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Classic cocktails for beginners


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There are plenty of drinks you could go to. The real question though, is will they be prepared PROPERLY at some random bar.

A Sidecar would be great. I found that it's a very approachable drink. It was a pretty big hit for a large group of my friends. Most had never had it or even heard of it before. But the trick is you have to make it properly. In some random bar, it's very likely you'll have one made with sour mix. Yuck. I mean, it's a "Sidecar" but it's not going to be good. But if you get lucky, and they make it with fresh lemon and Cointreau and use the right brandy/Congac (nothing really dry), you'll love it.

Another decent litmus test for a bar in this scenario would be to look at the cocktail list (if they have one). If they do, see how many drinks are vodka based. If it's full of vodka based drinks ending in -tini, it's a good sign they aren't super serious about cocktails. You might have terrible luck ordering something not like that. In that case, beer or wine or a simple highbal might be your best bet. But if the list has a dozen cocktails, and only ONE is vodka based and the rest are gin and whiskey and rum, etc.. based? You may have stumbled into a place that IS serious.

Oh, and you only THINK you dislike gin. :smile: We can fix that really fast around here.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Yup... I agree that citrus drinks really do suck if the citrus is replaced by the powdered citric acid and "flavorings" products called "sour mix". Ask if they use fresh juice when you're ordering, and if the answer is no, stick with the glass of wine.

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Alas, I didn't get a chance to try a sidecar tonight - the restaurant is known for having a great bartender and uses fresh local ingredients so I had high hopes but I got caught in a swirl of people and never got a drink. It was a short visit.

As for gin, it was the accompaniment to a horrible event years ago and the smell alone brought me back to that night for years. However just tonight I realized it's the first year the anniversary of said event passed without me realizing until weeks later. In light of that, I am ready to give gin a second chance.

It's the -tinis that I'm trying to avoid. So many women of my age and in this particular circle seem addicted to the things and they aren't my style.

"Vegetables aren't food. Vegetables are what food eats."

--

food.craft.life.

The Lunch Crunch - Our daily struggle to avoid boring lunches

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There are plenty of drinks you could go to. The real question though, is  will they be prepared PROPERLY at some random bar.

Bingo. That's the problem with going down this road. You'll find things you love, but they'll be hard to find well-made. I've been SO spoiled with the high quality of cocktails at the bars I frequent, and then I end up in a non-cocktailian bar or restaurant without a good cocktail program and I have NO IDEA what to drink. Campari soda is my go-to - very hard to mess up. And is deceptively girly-looking, which I secretly revel in.

I thought I hated gin until I had a Gin Gin Mule at Pegu on my first visit. What I didn't realize is that I just hated crappily made gin drinks. And I discovered how complex and soul-stirring rye can be. So keep an open mind! Some of what I think are the best gin cocktails for someone who doesn't know they like gin yet are quite simple, and you can play with them at home if you don't have access to a good cocktail bar. I love a Southside, or a French 75, or a gimlet (I would go fresh lime/simple over Rose's) or tom collins. There are many threads on these cocktails, or you can check out drinkboy.com or a good cocktail book.

I would also go back to the great bartender at the restaurant you were at tonight, but at an off-hour, and talk to him/her. Ask for recommendations, and to taste new spirits on their own and in cocktails. If s/he is really great (if they're using fresh citrus and other ingredients that is a good sign), you'll be exposed to new things you never thought you'd like and who knows, you may find that sweet isn't really your thing after all. Try a daiquiri (no, not the frozen kind - just rum, lime, simple), or a negroni, or a Manhattan. The best part of this is that you're open to trying new things and finding out what you like.

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A Gin-Gin Mule is my go-to drink for the folks that swear they hate gin. Converts them every single time. I also make what I call a Front Stoop Lemonade which is Bluecoat gin, Thai Basil syrup, housemade lemon cordial and soda. That works too. Making gin refreshing and approachable isn't really that difficult. It's getting the guest to believe you when you tell them they've just enjoyed gin for the first time that's a lot harder.

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 think a great drink to order would be a Manhttan. Most good restaurant bars should be able to execute this drink well.

A Manhattan can give you a good idea what the bar and bartender are capable of, as well as being both a great and sophisticated drink.

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I think a great drink to order would be a Manhttan.  Most good restaurant bars should be able to execute this drink well. 

A Manhattan can give you a good idea what the bar and bartender are capable of, as well as being both a great and sophisticated drink.

great drink. But may not be the best one to start with if you are used to sweet vodka based drinks. Ony if you have had whiskey neat or with a splash of water or something like that before and enjoyed it.

And of course, getting a properly made manhattan seems to be a challenge, too.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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So, what might be great for the whole gin thing as well as you liking sweetish things would be a Tom Collins with fruit in it. Raspberry Collins, Blueberry Collins, truthfully, whatever fruit you feel like. It tastes wonderful, the gin doesn't have as much of the strong juniper flavor. Delicious, I've converted some people who didn't like gin as much.

