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Has the Whole Craft Cocktail Thing Gone Too Far?

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Boston is abuzz with new places making all sorts of whizzy cocktails. And to some extent I am a fan. Eastern Standard for example makes some really amazing drinks and their focus is distinctly old school and the cocktails are darned good.

Then there are drinks like this, recently served at Drink in Boston;

- Bacon infused bourbon and a peanut foam with the Circus Peanut (floated on the foam)

Or this at the intercontinental hotel:

- $275 "deluxe" version of a Champagne cocktail made with vintage bubbly, some Napoleon-level Cognac, and a sprinkling of 23K gold flakes.

Am I a total curmudgeon in my belief that 90% of the great cocktails out there were created before 1940.

No Appletini's thank you.

Nothing with cucumber or basil in it either.

Heck one of my all time favorite drinks is a nicely made Manhattan with Jim Beam as the booze.

While I'm at it why don't I rant a bit about the trend in exorbitantly priced vodkas. Vodka is the MOST boring of all booze. Vodka is essentially a colorless flavorless liquid to be mixed with other things to give it flavor. $300 bottle service for a froo froo vodka, oy.

That said the current trend toward rediscovering old drinks is a plus. I remember my first Mojito in Miami in 1998. Yum. Hooked ever since.

And I have recently gotten a bit hooked on Aviation cocktails.

Anyhow, just curious if anyone else out there has had enough of the trendy Bartender as Savant/Mystic purveyor of some magical potion... and the nouveau chi chi libations that go with it?

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  1. Truly, but the current economy should pare down some of this. As to the invention of Cosmos, Appletinis, and such, some people can appreciate the taste of alcohol, others have moved onto pricier, stronger versions of the bottled wine coolers they were drinking in high school.

    1. I wouldn't put the bacon-infused vodka drink anywhere near the same category as an Appletini. Agreed, it's a pretty weird thing on paper, but it takes a helluva lot more creativity and know-how to put that drink together than the basically-an-8-oz.-shot Appletini. And Drink is as focused (if not more so) on classic cocktails as Eastern Standard. And both have their share of infused drinks. If you've ever bothered to look at pre- AND post-prohibition drink recipes, there was a lot of muddling and invention going on, just like there is now.

      A $275 cocktail? Absurd. That's like the $10,000 iPhone app that does nothing - a status symbol. Nice work if you can get it.

      Sure, there's nothing new under the sun and every metal band after Sabbath are just garbage, and yadda yadda yadda. But c'mon... a good bartender who studies drinks and has the imagination to do something new and useful or fun is way more rare than you imply and, in my and many others' mind, hugely welcome in this town. Are they a mystery? Meh... I have a cocktail shaker and the internet and a couple good books. I'll manage without them but the expertise and the inspiration is pretty great.

      I'm sensing an endless rant coming on... must stop typing... resist!

      2 Replies
      1. re: mrgrotto

        Hmm, well said.

        I want to hear the rest of the rant...

        1. re: StriperGuy

          That's all I had, actually. Just didn't have an exit strategy.

          [Not really, but it would've gotten ugly.]

      2. I used to bar tend summers at The Claremont Hotel, the last of the old Mt.Dessert hotels (1884) in Southwest Hbr., Me. One could generally tell the drink order by the age of the customer(s). Classic drinks were the general rule and we used top of the line house liquors. The twenty something female was the cosmo crowd, as one would expect.
        My fondest memory, however, was the recently deceased writer, John Updike, a regular summer visitor and patron of the single malt Scotch menu. A classy gentleman. RIP

        1 Reply
        1. re: Passadumkeg

          You must have witnessed a lot, if you've been bartending since 1884.

        2. Nothing with cucumber in it? Sir, if you are going to besmirch the proud name of the Pimm's Cup, I am going to have to ask you to step outside.

          Other than that, the issue as I see it is that there's a subset of bartenders who are the boozy equivalent of the molecular gastronomy crowd: more interested in flash and clever-cleverness than in, y'know, how the drinks actually taste. These people are wankers. But they're also easily ignored.

          25 Replies
          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

            Yes well, the Pimm's cup is the one cucumber exception.

            The wankers bit made me laugh.

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Actually, I like a slice of cucumber with my Campari and soda, as well...

              1. re: Wassailer

                Cucumbers and gin are a good combo. A saketini (gin, sake, cucumber garnish) is a fine summer replacement for the heavier martini.

