This story featured in the July issue of Australian Bartender magazine.
By David Wondrich
You can catch David Wondrich (author of Imbibe! And Punch) at Sydney BarShow Week in 2011 where he will be hosting an intimate ‘hands-on’ cocktail workshop as well as presenting various seminars. Visit www.barshow.com.au to pre-register and purchase your workshop ticket.
The one cocktail that every budding ‘tender should know…
Along with knowing how to play barrelhouse piano, sing rowdy Irish songs or move your sacroiliac in ways not usually seen outside of legless lizards, knowing how to mix a few top-notch cocktails is a skill guaranteed to get a party started. Rattle the ice and watch ’em flock. This raises a couple of practical questions.
First off, how many do you need to know? There are those who need dozens and dozens, but they’re called ‘bartenders’ and it’s part of their job-or should be. For others, occasional entertainers with abstemious or beer-head friends, one will do – everyone likes a good Margarita, right?
A lot of others can get by with that Marg, plus a good Martini and Manhattan and maybe something light, fruity and contemporary for contrast. But for the dedicated, though not obsessed, amateur-my kind of folks-I think the total is somewhere between ten and fifteen.
If you’ve mastered how to make that many good cocktails and are prepared to do it at the drop of a hat or any other item of outerwear, your spouse will forgive many of your personality defects, your friends will love you unconditionally and acquaintances will be seized with a sudden wish to get to know more of you
So. Which drinks do you pick? Thoroughly learning a drink takes time and money, and there are millions to choose from. I like to divide them up into the Unavoidables, the Untouchables and the Unbelievables. The first include the three drinks mentioned above and a few others that everyone’s heard of; the classics-Sidecar, Daiquiri, Bloody Mary, a few others.
Learn about eight of these and you’re good for most occasions. By themselves, though, the Unavoidables are a little dull-like a greatest hits album, they lack the element of surprise. Enter the Untouchables, which are all about surprise. Unfortunately, since this is where you’ll find drinks like the Alien Orgasm, the Dirty Girl Scout, the Mind Eraser and all the other current collegiate cutups, they’re also unworthy of serious attention. In general, if the drink’s name makes you snicker or groan, it’s probably not worth learning; that’s what bartenders are for.
Finally, there are the Unbelievables; the drinks that you-and, more importantly, your friends-have never heard of, where you take one sip and you’re wondering what cruel force in the universe has been denying you communion with this heaven-sent balm. Or something like that.
Many of these are to be found among the ranks of the so-called “forgotten classics,” which means that some mixological genius invented it, someone wrote it down and then everybody who understood why it was worth writing down got old and died.This is where you’ll find Unbelieavables like the Aviation, the Corpse Reviver, the Pegu Club, the Rose and, thankfully, the Widow’s Kiss.
One of the most intriguing of all cocktails, this last was invented in the early 1890s by George J. Kappeler, head bartender at Manhattan’s swank Holland House Hotel. Balancing out the crisp bite of apple brandy with the herbal complexities of both Chartreuse and Bénédictine, it’s elegant, attractive-and dangerous. Learn a few drinks like this, and it doesn’t take many, and your work is done.
The Widow’s Kiss
- 45ml Calvados or applejack
- 20ml Yellow Chartreuse
- 20ml DOM Bénédictine
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
*Stir well with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve; garnish with a maraschino cherry, if you wish.