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Q&A -- Classic Cocktails

30 posts in this topic

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to narrow my focus even further. First, I think that a cocktail should taste of alcohol. If I want, for example, an oatmeal cookie, I'll eat one -- I have no desire to drink a simulation of one. And setting out to make a cocktail that "doesn't taste like alcohol" is completely alien to my sensibilities. Also, I tend to think of a cocktail as an aperitif, drunk before dinner to stimulate the appetite. So although my cocktails may have a sweet element, overtly or purely sweet cocktails are not something I'm going to talk about. There is a whole category of "dessert drinks" out there, but it doesn't interest me in the least.

I can't really continue without mentioning the recent trend of calling any drink that's poured into a cocktail glass a Martini of some sort. Now, I'm all for the creation of new drinks (if they're good, that is). But in my book, calling all these creations "Martinis" is not a welcome trend, for three reasons. First, there's already a term for those types of drinks: "cocktail." Second, it means that eventually, my ordering a Martini is not going to mean anything specific. It's not going to result in a true Martini being set down in front of me. And third, it shows a complete lack of imagination in naming new cocktails. Part of the fun of cocktails is the fanciful names. Instead of the Maiden's Prayer or the Monkey Gland, a Leap Year or a Satan's Whiskers, we now have the "Fill-in-the-blank" Martini. How pedestrian. And how very sad.

End of rant. Back to cocktails.

Well Janet, nice work.

So, it is your opinion that cocktails do not evolve as does the rest of the culinary world? Or perhaps to consider an adaptation of a drink from, let's make it an even in the middle stab and say the 1800's, into a homage of a classic style of a cocktail to grow into the 21st century?

I find it all quite the opposite of pedestrian and rather exciting to see endless combinations to suit as many differing tastes.

I'm not saying one view is more right than the other either. I'm all for enjoying and exploring modern approaches to a much beloved oldie and adapt to the myriad of choices that are currently available today. :smile:

Gosh, I missed out on asserting a personal rant in my class! :raz::wink:

edit: tired typing fingers make plenty o'typos! :rolleyes:


Edited by beans (log)

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Here's a question that's always befuddled me - Triple Sec, or Grand Marnier, or Cointreau as the orange flavored "splash"? I know you can kick up a Margarita by using Grand Marnier and golden tequila, hence creating a "Golden" Margarita, but does the choice of the mixer matter that much? I realize these are all interchangeable to some extent (hell - you can use blue Curacao and make your cocktail look like Windex if you want), but what is your personal preference as a trained professional?

Thanks,

Katie


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Janet do you mind if we both answer?

Katie --

All are subtle differences in taste and preference. Also, in the commercial context, one must consider the varied liquor cost of each when selling and pricing a cocktail.

However as for the subtle differences in taste, I'd guess that is if all various orange liqueur products were sampled side by side! A long ago reading of Robert Plotkin seems to remind me Cointreau being described as drier in taste than curacao and triple sec is very sweet. Yes, very true!

As far as the use of triple sec, it is very much so considered as "well" liquor. Liquor cost has prompted many bars to consider the use a not very long ago, annual Vegas barshow that introduced an alcohol free version -- the thinking being liquor cost (hmmmm, $$$$$ bottom line) and that the low liquor proof of the triple sec really doesn't add anything to the drink other than sweet, orange flavouring.

Coloured curacaos sell based upon the gimmick of colour and recent readings on the topic has eluded to their being comprised of a blend of artificial flavourings. Only Curacao of Curacao claims to produce the true orange liqueur from the original Laraha oranges of Curacao. Generally, very little flavour is sacrificed when subbing triple sec or curacao in a Marg.

As an upgrade from triple sec, from a bartender's perspective, Cointreau is natural choice. However, Cointreau is a complex, carefully blended orange liqueur of bitter Carribean Bigarade (picked unripe and sundried) orange peels, sweet Spanish Conuma, Cadanera and Salustiana oranges (using some fresh fruit), as well as sweet Brasilian Pera oranges.

Ahhh, Grandma. (many a barkeep's choice term of endearment for this lovely French orange liqueur). :wub:

Grandma's made from cognac and bitter Carribean "Citrus Bigaradia." This is decidedly sweeter and has, IMHO, a "honey like warmth." This is luscious in a Golden Marg, complementing the warmth of a decent golden tequila, and without a doubt, again IMHO, the "Cadillac of all Margaritas." However, use Grandma in a Cosmo, and I would rather order my fave Russian Vanilla Vodka....