                1. re: Up With Olives

                  especially if the gin is hendrick's

                  1. re: thew

                    No. Wrong. Sorry, but the suffix -tini only exists alongside the prefix mar-. There is no such thing as a saketini. The combination may taste good to you, but that's not a martini. Martini = gin + vermouth (+ bitters) stirred and strained into a chilled glass and garnished with an olive or citrus twist. No exceptions, ever. This is well-trod ground on these boards, so there's no need for you to respond. You may disagree, but you'd just be wrong.

                    1. re: craigasaurus

                      can i ask a question of you , and all other lingusitic purists. do you say "sunrise" and sunset"?

                      more to the point, when you use the word "terrific" do you mean "terror inducing"? or do you use "nice" to mean "ignorant"? when some one says they had an "awful" meal, do you assume it was so good they were actual awe-inspired by it?

                      language changes over time. thankfully. I have my hangups too - i don't like when people say "less" when they mean "fewer" but i'm pretty sure that battle is lost. as is the "-tini" one.

                      (and just to be really pedantic - they did not call the drink a martini , which is gin and vermouth, they called it a saketini. not the same word at all)

                      1. re: craigasaurus

                        No. Wrong. Sorry.

                        A martini is a martini is a martini, and nothing else deserves the name. But that doesn't mean that "tini" is off limits. People can coin all the names they want. They may be silly, but they're not inaccurate.

                        Now if Up With Olives called the drink a "sake martini," I'd be right there with you.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          This is my personal take on it. 'Martini' is reserved for REAL martinis. But adding the -tini suffix is fine with me.

                          Nowadays, pretty much everything served in a martini glass (YES, I know it's actually called a cocktail glass) is given a name ending with -tini. I think it's dumb, but it doesn't bother me. I'm fine with calling it an appletini, but NOT an apple martini. Saketini is cool; sake martini is not. The letters "tini" don't specify the drink - the entire word "martini" does.

                          1. re: alanbarnes

                            but then "apple martini" is also not the same as "martini", and "vodka martini" is not the same, just as a "sea cow" is not a "cow." A sake martini is not a martini. I would have a problem if i ordered a martini and got a sake martini, or an apple martini, yes. no problem with a different drink using the word.

                            1. re: alanbarnes

                              how high is the roof of your stable? ;)

                              really, i think it's rather pedantic to argue this point too much further.
                              i too used to bang on endlessly regarding the correct usage of the word 'martini' but i've obtained some inner peace by adopting the 'in the style of' definition.
                              so for me, a saketini would be to have a sake based drink in the style of a martini.

                              i sleep better.

                              1. re: ScubaSteve

                                I take my libations pretty seriously, but don't give a hoot what you call 'em.

                                A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...

                                1. re: ScubaSteve

                                  Hey, I thought I was being the reasonable one here, defending the "-tini" coinages and all. I can even reluctantly accept a "vodka martini." But "apple martini"? "Chocolate martini"? In the immortal words of Tevye, if I try to bend that far I will break.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    How did you know my middle name was Tevye (seriously).

                                    Fact is I generally won't drink most of those Crapatini cocktails in the first place, but have no deep attachment to the Martini namesake. Personally when I want a Martini it is gin, a whisper of vermouth an olive and (here's where I go off the rails) a pearl onion.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      Craptini: 2 parts crap, 1 part high fructose corn syrup, 1 part bile

                                    2. re: alanbarnes

                                      once you accept apple martini, the rest follows naturally

                                      1. re: thew

                                        it'll be funny in the year 2019 whilst sipping their Xanx-Tini (at the Korova Milk Bar) they Google the origin of the Martini and in example of the squabbles regarding the name, they find this thread.

                                        1. re: ScubaSteve

                                          A Xanax-tini sounds pretty good right about now.

                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                            Now you're talking.

                                          2. re: ScubaSteve

                                            i wrote a story once where the characters were drinking amphetachinos and smoking caniberettes

                                            1. re: thew

                                              Sounds like steampunk wordsmithing. I like it.

                                  2. re: craigasaurus

                                    Well, I'm solid old-timey where my martinis come in. Gin only, small cocktail glass, decent proportion of good vermouth -- all the usual. But substituting a different wine-type alcohol (Dubonnet perhaps) for the vermouth is sometimes a refreshing change. Countless historic bar books will touch on this. It is not The Martini, it's something else, and it should never be substituted without the drinker's knowledge. Just a change of pace.

