Category Archives: Cocktails

Just because it’s new to you…

The second great offense to the history of bartenders passed (right behind calling anything in a cocktail glass a “martini”) is laying claim to creating something that, well, you didn’t create.

Case in point, the reference in the January issue (featuring commentary from yours truly) of San Francisco Magazine in which a bartender lays claim to having “created” the Aperol Sour.

The sour family, as it has been defined, is one of the oldest families of cocktails. Take a single liquor, lemon juice, simple syrup (and occasionally egg white or some other modifier such as a touch of grenadine, other liqueur or even a splash of juice) and shake the bejeezus out of it and voila – a sour. Add whiskey? Whiskey Sour. Add Pisco (and egg white) – Pisco Sour. Add Benedectine and Whisky (and an orange wedge garnish) and you’ve got a Frisco Sour. Add Midori and you get a… well a throw back to trendy bar in the late 1980s with underage teenage girls.

Now, there are variants of the sour which are really creating new, innovative cocktails. For the past few weeks, Scott Baird at Coco 500 has been working on a “Chinatown Sour” – a modification of the classic Whiskey Sour, but with Rye Whiskey and little candied ginger or ginger syrup as a modifier. The recipe is still being worked on – but the resulting drink is truly something new.

However, laying claim that you “created” the Aperol Sour?

Even if you accept that simply adding a new liquor to an established base cocktail is creating something new, the Aperol Sour has been regularly found all throughout Europe for years. In fact, Charles Schumann, the famous Munich bartender, published a recipe for an Aperol Sour in his 1991 bartender’s guide “American Bar” – a staple for bartenders worldwide and found on the shelves of most good cocktail establishments.

Now, I’m not naming names because I’ve been in the publishing game before, and I know that there’s a good chance that the change between a bartender calling this his “signature” drink versus it being deemed his “creation” lays in the power of the author and the editor. However, I see this happening far too often – people laying claim to inventing things simply because they never did their research. Obviously these people never had to go through the process of researching prior art when filing for a patent!

At a minimum, there are four reference guides that I use before ever claiming ownership of a cocktail recipe: Paul Harrington’s Cocktails, Gary Regan’s Joy of Cocktails, Charles Schumann’s American Bar and the Savoy Cocktail Guide. If it passes a cursory search in these guides, then there’s a good chance of it being something new.

Just because something is new to you doesn’t mean it’s actually new.

Next time, we’ll talk about bartenders taking a famous cocktail, mangling the recipe but attributing it to the originator (such as taking a drink designed to be served “up” and turning it into a longdrink).

The New Premium Margarita – Was the original broken?

There’s a movement in the high end San Francisco cocktail houses when it comes to making classic margaritas, spurred by the popular version made by Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant. It seems that the new de rigeur formula is this:

  • 2oz Tequila
  • 1 1/3oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/3oz Agave Nectar

This recipe, a 6/4/1 (6 parts tequila to 4 parts lime to 1 part agave nectar) was published in the August 14, 2002 edition of the Washington Post, though there are probably earlier references online as well.

This recipe does create a very good margarita – and I’ve enjoyed many of these at cocktail houses spawned by Julio’s followers, such as Tres Agaves (co-owned by Julio). But is this Margarita significantly better than the classic margarita?

The classic margarita, as I have always understood, is a 2/1/1 recipe:

  • 1.5oz Tequila
  • .75oz Triple Sec
  • .75oz Lime

In fact, when I look at the New Margarita, it’s actually not a margarita. It’s actually a tequila daiquiri. The original recipe for a daiquiri from the golden age of cocktails (1920s)

  • 2oz light rum
  • 1oz Lime
  • 1 bar spoon powdered sugar

Adherents to the Julio method of margarita making believe that the use of agave nectar, an expensive relatively flavor-neutral sweetener, enhances the agave flavor in the tequila… which I believe it does – to an extent. However, the new margarita method loses something in the process. The original margaritas used triple sec, a slightly sweet orange liqueur, to add both sweetness as well as a little more orange flavor. Varying the liqueur (maraschino, curacao, Cointreau, Gran Marnier) changes the flavor, allowing customization of the cocktail based on the flavors brought from the tequila. Yes, it’s possible to make a bad margarita if you pair improperly, but it’s also possible for a talented bartender to make an amazing margarita, playing with many levels of flavor. The new method makes a consistently good margarita, but that’s all.

Simple Apple Old Fashioned

Adapted from an initial recipe from Phil Ward at the Pegu Club in New York City.

The Simple Apple Old Fashioned starts with a good apple flavor and finishes with a little caramel sweetness. It’s certainly in the family of the great classic holiday cocktails.

  • 1.5oz Laird’s Applejack
  • .5oz Bulleit Bourbon
  • 3 shakes of Fee Brothers’ Orange Bitters

Fill an old fashioned or rocks glass with ice. Shake bitters onto ice. Pour applejack and bourbon into glass and stir. Garnish with a thick strip of orange peel.

The original version of this cocktail required two ingredients that are practically impossible to find on the west coast: Laird’s Bonded Applejack (100 proof) and Rittenhouse Bonded Rye (100 proof). Substituting the regular applejack and the bourbon ends up with a slightly sweeter drink and a slightly more approachable kick. Playing with old fashioned or Angostura bitters could be an interesting twist, as could the addition of the smallest splash of Carpano Antica (or a good sweet vermouth or even better, a sweet amaro like Amaro Nonino). Changing the formula to 1oz applejack, .5oz bourbon and .5oz amaro/vermouth/Carpano Antica turns it into more of an Apple Manhattan (maybe call it a Big Apple?). I’d even be interested in pulling the amaro/vermouth out and replacing it with Becherovka (spiced Czech liqueur for a more spiced apple flavor) or even the over-used Tuaca (for a more vanilla finish). One note, if you can’t find applejack, I wouldn’t recommend using Calvados.