with an olive, I'll still happily drink it. But if I get a Daiquiri with sour mix, I'm just going to pout.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, EvergreenDan said:

I agree with a Daiquiri as a test of skill, but a Martini, Manhattan or Negroni? They are good made with almost any reasonable ratio or ingredient choice. This makes them a good choice in a bar I don't trust. If I get a cold glass of gin with an olive, I'll still happily drink it. But if I get a Daiquiri with sour mix, I'm just going to pout.

Showing skill in making a Martini for example is asking for the customer’s preference (for the gin, garnish, etc), stirring properly, using a chilled glass, expressing the lemon peel, etc - you can tell a lot by these little things. On the other hand, if it is served barely cold with ice crystals at the surface... you know right away that you are not in good hands.

 

With Manhattans, you’d be surprised at what you get sometimes (even in bars that have decent cocktail menus)  - once I got a drink that had been shaken and was served on ice, garnished with neon cherries and a couple of little black plastic straws. Still drinkable of course. But that drink told me that their cocktail program was mostly for show and that they were lacking the foundations.

 

I once had the most beautiful Negroni at a bar in Japan. They must have spent at least 20 minutes making it and I had no idea why it was taking so long. It arrives in a beautiful old fashioned glass with clear ice, and a thin strip of orange peel that was must have been the length of an entire orange, coiled inside the glass (a bit like a horse’s neck). This clearly showed their attention to detail and presentation even for a cocktail as simple as a Negroni.


Edited by FrogPrincesse (log)

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Thanks for the responses, a lot of disagreement, and that's great! 
 

On 2018-05-03 at 2:54 AM, Okanagancook said:

Yes, or the bartender’s signature cocktail.

 

That is a great way to find out whether or not the bartender is good at creating flavor combinations, although my intention was to make some sort of semi-scientific comparison. Its easy to compared places when you get the same drink, 

but as you say that might be too reductive, and counterproductive for finding the best cocktail bar. 

 

20 hours ago, Dave the Cook said:

A Sidecar is a great drink to test a bar out on. Don't ask for anything specific besides the cocktail itself, and, if you watch carefully, you can find out a lot:

  • Do they even know how to make it without consulting another bartender, a book or their phone?
  • How good is the base spirit? Cognac or brandy?
  • What do they use for the orange liqueur? Is it of decent quality, or flavored sugar water?
  • Are they using fresh juices, bottled juices, or sour mix?
  • What ratios (spirit : juice : sweetener) are they using?
  • Is the cocktail balanced to your liking? Too sweet, too tart? Watery? Warm?
  • If any specification is unclear to you, you ought to feel free to ask the bartender, unless the place is crazy busy. Anything other than a straightforward answer is grounds for taking that bar off your list.

 

There's a lot of great tips here, pretty much exactly what I had in mind going into it, some drinks that has a lot of steps and some room for variation. Accomplishing both my two important criteria of letting the bartender show off, and having a drink that can be compared between bars!

 

19 hours ago, FrogPrincesse said:

Rum- I’d go with a classic Daiquiri. So simple and sublime if made properly. 

Gin- Martini

Whiskey- Manhattan

A Daiquiri seems to be straight up my alley, is there enough room for variation for me to ask the bartender for a twist on it to be able to give them some leeway to show their skills with a Daiquiri?

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2 minutes ago, Bagool said:

A Daiquiri seems to be straight up my alley, is there enough room for variation for me to ask the bartender for a twist on it to be able to give them some leeway to show their skills with a Daiquiri?

Plenty of room - for example I have a bunch of Daiquiri variations on my blog. My favorite is a classic 10:3:2 made with rhum agricole.

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@FrogPrincesse I had a house special Manhattan at a so-so place that featured CAF and some nice rye. What came, I'm confident, was vodka and grenadine.

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1 minute ago, EvergreenDan said:

@FrogPrincesse I had a house special Manhattan at a so-so place that featured CAF and some nice rye. What came, I'm confident, was vodka and grenadine.

Oh the horror. Did you send it back? :D

 

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23 hours ago, FrogPrincesse said:

Oh the horror. Did you send it back? :D

 

Yes. I figured I got the wrong table's drink. Came back the same. Sent it back and asked for a glass of CAF. Mysteriously, they JUST ran out. Ordered a Martini, which at least contained gin. And a lot of water. Next time beer or Scotch neat.

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