                                    1. re: craigasaurus

                                      Per your definition a Gibson is not a martini. Or a martini with Lillet instead of vermouth. Or a dirty martini. There is a line, but it can't be as cut and dry as you're making it. I'll be the first to argue that appletini's aren't the real thing, but there can't be no variations.

                                      1. re: sourcandy

                                        ok, I'll bite,
                                        If a dirty Martini is not a martini, then what is it?

                                        1. re: sourcandy

                                          But a Gibson (banned in Boston in October of 1967) is not a martini according to the American National Standard Inst. publication. It refers to a gibson" as "unpardonable" and offfers the synonym "onion soup." You can order a copy of this from ANSI. It is, as the law likes to say when trying to avoid re-visiting something, "well settled."

                                        2. re: craigasaurus

                                          Where were you when we lost the battle for cappuccino?

                                          There are perhaps 100 places in the U.S. where you can still get a properly made capp. Everything else is some kind of latte.

                                          Hopefully the day never comes when there are only 100 places left that know how to make a classic martini. Should that day arrive, I'll know I've lived too long.

                              2. WHile i absolutely agree with about 90% of what you are ranting about, there are some creative new bartenders that are coming up with some "different " concoctions that actually taste quite good. For example, a thai basil mojito that I had in Tucson last summer, or the Amarena cherry gimlet at PokPok in Portland, OR, etc. "creative" solely for the sake of creativity is stupid and self indulgent. Amen to the appletini and choco-tini and mangotini and all the other tinis that have sprung from the minds of the unimaginitive and unable-to-apreciate-the-taste-of-alcohol crowd (and who also can't think of appropriate names for their stupid drinks). Being an amateur (with some long ago professional experience) mixologist who devises new cocktails on a frequent basis, with some success, I like to think that there are still some great as-yet undiscovered classics still out there. Until then, give me old whiskey, young women, fast cars and slow dances, and drinks where I can taste the alcohol and tell what it is.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chazzerking

                                  Pok Pok... mmm... their fish sauce wings are SICK [in a good way]! And their drinks are quite excellent.

                                  So are young women.

                                2. With this current Cocktail Revolution, or Renaisance, or Second Golden Age, whichever you may want to call it; there is a lot of experimentation going on. Some works and some doesn't. I tend to like the Golden Age cocktails from 1850-1910 the most, especially those from the Gilded Age, or modern and well executed riffs on them. But, some of the new, and sometimes strange sounding cocktails are excellent. I have had some fine, fat wash style, cocktails like bacon infused bourbon. Of course it depends upon the ingredients.

                                  Also some of the molecular mixolgy cocktails can be amazing, it just depends upon your taste, and the preparation and quality. They may not be my main love, but can be fantastic. Eben Freeman at Tailor NYC is at the forefront of molecular mixology, and while I don't love or like everything he creates, many are damn fine cocktails. I had one recently that was made with butternut squash and falernum, that was one of the most sensual and sexy creations that ever touched my lips... food or drink-wise anyway.

                                  So I don't think the cocktail scene has gone too far, I think the experimentation is great, and I'm glad the everything-called-martini bit is ending.

                                  The use of savory ingredients like herbs and vegetables in cocktails has a long history and goes way back, including meats such as beef broth as well.

                                  The $275 cocktails are a different story, but if you have the money and want to waste it, then let it go into the pockets of those smart enough to fleece them.

                                  Of course I am in the industry. I am a spirits and cocktail writer who specializes in artisanal spirits and fine cocktails. I do mixology, bar, and restaurant consulting on menu's and cocktails, as well and own a distillery that specializes in making spirits for the late 1800's cocktails recipes. So I am a bit predjudiced.

                                  So let the market decide if the cocktail scene is progressing well, it always does with time.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: JMF

                                    Speaking of distilling, wish there were someone making an old school Apple Jack with a variety of good New England Apples. Or even a real old school cider (there are some, but they tend to single variety apple ciders as opposed to rich blends, often including crab-apples raised exclusively for cider, which supposedly defined the art back in the day).

                                    Heck also wish someone was making a commercially available unaged corn whiskey. There used to be one (name eludes me) that I believe is currently out of production.

                                    I have a bottle of Old Potrero 18th Century Rye that is awesome. And some Germain Robin XO American made brandy better then most French stuff.

