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Jan 22, 2012 11:11 PM

Turning 21

I'm turning 21 in a few weeks and will be taken out by my boyfriend and another couple. They are all older than I am, but are all mainly beer drinkers. I, on the other hand, am more interested in mixed drinks. My drinking experience up until now is limited to drinks made by friends (often with the dreaded HFCS-laden mixers) and the occasional restaurant cocktail here and there, so I don't really know where to start. What I'm hoping to get here is a list of cocktails that would be made with real, fresh ingredients (I'm not sure how common drink mixes are at bars) that tend toward the sweeter side of things but which I can reasonably expect an average bartender, at an average bar, to make well. I've read the "girly drinks" thread and I'm guessing (though I could be wrong) that many of those drinks will be foreign to the average bartender at a reasonably affordable bar in LA. I'd like to develop a palate for the more sophisticated, less "collegey" drinks but I don't think I'm there yet.

Drinks I currently enjoy include the dark and stormy, (though I think I make it a bit light on the rum), white russians, mojitos, and freshly made margaritas. I enjoyed the Veev acai liqueur recently, and I also like absinthe (the American kind). I'm ashamed to admit it but I enjoy butterscotch schnapps (Buttershots) diluted with milk.
I can't stand the taste of Chambord, don't like appletinis and I don't like sweet & sour mix. The only liquor I've enjoyed the flavor of straight is tequila, but with the brands allowed by my and my friends' budgets I don't think that's surprising.

Recommendations please!

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  1. First of all an "average bar" is not a good bet to be using fresh juices, unfortunately. Also the "average bartender" is trained to speed pour unmeasured shots and make things like Long Island Iced Tea, so you won't be getting much help there either. So first you should make sure that the bar you're going to does use fresh juices, and has decent bartenders (good sign would be a cocktail menu with some interesting drinks beyond fruit-tinis).

    Let's see, my first rec for a drink would be the classic Daiquiri (not frozen!). Lime juice, rum, and sugar, doesn't get much simpler or much tastier. If the bar stocks light rums like Flor de Cana, El Dorado, Banks, or Oronoco, you will know you are in the right place.

    Other drinks I would recommend are the Clover Club, and the Bebbo (Bee's Knees with OJ), as these are easy drinking gin drinks with lemon juice and a good bit of sweetness. Most bartenders probably won't have heard of the Bebbo though. A Tom Collins would also be a solid choice (gin, lemon, sugar, and soda water). If they can do a Paloma, that would be another good tequila drink.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nickls

      Thanks for the recommendations! I had never heard of either the Clover Club or the Bebbo (although with honey, the latter sounds like it might be a pain for the bartender).

    2. what city are you in? Maybe we can recommend some places that would accommodate you and your friends differing tastes.

      8 Replies
      1. re: JMF

        I think she's in LA. Tiki Ti? Everyone likes tiki drinks! :-)

        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          A well-made Mai Tai would be my recommendation, the one I made with Sea wynde and El Dorado 15 was sublime (though I could not afford to make it every day.) Since Sea Wynde is rather hard to find and expensive, I guess Smith and Cross would a good sub, as well as El Dorado 12 yr.

          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            +1 for tiki - ti

            if you are in hollywood then you are near tiki ti so you should be all set

            tiki ti is cash only fyi

            if they are not open for some reason there is a Trader Vic's in the Beverly Hills Hilton if you are going with tiki drinks - but go to tiki ti over TV

          2. re: JMF

            Yep, I'm in LA. I'm guessing we might be in Hollywood that night. My boyfriend knows I'm interested in trying nicer cocktails, but I'm not sure how expensive a place like that would be. I'd definitely be interested to hear and pass on recommendations!

            1. re: tinnywatty

              I believe it would be better to have 2 or 3 midshelf cocktails in the evening, than 8 or 10 from the well. And there is a reason why some are called classics. Sidecar, sazerac, manhattan, black russian, and lets get the disco ball rotating with a harvey wallbanger and a tequila sunrise. The martinis, scotches, cognacs are all acquired tastes.

              And for a decent primer on booze, the Playboy cocktail book is pretty helpful. Try to get one from the seventies.

              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                I definitely don't think I'd be able to handle 8 or 10 in either case! - but point taken. Thanks for the suggestions!