Does any of this help?


Edited by beans (log)

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Here's a question that's always befuddled me - Triple Sec, or Grand Marnier, or Cointreau as the orange flavored "splash"?  I know you can kick up a Margarita by using Grand Marnier and golden tequila, hence creating a "Golden" Margarita, but does the choice of the mixer matter that much?  I realize these are all interchangeable to some extent (hell - you can use blue Curacao and make your cocktail look like Windex if you want), but what is your personal preference as a trained professional?

Thanks,

Katie

When you taste the various orange liqueurs plain, you can taste some differences. As Beans noted, Grand Marnier is sweeter; it also has a more pronounced brandy like flavor. Although I like it for some cocktails, I personally think it muddles the flavor of a traditional margarita. On the other hand, I once made margaritas with Meyer lemons, and used a liqueur very similar to Grand Marnier, and it worked very well.

Triple sec is one of those generic names that covers every thing from high to low quality spirits. I love Cointreau in drinks calling for triple sec, but it's expensive. I think Marie Brizzard triple sec is nearly as good as Cointreau, and much less expensive (although much more expensive than the low end versions). The low end triple secs tend to be very sweet and artificial tasting, and I try to avoid them.

As for the difference between (as a class) curacao and triple sec, it's never been explained to my satisfaction. I've read that the terms are interchangeable; I've read that curacao is flavored with sour oranges and triple sec with sweet; I've read that curacao is flavored with orange peel and triple sec with orange peel and "extract." I don't know if any of those is correct. If you read the label of a Cointreau bottle it reads "triple sec curacao" (I'm going by memory here; I don't currently have a bottle to check). I think the categories are a little hazy.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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I can't really continue without mentioning the recent trend of calling any drink that's poured into a cocktail glass a Martini of some sort. Now, I'm all for the creation of new drinks (if they're good, that is). But in my book, calling all these creations "Martinis" is not a welcome trend, for three reasons. First, there's already a term for those types of drinks: "cocktail." Second, it means that eventually, my ordering a Martini is not going to mean anything specific. It's not going to result in a true Martini being set down in front of me. And third, it shows a complete lack of imagination in naming new cocktails. Part of the fun of cocktails is the fanciful names. Instead of the Maiden's Prayer or the Monkey Gland, a Leap Year or a Satan's Whiskers, we now have the "Fill-in-the-blank" Martini. How pedestrian. And how very sad.

End of rant. Back to cocktails.

So, it is your opinion that cocktails do not evolve as does the rest of the culinary world? Or perhaps to consider an adaptation of a drink from, let's make it an even in the middle stab and say the 1800's, into a homage of a classic style of a cocktail to grow into the 21st century?

I find it all quite the opposite of pedestrian and rather exciting to see endless combinations to suit as many differing tastes.

Gosh, I missed out on asserting a personal rant in my class! :raz::wink:

Maybe I wasn't clear, but what I object to is not the drinks that are being made, but the fact that they're all being called "martinis." In other words, it's not about the drinks, it's about the terminology. (You yourself noted that it's gotten ridiculous, with margaritas now being called "tequila-tinis.")

If I'm creating a drink with (for example), starfruit puree, lime and coconut rum, why should that drink be called a "starfruit martini"? If anything, it should be called a "starfruit daiquiri" -- it's far closer in structure to a daiquiri than to a martini. But why not be creative and call it -- I don't know, a "Starry Night"?

That's what I was referring to when I said it was pedestrian: a bartender takes all the time and effort to come up with a dazzling new drink, and can't even come up with a new name for it. I think that for some, it's an attempt to make the drink somehow more sophisticated sounding by calling it a "martini," but I don't think it really does that. It just seems sad to me.

Gary Regan's book New Classic Cocktails, for example, features a lot of great new drinks, but he doesn't call them martinis (except when they're strucurally similar). That's all I'm asking.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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jzimmerman@eGullet.org
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Hi JAZ,

One thing I was hoping you'd cover more in your presentation was some discussion of classic mixers. It looks like you don't use that many mixers in your drinks, regarding drinks containing them as mixed drinks and not really cocktails. Is this true for you? Do you consume and/or make any mixers, and what do you think of them? I am personally a devotee of sours, and was hoping to pick up some tips on making a truly flavorful sour mix.