                                    That said I think the current bacon in everything (chocolate, cocktails) trend is just silly. With very few exceptions I don't really want food in my cocktail. Just as I don't want pumpkin or blueberries in my beer. As with the entire molecular food/drink thing these days it is all a bit to Disneyesque and in my book generally for folks who are not really interested in the food/booze itself but rather the show.

                                    I suppose that to create a few new classics you have to hack around a bit, and that like all things in life, the really creative folks will be accompanied by the wanna-bes. The fact that you can now get properly prepared cocktails with fresh lemon juice (not sour mix) good bitters, and bartenders who can do more then a cosmo, in the end is an excellent thing. If we have to suffer through a few basil, litchi champagne fizzes to get there...

                                    Although I will say, I did do a litchi, raspberry (both fresh) rum cocktail last summer on my back porch... Guess even I am mixed on the whole thing, though for my bourbon, I'll take it neat, hold the bacon.

                                    1. re: StriperGuy

                                      Kind of an aside to your post, but if you want good cider why not just make it yourself? It's not at all difficult--you'll need around $100 worth of gear, some great cider, around an hour (depending on how complex you want to get with it) to get everything going, and then patience (which is by far the most difficult part of the whole thing). If you want to learn more, you might want to pick up a book called "The Art of Cidermaking", by Paul Correnty.

                                      Alas, you'll have to wait until next October or November to do this, if you want to. But as you're in the Boston area, you have access to lots of great cider -- just drive up Route 2 and you'll have a variety of options. I do 15 gallons a year and buy mine from a guy in Harvard, MA that does very good single variety ciders (look for the "Fresh Cider" signs all over the place and you'll find him). Lots more to say on the topic but I'll leave it there for now since this is the Spirits forum and not the homebrewing forum.

                                      1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                        Cool, good idea.

                                  2. I agree with you about the Vodka.
                                    I wrote a post on the subject, called it "The Grey Goose Effect":
                                    http://keepyourspiritsup-faune.blogsp...

                                    A quote from nymag.com:
                                    “ When Sidney Frank created Grey Goose, he priced it well above established competitors such as Absolut. This high price created a perception of quality. Frank's strategy proved successful, as Grey Goose was a financial hit and led to significant changes in the market. Many people attribute Grey Goose as being a major inspiration for the various other high-priced vodkas.”

                                    Source: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/bizfina...

                                    Definitely check out this Video as well:
                                    ABC 20/20 Vodka taste test: Vodka fans are shocked their favorite brands didn't measure up.
                                    http://abcnews.go.com/Video/playerInd...

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Faune

                                      The video is great. Love to see Grey Goose snobs ;-).

                                      Course Sidney Frank was a brilliant marketeer, may he rest in piece. I believe he got in the neighborhood of $2 Billion when he sold Grey Goose to Bacardi in 2004, which as the article says, is more then IBM got when it sold it's PC business to Lenovo.

                                      Here is a great article on the deal and the man: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/bizfina...

                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                        I posted that link in my previous reply, its the second link.

                                        1. re: Faune

                                          Whoops, I found it googling stuff on Frank.

                                    2. I think the Golden Age revival stuff -- the use of fresh juices and other high-quality adjunct ingredients, more precision and balance in construction, better ice and glassware, high quality spirits, notably interesting bitters, punches -- is the best thing to happen in my drinking lifetime. Cannot get enough of that, spend a lot of time trying to get my friends interested in it, hope it continues forever.

                                      I'm a little more skeptical of molecular cooking touches like foams. They can work, but most of the ones I've tried have left me cold: they seem a little precious, gimmicky, and are often dessert-y. I'm not anti-molecular cooking, by the way, but it has to offer something more than sheer novelty.

                                      Infusions can be interesting, but again, I judge strictly on results. I think I would like that bacon bourbon. But I don't ever need to sample another pineapple vodka. (And I find Circus Peanuts as terrifying as clowns.)

                                      Wretched-excess cocktails and the people who drink them speak for themselves.

                                      Kiddie drinks like appletinis are fine for the kiddies. Eventually they get tired of sugary drinks and graduate to grownup cocktails, or they don't. Some will never get beyond vodka. That's okay, but I do tire of bars with three yards of super-premium vodka varieties and no Camapri nor a single bottle of straight rye.

