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Feb 6, 2009 09:48 AM

Has the Whole Craft Cocktail Thing Gone Too Far?

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: 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.