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Hi JAZ,

One thing I was hoping you'd cover more in your presentation was some discussion of classic mixers. It looks like you don't use that many mixers in your drinks, regarding drinks containing them as mixed drinks and not really cocktails. Is this true for you? Do you consume and/or make any mixers, and what do you think of them? I am personally a devotee of sours, and was hoping to pick up some tips on making a truly flavorful sour mix.

Well, it's not that I don't use mixers such as club soda, ginger ale and tonic. I do, but I just didn't cover those kinds of drinks in the class (I figured it was long enough without them!).

But the problem with some other mixers such as Collins mix or sour mix is that they're shortcuts for using fresh lemon or lime juice, and I just don't think you can make good mixed drinks of any type without fresh citrus. A homemade sour mix would really just be a combination of lemon juice and sugar syrup, which you can certainly make, but it will have a short shelf life (a couple of days in the refrigerator) before it will start to taste off.

If you like sours as a class of drinks, start out with the spirit of your choice and experiment with proportions of simple syrup or fine sugar and lemon juice until you find the right blend for you. Dale De Groff suggests 3/4 parts lemon to 1 part syrup to 2 parts liquor. I like my drinks on the tart side, so I tend to go with more lemon (maybe 1:1).

And since you like sours, you might want to try the drinks I listed in the "sweet + sour" category of cocktails.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Thank you ladies!

As for the cost perspective, I am well aware of the cost differential. My bartenders drive me crazy when they don't use the recipes I have in my cocktail spreadsheet calculator! At the moment I was thinking more along the lines of "personal use" vs. "doing my job" :raz: . I appreciate the detailed explanation of the various types of oranges that go into the liqueurs. I've been using "Gran Gala" at home for margaritas and it seems to do a good mimic of "Grandma" at a decent cost savings of about 30%.

Thanks for the lesson!


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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I haven't read every word of the lesson, but I did read most of it and then skimmed the rest, so I profusely apologize if this was mentioned:

What about storage? I am very interested in buying more liquor for my home bar but I know that I would not be using the bottles very often. How long do they keep once opened?

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What about storage? I am very interested in buying more liquor for my home bar but I know that I would not be using the bottles very often. How long do they keep once opened?

If you keep your bottles of spirits out of the sun and heat, they will last indefinitely. Lots of direct sunlight will alter the color, though, and too much heat for prolonged periods of time might result in some loss of flavor complexity, but you don't have to worry about spoilage because of the alcohol content.

Vermouth, with its lower alcohol content, doesn't last indefinitely. It should last 3 to 4 months unrefrigerated (but kept cool). If you don't go through it quickly, buy it in smaller bottles and store them in the refrigerator. That should increase the shelf life by a couple of months.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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jzimmerman@eGullet.org
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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What drink would you recommend to really highlight Cointreau? Would you ever drink it straight?


Chris Sadler

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What drink would you recommend to really highlight Cointreau?  Would you ever drink it straight?

There aren't any drinks that I know which feature Cointreau -- it's usually used as an accent rather than the main player. But since you asked, I did a little experimenting. Because it's so sweet, I figured it needed something acidic for some balance and since it's pretty subtle, I didn't want to add anything overpowering. So, I thought about a sort of reverse Kamikaze and tried it. It's not bad for a first attempt, especially with the addition of a dash of orange bitters. Just make sure it's very cold.

Try this:

2 oz. Cointreau

1 oz. vodka

3/4 oz. lemon juice

Dash orange bitters

Shake vigorously over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. I'd garnish it with an orange wheel.

Of course you can drink any liqueur straight, although Cointreau's not one that is commonly drunk that way. Make sure to chill it thoroughly if you'd like to try it -- it's pretty sweet.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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Cointreau is pretty good in a classic Sidecar as well.

2 parts brandy or cognac

1 part Cointreau

1 part fresh lemon juice.

Shake and strain into a "birdbath" glass that has a sugared rim.

I absolutely love these. They're particularly tasty if you substitute Calvados for the brandy, thus making a Calvados Sidecar.

Janet your creation sounds pretty tasty too!


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Cointreau is pretty good in a classic Sidecar as well.

2 parts brandy or cognac

1 part Cointreau

1 part fresh lemon juice.

Shake and strain into a "birdbath" glass that has a sugared rim.

I absolutely love these.  They're particularly tasty if you substitute Calvados for the brandy, thus making a Calvados Sidecar.

Janet your creation sounds pretty tasty too!

Oh yes, I love Sidecars. The Calvados version sounds quite nice.