                                      I have argued that bars that cater to rookie drinkers with a list full of candy-flavored "martinis" (an irksome abuse of the term) provide some base level of cocktail training for bartenders who otherwise would just be pouring highballs and pulling drafts. So that's something. Ya gotta start somewhere. I was an idiot drinker in my early twenties, too. Bumping accidentally into a Negroni at 25 changed my life.

                                      The Cosmo is obviously a tired cliche, but that's not the drink's fault. Properly made, it can be very nice, as vodka drinks go. It's just rarely properly made.

                                      There's nothing wrong with either cucumber or basil in a cocktail per se. The Pimms Cup and the Mojito are terrific drinks. But it's all in how they're wielded: Mojitos have kind of been beaten to death, for example, bastardized into dozens of variations that only debase the original.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        one of the dishes at a molecular place i once visited was simply called Miso Soup; it was basically a giant "soup dumpling" but made entirely of miso soup (w/ a delicate sodium alginate membrane to hold it together, like a giant egg yolk, bursting in one's mouth to release the hot soup). Waiting to see something like that inside a cocktail (vermouth-filled dumpling in your Manhattan or Martinez, anybody?) or maybe even on a plate (if the cocktail is deconstructed), although it would probably be too labor-intensive to make it worth the bartender's time...the drinks i';ve tried with small liquor-filled "caviar" haven't quite cut it for me yet

                                        1. re: barleywino

                                          The caviar cocktails really depend upon the execution. Last fall at one of our wine pairing dinners I started it out with a caviar cocktail. I gelatinized our semi-dry Raspberry Rain wine. Then put a heaping tablespoon each in champagne flutes and filled them with our Fancy That sparkling, dry, apricot wine. The Fancy That is a beautiful gold color and the Raspberry Rain is a deep purple/red. The beads of raspberry wine floated up and down in the sparkling apricot wine like a lava lamp and looked beautiful.

                                          Then you took a sip. Each sip would put a small amount of the beads and wine into your mouth. First you tasted the dry apricot wine full of bubbles on your tongue. Then as the beads melted you got a blast of semi-dry raspberry. It was a wonderful experience that actually got applause.

                                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                                          "bastardized into dozens of variations that only debase the original."

                                          See: Daiquiri. This may be the most bastardized drink of all time.

                                          1. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

                                            I agree. There is no such thing as a strawberry daquiri. A daquiri is light rum, lime juic, and simple syrup. That's it.

                                            1. re: jpc8015

                                              while i don't like strawberry daquiris and their ilk, i have to disagree. they exist. daquiri no longer refers to just one drink, but a school of drinks. and thank goodness we live with a powerful flexible language where such things happen.

                                            2. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

                                              I asked for a daquiri on the rocks once at a very traditional, non-foo bar and got a blank look. "Ya mean strawberry daquiri, we have frozen ones?" No I meant a simple lime one and they had no clue. Sigh. What is the world coming to?

                                              1. re: aggiecat

                                                Daquiri: Rum, Lime, Simple Syrup...Period

                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                  What kind of a heathen are you? At Friday's, Mecca of the mixological craft, the Daiquiri is made properly: a subtle blend of pineapple juice, tequila, vodka, and red dye #5, with a Sour Apple floater and a blue cherry on top. To make the drink any other way is clearly just wrong.

                                                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                    Ouch.

                                          2. short answer: NO

                                            craft cocktails are like gourmet food. hopefully new wonders will never stop appearing.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: thew

                                              Perfect short answer. It will have gone too far when folks find the few memorable new inventions and order them, saying, 'No, don't pour me five different drinks tonight, I'll have a ______. And probably a third." Many drinks came and went between the Cosmo, Appletini and the Mojito resurgence. Mix away! There's a new crowd of legal age drinkers Every Day! We love to watch 'em! Classics, Modern Classics and New Inventions all have a place. Wait and see what's in the 2020 Mr.Boston bar manual...
                                              Me, I'll have a Sidecar: Cognac, not Brandy; Cointreau not triple sec; lemon not Sweet n' Sour
                                              OK, or a Manhattan straight up
                                              Or Single Malt, neat
                                              Salud!

                                            2. my short answer is no also... why squelch bartenders creativity? it may not be for everybody but who knows when something created could become a "new" classic. i'm not big on the bacon infused bourbons, or any of the other kind of wacky stuff, but a shrub (like matt from #9 has done) is pretty tasty. the cara cara shrub is awesome!!

