Slowly but surely our palates mature. It's no secret that in North America we don't have our own well defined food and drink culture, what we consume is an amalgamation of every corner of the globe with our own twists on everything. And generally speaking our own twists involve the dumbing down of a particular style to make it more pleasing to those of us used to sweet foods, ie. ginger beef and butter chicken. This trend of liking sweeter things is blatantly obvious in our drink choices also. The movement of classic cocktails shows us our dependency on the glucose content of corn. The most popular cocktails right now are manhattans and old fashioneds, and with both of these the preference is to use the corn based spirit, bourbon, as the base spirit rather than a more muscular and spicy rye. These sweet American style cocktails are much more popular than their more bitter European cousin the negroni or a champs d'elysees.
The Madmen guided movement to classic cocktails, even if they are drinking the sweeter cocktails, is still very welcome. It is the start of palates accepting that there is more to life than just sugars and that herbal components can taste marvellous. Manhattans expose the masses to the wonderments of vermouths and aromatized wines and Old fashioneds make way for the discover of balance that can only come from a proper dash of bitters. When epeople are coming to me asking for the ingredients for something they saw on TV or had while they were out somewhere in town, I always try to give a brief history of each component, or at very least the one I deem they will find most interesting, just so that they might be interested to try everything in it's original form and with its first intended use. Without a taste for each part of a cocktail it's much harder to understand how to build one properly. A slow education is here and happening, and I'm happy to be a part of it.
Like fashion retailers needing to take the blame for not moving people forward in their attire restaurants and bars are playing it safe with lists to be as pleasing as possible, and rather than having conversations about how and what to drink when and where people are left to their own devices and will undoubtedly pick the safe menu item they know. To be fair there does have to be an element of safe to every menu because people are lame, but surely this safe section can be diminished. I admire the places that have the balls to make a cocktail list out of the ordinary instead of putting something on their list just because a big brand wants to make it financially easier to use their (sometimes/often) inferior product. What's cheapest isn't usually what's best for making cocktails to move our palates forward. Milk Tiger Lounge is probably this best in Calgary for this, always wanting what is newest on the market to play with it and see if it will fit, but the sense to say that just because it is new doesn't mean it's better than whats out already.
So how do you make these great bitter cocktails? It couldn't be simpler.
A Classic Negroni:
- 1 part each gin, red vermouth, Campari.
- Stirred in a highball glass over a king cube.
- 1.5oz brandy (Cognac or armagnac are your best options)
- .5oz Chartreuse
- .75oz Lemon juice
- .5oz simple syrup
- Shaken until cold and strained into a martini glass
And as always remember better ingredients make better cocktails