I was trying for something where the Cointreau was the main component, and that's not easy. Can you think of anything like that?


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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jzimmerman@eGullet.org
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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I seemed to like the Cointreau Caipirinha on their long list of suggested drinks to make with their product.

Cointreau

Click on "Shake and Create" and then onto "The Cocktails Menu." There are several choices! :smile:

Cointreau Caipirinha

Cut half a lime into 5 or 6 pieces

Crush the lime in the glass

Fill to the top with crushed ice

4 cl (1.4oz) CointreauTM

Stir

That or their Whisper

3 cl (1,06oz) CointreauTM

3 cl (1,06oz) Vodka

1 cl (0,35oz) Dry vermouth

Stir

Strain into a cocktail glass

Or, their You and Me

2 cl (0.7oz) lime or lemon juice

6 cl (2.1oz) grapefruit juice

4 cl (1.4oz) CointreauTM

Strain into a tumbler glass filled with

ice

Top up with lemonade

Stir

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I was trying for something where the Cointreau was the main component, and that's not easy. Can you think of anything like that?

Best I could do was a Cointreau and Tonic. That might be delicious but I can't stand the taste of tonic. Too acrid for me! Yech!

Cointreau and soda with a splash of sour mix and/or lemon/lime juice might be good and cut down on the sweetness as well.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Cointreau is pretty good in a classic Sidecar as well.

2 parts brandy or cognac

1 part Cointreau

1 part fresh lemon juice.

Shake and strain into a "birdbath" glass that has a sugared rim.

Sidecars are my favorite drink but I find that just about every bartender out there has a different version of the Sidecar and most of the time it isn't nearly as good as the recipe quoted above.

Is it acceptable for me to inquire as to how said bartender makes his/her sidecar and if it isn't brandy/cointreau/lemon juice ask them to make it that way? Or should I just be daring and go with their version?

I don't think I have had any other drink that is so varied. I never know what I'm going to get!

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Sidecars are my favorite drink  but I find that just about every bartender out there has a different version of the Sidecar and most of the time it isn't nearly as good as the recipe quoted above.

Is it acceptable for me to inquire as to how said bartender makes his/her sidecar and if it isn't brandy/cointreau/lemon juice ask them to make it that way?  Or should I just be daring and go with their version? 

I don't think I have had any other drink that is so varied. I never know what I'm going to get!

I too have been -- surprised, shall we say? -- when ordering certain drinks. Lemon drops are another drink that vary so widely as to be unrecognizable sometimes. And margaritas can range from sublime to criminal.

Bar etiquette could be a whole separate thread, but here are a few pointers.

If you have some time, the best way to guage how a bartender is going to do on a drink like a sidecar is to watch him or her in action. The first thing to watch for is whether he uses sour mix out of a bottle or squeezes limes and lemons to order (sometimes bars that use lots of citrus juice will squeeze a lot at once and pour it into a bottle, though, so it's not always a bad thing if they reach for a bottle). Sidecars and other sweet-sour drinks are so dependent on the citrus that I try never to order them in places that use sour mix. If you don't have the time to watch, I don't think it's out of place to ask if they use fresh lemon juice. Of course, you don't want to ask in an obnoxious manner, or if the bartender is swamped with customers.

As for the Cointreau, not too many bars will use it except in their "top shelf" drinks, so if you want Cointreau you should definitely ask for it. You should expect to pay more for your drink because of that, the same as if you'd specified a premium brandy.

As opposed to asking for Cointreau, or asking if a bar uses fresh citrus juice, asking a bartender to make a drink in a certain way is tricky. For instance, when I order a martini, I've taken to specifying that I want it stirred. Once, at an old established bar, the bartender replied, "Martinis are always stirred here, miss," and acted as if I had impugned his bartending skills. I soothed his ruffled feathers by saying that of course he would know how to make a martini, but so many other, less experienced bartenders did not that I had grown accustomed to asking, etc. He was really nice to me after that.

Generally, what I do with a drink like a margarita or a sidecar is this: I ask if they use fresh citrus. If they say yes, then I order the drink, sometimes further specifying a particular brand of the spirits involved. If they say no, I usually just order something else -- my fallback, which is impossible to ruin, is Dewar's on the rocks. Very occasionally, the bartender will reply that they usually don't use fresh citrus, but he'd be happy to make my drink that way. That's a very pleasant surprise, but you can't count on it.

In your case, if I were you I'd simply ask how they make their sidecars. If they say anything besides "brandy, lemon juice, triple sec," I'd order something else. I probably wouldn't ask them to make it my way.