                                              1. SG, were you the one that brought in the Circus Peanuts? i was there that night.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: ScubaSteve

                                                  Was not me.

                                                2. I'd like to add to the list:
                                                  Anything that requires any of the ingredients to be frozen with liquid nitrogen. The other day I was channel surfing and on the food channel one of the finalists from last year's top chef (the guy who's hair looks like a shark fin), and the guy that used to be on Queer Eye and is always a guest judge on Iron Chef were making Gin and Tonics with Gin frozen with the liquid nitrogen. They were going on and on about how this was better because the ice doesn't melt. If that were so important, then we'd all be drinking drinks with those plastic ice cubes.
                                                  Now, somebody explain to me why this is better. No, actually don't, because you'd be wasting your time.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: TroyTempest

                                                    I've seen Ken Oringer, a Boston celeb chef who's been on Iron Chef American, do some interesting cocktails with liquid nitrogen (at the bar of KO Prime, a luxury steakhouse he's involved with). It's gimmicky, all right, brings the bar to a standstill when that stuff starts vaporizing like a witch's brew, but the drinks are inarguably tasty. But he's one of the few chefs locally who still dabbles with molecular cooking techniques, so it seems slightly less ridiculous coming from him. Certainly a bit more refined than something coming out of a blender.

                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                  2. I don't really care of people make bacon cocktails, I just want them to stop calling them martinis! http://landolulu.blogspot.com/2006/08... Martinis are made out of GIN.

                                                    And I am also a huge fan of the Aviation cocktail. So yummy, and so pretty in the glass.

                                                    1. The best cocktail out there right now is Jameson's Irish Whisky and ice. That's it.

                                                      18 Replies
                                                      1. re: jpc8015

                                                        That's a drink all right, and a good one, but it's not a cocktail.

                                                        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                          Uhhh, I think that's the OPs point...

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                                            I read the OP differently: I think he was talking about cocktails in the same sense I do, but suggesting that maybe over-complexity and foolish novelty were in evidence at some bars, and advocating for an older idea of what a cocktail means. He also has some ideas I don't quite follow: fresh mint is okay, but cucumber and basil are too frou-frou. I'm with him 100% on the folly of super-premium vodkas.

                                                            I disagree with his implication that a classic cocktail is always a simple drink. One of the great things about the Golden Age cocktail revival is the its use of a much broader range of interesting ingredients, much like the great 19th-century bartenders used, with many fairly complicated recipes. They require skill and balance to make, but they're in a different ballpark entirely from Appletinis and Raspberry Cosmos.

                                                            I'm grateful for the renewed interest in bitters and complex herbal liqueurs, the emphasis on ingredient freshness and quality, the originality in recipe creation, and the precision and skill in technique. The revivalists have it even better in that they have a much wider world of spirits and other ingredients to choose from than the great 19th century bartenders, few of whom likely had access to soju or cachaca or fresh tropical fruits, had no Tiki tradition, and so on.

                                                            My point is that a straight spirit on ice is not what I call a cocktail. Cocktails in my book involve at least two ingredients with distinctive flavors, at least one of which is a distilled spirit. The second and additional ingredients might be other spirits, still or sparkling wines, fortified or aromatized wines, liqueurs, fruit and fruit juices, dairy products, sweeteners, aromatic bitters, water, etc. The term once implied the presence of bitters, but that's not strictly observed today.

                                                            I think it's a useful distinction from: long drinks, which are most often a single spirit plus a larger amount of non-alcoholic mixer (often carbonated), and ice; spirits taken largely unadulterated (neat, with a neutral mixer like water or seltzer, and/or ice); fermented beverages (beer, wine, sake, etc.); and punches (which may have the complexity of cocktails but are distinguished by being made in larger batches). There are other useful technical classes of drinks in bartending parlance (cobblers and fizzes and so on), but these few cover a lot of ground.

                                                            Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, and yes, Appletini: cocktails. Gin and tonic, Campari and soda, Captain and Coke: long drinks. Whisky on the rocks: a drink, but not a cocktail.

                                                            In my college days, we slangily referred to "cocktails" collectively as anything alcoholic (it could mean "gallons of cheap draft beer"), but I don't use it that way anymore. If I say "cocktails", there's usually a shaker or a mixing glass, a few bottles, something from the larder, some knife work, and some thought about ice and glassware and garnishes. If all you have to do is open one bottle and pour, it's not a cocktail in my book. Nothing wrong with that -- I often enjoy those kinds of drinks -- I'm just advocating for a more precise usage of the term.