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  Hahah... had to laugh at the harvey wallbanger... that's my father's favorite drink (well, was in his college years) and so I grew up with a GIANT bottle of Galliano in the house. As in, it had a stand with legs and a spout in the bottom. He must have gotten sick of it, as I don't think I ever saw him drink from it, and it remained half-full for most of my life. In high school I realized it was alcohol sitting around pretty much 'free-for-all,' so I decided to try it. It tasted awful to me, sickening sweet, so I went back to ignoring it.

                  Once in college, just after I turned 21, I asked him about it. He said "you make harvey wallbangers with it! Want to try one?" and he made one for me. I was just starting out in drinking, and I thought the drink was WONDERFUL! I'm sure it didn't taste the same as it would have when the bottle was new, but I didn't know any better. (And this was 15 years ago, so I survived ok - nothing deadly in the old bottle.) I then went back to school all excited that I had a new drink to order at all the college bars!

                  Sadly, I quickly learned that no bar in town had Galliano, and many of the bartenders didn't even know what it was. More than one friend made fun of me for asking for a "made up drink."

                  So... to the OP. Be warned about the Harvey Wallbanger, as you could be in for a lot of dissapointment!

                  1. re: Ditdah

                    Hehe thanks for the tip and the anecdote.I ended up going to a pretty nice place for the birthday- Neat in Glendale, CA if anyone is interested. I did see one of the big bottles of Galliano there although I didn't order anything with it. I suppose I will have to try a Harvey Wallbanger now that I have read your story!

            2. For regular cocktails, I hear great things about Varnish and the Edison from the bartenders here in Boston.

              For Tiki, go with the above recommendation for Tiki Ti.


              1. Two more questions- if I find myself in the type of bar that wouldn't be able to make a well-crafted cocktail, what relatively simple drinks would you recommend for an interesting flavor experience -ie not just vodka and cranberry? If you ever find yourself in this situation, what do you have?

                And secondly, how would you tell if a bar/restaurant is going to be equipped to make a great cocktail? Menu? Bottles? Price range?

                5 Replies
                1. re: tinnywatty

                  Beer. If I see wet shell ice and nothing but a row of flavored vodkas on the backbar, I give up.

                  If I'm feeling brave, I might try a Gin-and-Tonic or a Manhattan, but I lower my expectations. If they have Campari, then I'll order a Negroni because I like them in just about any ratio.

                  Avoid drinks that have to be made well to be any good. Don't order anything that needs fresh lemon or lime if you see sour mix -- especially a Margarita. In fact, don't order anything that requires fresh juice if you don't think it will be fresh (e.g. orange juice, grapefruit juice). Don't order a Martini because it requires fresh dry vermouth, which goes off pretty quickly in an open bottle.

                  Cocktails with higher alcohol content (either higher-proof ingredients or more spirit) will hold up to that crappy wet ice than regular 80 proof spirits.

                  But the best answer is still beer. Declare victory and retreat.

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                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    Thanks for the detailed reply! I haven't yet developed a taste for beer but you pointed out my main quandary- avoiding sour mix and bottled juices. I need to work on learning to appreciate gin, so a gin and tonic or possibly a negroni sound like good options, and I enjoy rye whiskey so a Manhattan is a good choice. Thanks for the tip about the ice- that's good to know.

                    1. re: tinnywatty

                      When I was first starting out, I would drink gin and Sprite (or whatever lemon lime soda they had.) Worst case scenario, you could drink that to at least enjoy gin a bit more, and then transition into better gin drinks?

                      Although I like bourbon, so now if I'm in a place that can't make a good cocktail, I look for a bourbon or whiskey I like and order it sttraight (either neat or on the rocks, depending on what type they have.) Since you like rye, that's always an option.

                  2. re: tinnywatty

                    If you see a stand juicer, an extensive selection of rye whiskeys or obscure gins, a cocktail menu that features a majority of drinks made without vodka, or drinks sporting fancy ice like a sphere or huge block, chances are you can get a good drink there.

                    If in doubt, just watch what they make for a few minutes and it should be pretty obvious whether or not they're using fresh juices and making things other than rum & cokes.

                    If it turns out that they are only making rum & cokes and cosmos made with sour mix, then check this blog post for ideas:

                    1. re: nickls

                      Great tips, thanks! I never thought about the types of ice. That link is fantastic and I will definitely be bookmarking it.