If, on the other hand, you become a regular at a certain bar, you'll reach a point where, I think, it's acceptable to order a drink made specially the way you want it. It's akin to ordering off the menu at a restaurant.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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jzimmerman@eGullet.org
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Sorry I am late to this thread...but my drink of choice is always a Vodka Gimlet on ice with fresh lime juice. I used to just order a Vodka Gimlet but, around 10 years ago or so, they changed. Instead of vodka with a splash of Rose's, they became Rose's with a splash of vodka. What happened?

Ug...I really detest the fake taste of Rose's Lime Juice when it is obvious. On a very few occassions, I have been told the bar has no fresh limes and I change my drink order. But as Beans said, the bartenders are usually quite happy to make the drink for me...in fact, they are curious to see if I like it, and thrilled if I give it a high five. And, of course, I say thank you!


Lobster.

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Sorry I am late to this thread...but my drink of choice is always a Vodka Gimlet on ice with fresh lime juice.  I used to just order a Vodka Gimlet but, around 10 years ago or so, they changed. Instead of vodka with a splash of Rose's, they became Rose's with a splash of vodka.  What happened? 

Ug...I really detest the fake taste of Rose's Lime Juice when it is obvious.

I drink gimlets at home, but rarely order them out for exactly that reason. I do like the taste of Rose's, but overdone, it's cloying, and it's so often overdone that I prefer making my own. It's even worse if the bar uses a cheap substitute instead of real Rose's.

But to me, fresh lime and gin is just not a gimlet. It needs that hit of Rose's. That being said, there are very few other drinks where I think it works.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
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jzimmerman@eGullet.org
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Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Sorry I am late to this thread...but my drink of choice is always a Vodka Gimlet on ice with fresh lime juice.

:wink:

IrishCream: Very lovely of you to read the presented classes. :smile:

I like mine that way too. Except I'lll add a drop or two of Simple Syrup (gomme). It's all out of personal preference, and I love fresh lime juice over anything else. Even a Gimlet.

To me, I couldn't use up enough Rose's in a year to warrant the purchase of an entire bottle for it to only turn a funky red colour. (indicative of bad)

As I said, the person behind the bar isn't always the top representative sample of the game. There are good cooks and there are bad cooks. Very true of bartenders too. If there is any interest in good communication or a pleasant evening out, teach that person your preference. They'll be happy to comply and should not forget your preference the next time you visit!

Cheers!

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I like mine that way too.  Except I'lll add a drop or two of Simple Syrup (gomme).  It's all out of personal preference, and I love fresh lime juice over anything else.  Even a Gimlet.

Beans, you point out one of the problems with my Vodka Gimlet with fresh lime juice order. Sometimes the limes are incredibly sour. When readily available, I'll just add a bit of sugar to the drink and stir it. But now I wonder...does the average bar keep simple syrup around? Could I ask for it? Or is that going too far? I don't dare ask for even a splash of Rose's because inevitably the drink will be yellow. Not to say I don't like Rose's, just that it is used heavy handedly or (and this never dawned on me til JAZ pointed it out) it's not actually Rose's but some cheap imitation.

Times have surely changed. My parents have always had a cocktail hour at home and I clearly remember my dad making simple syrup back in the 60s when they were drinking Tom Collins'.

And JAZ, you mentioned a Slippery Nipple in your article. Is that the same as what I call a Buttery Nipple? Butterscotch Schnapps and Irish Cream? I confess I love that drink, usually in shot form. I first encountered it on Bourbon St. :biggrin:


Edited by IrishCream (log)

Lobster.

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But now I wonder...does the average bar keep simple syrup around?  Could I ask for it?  Or is that going too far?

Some bars keep simple syrup on hand, but it's not something you can count on. Most bars will have bar sugar or superfine sugar, though, so you should be able to get a sweetened gimlet with fresh lime.

And JAZ, you mentioned a Slippery Nipple in your article.  Is that the same as what I call a Buttery Nipple?  Butterscotch Schnapps and Irish Cream?  I confess I love that drink, usually in shot form.  I first encountered it on Bourbon St. :biggrin:

Actually, a Slippery Nipple is something different: Irish Cream, Sambuca and (sometimes) brandy.

Not being a fan of many sweet drinks, I'm hardly impartial about these. I do like good Irish Cream (especially homemade) on the rocks or in coffee after dinner, though.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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