                                                            Regardless of your preferred terminology, these are great times for cocktail drinkers. It looks like vodka's hegemony might finally be waning, and the influence of the high-craft bartenders is slowly, gradually expanding. I can now get American straight rye in bars that never used to carry it, and I see much more interesting, serious cocktails appearing on menus that used to center on silly, surgary rookie drinks based on flavored vodkas.

                                                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                              You don't consider ice an ingredient? Does tha quality of the ice not have an impact of the finished product?

                                                              1. re: jpc8015

                                                                Assuming you're not just being facetious:

                                                                Sure, ice is a very important ingredient, but unless you're doing something wrong, it should be flavor neutral. (I personally prefer a little bit of ice to drinking most whiskeys neat: I think it's necessary to open up the flavors.)

                                                                Craft bartenders absolutely worry about the quality and size and shape of ice. How quickly you achieve the desired coldness, the amount of dilution, and rate of further icemelt dilution from ice in the serving glass are important factors to control in any drink.

                                                                I'd still contend that adding ice to whiskey doesn't make it a cocktail. (Crush it fine and use enough of it and you might have a mist.)

                                                                I know of bars that make ices with different spring waters, but that strikes me as in the vein of over-fanciness that the OP refers to. I suspect that how the ice is made has more of an impact on its taste, e.g, a Kold-Draft cube versus a conventional bar ice-machine cube.

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                                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                  By your own definition, a cocktail is at least two ingredients. If ice is an important ingredient then how is Jameson's and ice not a cocktail? How about when somebody orders Scotch and water? Is that not a cocktail? It may not have an abundance of ingredients and flavors playing off one another but it's beauty is in it's simplicity.

                                                                  1. re: jpc8015

                                                                    I don't think it's just my definition that says unadulterated spirits with nothing more than water and/or ice doesn't qualify as a cocktail, that a cocktail is a slightly more complex thing. You might consider that usage as falling under the jargon that high-craft bartenders use, a relatively technical, precise, historically-grounded argot. For example, do you know what a cobbler is? I'd have to look it up, myself.

                                                                    Even below that professional level, I think if you walk into most bars that print a cocktail list, you'll see that most drinks described as cocktails fit my definition and whiskey on the rocks isn't listed. I don't see any harm in your calling whiskey on ice a cocktail if that works for you, but I consider that a layman's usage. Many pros will make a finer distinction.

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                                                                    1. re: jpc8015

                                                                      Jameson's on ice is NOT a cocktail. It is just Jameson's on ice.

                                                                      Long drinks, in my book are cocktails.

                                                                      Like the supreme court justice once said when referring to pornography: I can't define "cocktail" but I know one when I see one.

                                                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                        Does not more care and precise measurements go into crafting Jameson's on the front end? Just because the work that goes into distilling a beautiful bottle of whiskey, cognac, brandy, or Scoth is done at the distillery and not at the bar, doesn't mean that there is not a craft that goes into it. You can make a Manhattan one hundred different ways. There's only one way to make Jameson's.

                                                                        1. re: jpc8015

                                                                          I think you are arguing for the sake of arguing about Jameson's. Whiskey on ice is a drink, but not a cocktail. Just like a glass of wine or beer isn't a cocktail. Unless you add something more to it. That's the key to a drink becoming a cocktail.

                                                                          By definition, a cocktail has a base spirit, one or more modifiers, (bitters, liqueur, aromatized wine, fruit juice, sugar, seltzer water or soda, etc.,) and usually served on the rocks, or shaken/stirred to chill and (a key point) add water.

                                                                          The term cocktail was first seen in print in 1803, and further defined in print in 1806. The definition of cocktail is a base spirit and bitters (the modifier). This grew to include the one or more modifiers and ice by the early1800's, which became a national obsession in the US during the same time period.

                                                                          Two of the simplest forms of cocktails are: The Highball which is a base spirit, on ice, with seltzer water (the modifier). The other being an Old Fashioned which is base spirit, sugar, bitters, (the two modifiers) and ice.

                                                                          1. re: JMF

                                                                            I assume at this point that jpc8015 is joking, a wind-up merchant.

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                                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                              My point was that jpc8015 was joking from the outset, implying that plain ole Jameson on the rocks, an excellent whiskey I might add, is better then most of the silly fru fru cocktails served these days. Can't say I disagree with that statement myself.

