Drinking is tough to do well. No, I’m not talking about when you let your beer run down your chin. People, that is completely outside my area of expertise. I’m talking about having the confidence it takes to order a good cocktail.
Don’t try to give up your Bud Light Lime and go all James Bond “shaken, not stirred” overnight. You’ll sound exactly how you don’t want to, which is like a dork. On the other hand, though, don’t let fear grip you when you’re perched on a barstool, unless you’ve really got a bad thing about heights.
For 2013, let’s take your drink up a notch. Say you usually order something typical but not too adventurous, like a highball. By definition, a highball is a liquor and a mixer. It’s safe, since there’s no bartender on earth who doesn’t know how to make a Jack and Coke. But you aren’t going to impress anybody with that Tennessee whiskey and high fructose corn syrup, cowboy!
Let’s get some expert help here. I enlisted mixologist Kelsey Iker of The Famous Neons Unplugged in Over-the-Rhine to give us some advice on raising the bar, so to speak.
”I have wonderful alternatives to generic drink orders that won’t cost a pretty penny,” Iker said. “Jack and Coke, gin and tonic, Seven and 7…They can certainly be improved and we make suggestions every day at Neons as alternatives to those drinks.”
Instead of that Jack and Coke, Iker suggests that you try Bulleit bourbon, which is, from her perspective, the best “bang for your buck” whiskey.
“It’s often cheaper than Jack Daniels and tastes a lot smoother,” she says. “Ask your bartender for tobacco or vanilla bitters to enhance the flavors and make a much less boring cocktail. If you’re willing to veer away from the cola product, try an ounce and a half of Bulleit bourbon, a couple dashes of Angostura bitters (made from gentian root), topped with ginger ale or ginger beer (if available). Not only will this cure an upset stomach (sailors used to use bitters to cure seasickness), but it is a delicious, more adventurous alternative to your whiskey and Coke. “
For a vodka and soda alternative, Iker suggests vodka with half an ounce of St. Germain, fresh lime juice or lemon bitters, topped with soda. “St. Germain is an elderflower liqueur that we bartenders often call the duct-tape of cocktails,” says Iker. “It makes any cocktail amazing!”
And when you’re ready to go one up on a gin and tonic, Iker suggests gin, lemon juice and champagne.
“If you add honey, this drink is called The Bee’s Knees. It’s a pre-prohibition style cocktail that is one of my favorites. If you need the lime aspect of the gin and tonic, lime is also great in this drink, instead of lemon. “
Now we’re getting there! These suggestions sound sophisticated but not scary, and you could order them at most better bars — that is, bars where you can spot a bottle of scotch with a name that you can’t pronounce, that doesn’t have dusty cobwebs between it and the mirror behind it. But what does Iker suggest for the adventurous drinker?
She’s going to give us her spin on the classic, New Orleans rye whiskey-based, absinthe-rinsed cocktail, the Sazerac.
“This version is more approachable to people who don’t generally like whiskey. Instead of bitters and simple syrup, I use Grand Marnier, an orange flavored brandy liqueur, lemon juice and mint. Mint isn’t hard to find this time of the year. You can even grow it inside yourself if you have a sunny window! Some bars have mint bitters if fresh mint isn’t available.
First, fill an old-fashioned glass (a “single-rocks” glass will do just fine) with ice and let it sit while you prepare the rest of the drink.
In a mixing glass, muddle fresh mint and 3/4 ounce Grand Marnier. Add 2 ounces of rye whiskey (Bulleit or Knob Creek rye are great choices), lemon juice, splash of soda and ice. Stir.
Discard the ice from the old fashioned glass and rinse it with absinthe by swirling just a tiny bit around the inside of the glass. Discard the absinthe. Rub the rim of the glass with an orange or lemon peel. Strain the contents in the mixing glass into the old-fashioned glass and drop the orange or lemon peel into the glass for garnish.”
So resolve to make yourself a better drink in 2013 — or stop by Neons and have an expert make it for you!
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]