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*What are a few basic, well-balanced drinks that will make it look like I'm not a clueless idiot or an overgrown sorority girl?*

I think it depends in part on what you like (or can develop a taste for), in part on what sort of image you want to convey (what *do* you want to look like?), and what sort of establishments (something that they won't totally screw up but will be really good when made well).

You probably don't want to order something they won't have a clue how to make but it sounds like you want to show a certain level of sophistication. Just avoid anything with too suggestive a name :raz:

I agree a sidecar may fit the bill. Maybe something rum based like a daquiri, if you don't like gin, a rum collins could work. If rum sounds to "pirate" for your crowd, you could try a whiskey sour.

If you like wine, but want to go a bit more unusual, kir is tasty. Or Dubonnet on the rocks with a lemon twist. What's the point of drinking if you don't enjoy it?

Maybe you could conscript a friend to go do some research with you?

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Also, learn to make drinks. My wife and I have been trying to learn a new cocktail a month. Get a couple 5oz cocktail glasses (those crazy 11oz things are nuts) and try some classics mentioned here. You can play with the recipes a bit and figure out what you like.

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To go back to the titular issue -- how not to look like an idiot -- the trick is not to set yourself up for disappointment by asking for something that the bar can't deliver. I've developed a sort of observational scorecard that helps me determine my chances for getting a good cocktail at any particular bar.

First, look for fresh juices. You don't necessarily have to ask, unless it's a big bar in a busy place. Just watch a few minutes and see what's being used. Sometimes, you'll see bottles of juice -- a sign that the bar squeezes at the beginning of the shift or the start of the day. You can tell when it's juice and not sour mix because the bottles will be different sizes and hold slightly different colorsof liquid. If you see citrus squeezers, knives and whole fruit, you've hit the jackpot.

Second, look at the back bar. See if they have things like Plymouth gin in addition to the usual suspects; Maraschino (tall, straw-covered green bottle); orange and Peychaud bitters, rums other than Bacardi; rye whiskey; liqueurs other than DeKuyper, Hiram Walker or Bols; lots of unmarked bottles full of pretty liquids, clear or pearlescent (these will be homemade tinctures, bitters and infusions); small bottles of tonic, bitter lemon and ginger ale or ginger beer. These are all signs that the bar cares about good cocktails.

Finally, watch a few drinks being made. Look at how the glass is prepared -- did it come from a cooler or was it filled with ice and water before the pour -- or did it come from a rack above the bar exposed to smoke, dust and heat? What's the ice look like? Is it large and usually squarish, meant to fill the glass appropriately, or does it look like it came out of a Days Inn ice machine? Do the cocktails get shaken vigorously and stirred conscientiously? Does the barkeep taste the drink before pouring? If the drink is made for the service bar, does it get picked up quickly -- while it's still smiling -- or does it sit and warm up or dilute?

If the signs aren't positive, get wine, or order something easy and safe, like Campari and soda (and if they look funny at you upon that request, you might want to stick with water).

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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If the signs aren't positive, get wine, or order something easy and safe, like Campari and soda (and if they look funny at you upon that request, you might want to stick with water).

Really? Water? Water?

To quote Jim Backus in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World, "Stop kidding!"

Of course, he went on to say "...and make me an Old Fashioned," which is nowadays generally unobtainable. But what's wrong with a Scotch and Soda?

aka David Wondrich

There are, according to recent statistics, 147 female bartenders in the United States. In the United Kingdom the barmaid is a feature of the wayside inn, and is a young woman of intelligence and rare sagacity. --The Syracuse Standard, 1895

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Some great advice above, especially the tips about checking out the bar's setup and ingredients. Even though I am not madly in love with it, if I see Peychauds behind the bar, a little tension leaves the shoulders and I know at least someone's paying attention. If they have a setup like Dave The Cook described, then that's awesome. Sadly here in suburbia, that's not very common.

To drinks then. Although it has a "girly" name, I would try a White Lady. Gin, Cointreau and lemon juice. It's delicious and elegant. I've ordered them for myself, albeit a little blushingly, and it was the first drink I made for my wife when I became drawn into this magical world of cocktails. Any bartender worth his shaker should be able to make a decent one, and it has the advantage of being made from very basic ingredients. If they have a bottle of maraschino (the tall thin straw-covered bottle Dave mentioned), you can blow their minds and order an Aviation (gin, maraschino, and lemon juice). Instant respect from the bartender will ensue.

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if i were you i would go with a negroni.  classic cocktail, can't go wrong.

I dunno, campari can take a bit of getting used to if you're not into bitter stuff. Maybe I'm making them wrong, but I had to dial back on the campari to achieve any sort of balance. Even then, my wife doesn't really like em.

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I would second the suggestion of learning a few cocktails. There is no quicker way to know the ins and outs of a drink than by concocting it yourself.

I notice that you mention that you like sweetness in a cocktail but you seemed to want to get away from sweetness because of its association with drinks that end with that most monstrous of suffixes (-tini). Sweetness though plays a big part in many well-balanced cocktails such as the Southside, the Sidecar, the Daiquiri, etc. Mixing up one of these simple but very pleasing cocktails that use a sweetener to achieve balance might be good for you. If you want to get into gin, I recommend the Southside (gin, simple syrup, lime, mint) to get your feet wet.