                                                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                                                Okay, we will have to agree to disagree on whether or not Jameson's (or any other whisky) on ice is a cocktail. I think we can all agree that it's great.

                                                                                My next question is, how about warm Hennessey? Is thermal energy not an ingredient?

                                                                                1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                  only if it's a flaming tiki drink...

                                                                                  1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                    The definition I supplied is the actual, time honored for over 200 years, definition of what a cocktail is. I can back it up with references from newspapers, books, etc. I have done in-depth research on this and write about cocktails.

                                                                                    But I'm just curious why you think as you do? Would you explain your thoughts?

                                                                                    1. re: JMF

                                                                                      Changing the temperature and liquor to water ratio in a glass of whisky or brandy has a profound effect on the flavor profile. A shot of Crown Royal is the same no matter where you go. A Crown on the rocks can be a very different cocktail from one bar to the next or from one home to the next. The quality of the water used to make the ice as well as the shape of the ice cubes makes for a number of variables. This is why I view the ice and/or water as an ingredient, thus meaning two ingredients in the glass...you have a cocktail.

                                                                                      1. re: jpc8015

                                                                                        Give it up jpc.

                                                                                        No one (I think) is arguing that ice and temperature doesn't change the taste of a drink--any drink. The point is that the purist's definition of cocktail is that it is made up of alcohol, bitters, sugar and water. If the drink cannot be broken down to those elements, it is another highly specific term (sour, cobbler, highball, etc.)

                                                                                        Otherwise, you are using the casual colloquial version of "cocktail", as in "I'm so hungover. Too many cocktails last night. I think I had 15 beers." Which is fine, as long as you don't try to argue now that it is a classic cocktail ("and since the heat from my hand went through the glass and changed the speed at which the molecules in the beer were vibrating, I have created a cocktail"). Nuh-uh. Not gonna fly with this crowd.

                                                                                        1. re: Alcachofa

                                                                                          spot-on.

                                                          2. Late to the party, but yes, the OP is a curmudgeon ;-)

                                                            I'd actually enjoy drinks with basil and cucumber if they're inventive and taste good. Much like coffee, adding fresh ingredients to make a signature drink can really be amazing. Leave the syrups to the kids and ex-urbanites. Show us some creativity!

                                                            As far as vodka... I have some bison grass vodka I brought back from Bulgaria. Not very pricey (even in the US) but pretty tasty straight up. Like it better than the designer bottled stuff.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Panini Guy

                                                              Well I won't take the curmudgeon comment personally if you share some of your bison grass vodka. ;-) That stuff is great and I have not had it in years.

                                                            2. Yes, it certainly has.

                                                              And I like a lot of the less foofoo ones, especially if they don't have rum in them..

                                                              1. I find there are amazing cocktails - both classic and modernized.

                                                                the old fashioned and sazerac are my favorites.

                                                                mojitos and mint juleps in summer are fun.

                                                                some of the molecular mixology are fascinating as long as the drink tastes good.

                                                                Living in LA, I've enjoyed some good bars - Edison, Varnish....

                                                                1. Anytime now, I expect to walk into a place & the special house cocktail is a Fruit Loops-tini.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: cavandre

                                                                    that could be really good, if well made.

                                                                    some maraschino, some st germaine, some grenadine etc. maybe layered ala tequila sunrise

                                                                  2. I would have to say that it depends on what experience you are looking for. Bar culture is forever evolving and I would say that anyone who is able to enjoy a cocktail within Boston proper is a lucky person. You have access to an incredible bar culture that has many offerings.
                                                                    When the most recent cocktail resurgence began the focus was on reintroducing distilled spirits into the culinary experience. In the late '80's bartenders had completely forgotten how to enhance a dining experience with anything other than a nice glass of wine. Cocktail recipes were in existence, but no one was serving them.
                                                                    Today it is a completely different story. Molecular mixologists are being judged by their peers on their ability to marry distilled spirits with culinary flavors within the cocktail itself rather than the cocktail being an aside to a meal. The results are amazing, but I am not sure they are serving the original purpose of a cocktail.
                                                                    This movement is enjoyable to witness but I feel it may drive patrons away from the establishments that we all seek. Personally I agree that it has gone too far, but it has only created a new venue for enjoying distilled spirits. There is still a place for classic cocktails and the men and women who enjoy serving them. Cheers