[Edited to change "it" to "with."]

Edited by Alcuin (log)

nunc est bibendum...

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Forgive me, but am I missing something here? Pansophia, your original post implies that you are often in the company of corporate elitists who might be judging you for your drinking habits. If that's the case, you need to turn the tables on these creeps! You could simply drink what you like, and the hell with them. Or you could be straighforward and honest and tell them you don't often drink mixed cocktails and would like to taste theirs to see what appeals to you. People who really enjoy alcohol, drink moderately and intelligently (and are not boorish jerks) will be happy to share their knowledge--or a sip, if you don't find that gross or tacky. Alcohol kills germs, right? Or tell them what you think you might like and have them make suggestions. They might take it as a challenge! And if you don't like what they suggest, they will be happy to finish it for you.

You haven't said much about what you actually like outside of perhaps sweeter drinks. Experimenting at home can be prohibitively expensive if you don't know whether you prefer gin, vodka or whiskey based drinks. Better to experiment by the drink rather than by the bottle, and hopefully in the hands of a good bartender.

There's nothing wrong with ordering wine instead of a mixed drink if you really enjoy wine. Sometimes a simple aperitif like Lillet with a twist of lemon or a vermouth hits the spot. In warm weather in southern France and Italy we discovered Martini & Rossi red vermouth over ice was delicious--a little sweet but more savory and herbal. I have a friend who prefers champagne when everyone else is having mixed drinks before dinner. Someone always says, "Oh, that looks great, why didn't I think of that?"

Alcohol is supposed to be an acquired taste. Remember, anyone who enters this world with a taste for scotch has problems you don't want.

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If the signs aren't positive, get wine, or order something easy and safe, like Campari and soda (and if they look funny at you upon that request, you might want to stick with water).

Really? Water? Water?

To quote Jim Backus in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World, "Stop kidding!"

Of course, he went on to say "...and make me an Old Fashioned," which is nowadays generally unobtainable. But what's wrong with a Scotch and Soda?

To quote Milton Berle in the same movie: "Don't hit me! Don't hit me!"

This last weekend, I was at a renowned hotel in Cincinnati, and spent a great deal of time at the bar, for reasons that aren't relevant here. First I tried my advice (checking out the bar), then took a chance on a Manhattan (giving specific instructions) and ended up with a glass of Wild Turkey bourbon -- no bitters, very little vermouth. For the next round, I followed your advice: Scotch and soda. Eh. Barkeeps like to serve heavy drinks, and this one (or the waitress) had already proved untrainable.

So the next afternoon, it was Campari and soda. Nice.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Remember, anyone who enters this world with a taste for scotch has problems you don't want.

Definitely the best aphorism I've run across in years!

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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The day after my campari and soda, I was at a cafe in Newport, KY. I checked the bar, which was full of long shadows but also harbored a decent VS Cognac, whole lemons and Cointreau. I asked for a Sidecar. The bartender screwed up his face for a minute until a light came on. An acquaintance caught my eye at that moment, and while my attention was diverted, the bartender free-poured Paul Masson brandy and Hiram Walker triple sec into the shaker, finishing up with a splash of pre-packaged sour mix. He shook it for a second and a half, then poured it, ice and all, into a rocks glass.

When I got out into the light of the cafe's courtyard, I found some extras protein in my drink: a half-dozen fruit flies. It was wine for me the rest of the night.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I just wanted to pop back and thank everyone for the great suggestions!

We are going to try some cocktails at home this summer but I also appreciate the tips on what to look for and ideas on what to try when I'm out.

I certainly don't mean to imply there is anything wrong with a frillytini from time to time, but I do actually enjoy scotch and whiskey so my goal is to find alternatives to the pink drinks for when I'm not out with the girls. They don't reflect my personality or my tastes these days. (Not to mention sweet tends to lead to a headache in the morning.)

Years of migraines and social anxiety kept me out of the bars during the years when my friends were figuring this stuff out. This has been my year to "come out of my shell" and silly as it may sound, for me this is just part of the learning process.

Honest to goodness, I used to avoid work events because I was scared of the moment the waiter asked me what I wanted to drink. No more floundering, flubbering and looking to my coworkers for help. I *will* figure out what I like.

"Vegetables aren't food. Vegetables are what food eats."

--

food.craft.life.

The Lunch Crunch - Our daily struggle to avoid boring lunches

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Bloody Mary, vodka & tonic (try it with a few dashes of Angostura bitters), rye & ginger ale (if they have rye), scotch & soda, bourbon & water... Campari & soda is nice if you like Campari, Pernod & water is nice if you like Pernod. Irish coffee is nice when it's cold outside. Maybe vodka Gimlets or Black Russians for cocktails? Both are fairly straightforward. Worst case scenario, it's hard to look like an idiot ordering draft beer. :)

Edited by mbanu (log)
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