Saturday, May 28

Standard Cocktail Spectrum

Please see my Meaning of Words concerning the meaning of standard cocktail before reading further...

The spectrum of standard cocktails can be measured by two dimensions, popularity and difficulty. The more popular a cocktail is the more likely any bar will know what it is and serve it. Some examples of popular standard cocktails include (but not limited to): Cosmopolitan, Red Headed Slut, Apple Martini, Mojito, Amaretto Sour, etc...

Most classic cocktails are on the less popular side of the standard cocktail spectrum with a few exceptions like the Daiquiri, Margarita, and Martini.

The difficulty of a cocktail deals with what it takes to make the drink. Drinks that have a lot of ingredients, are layered, frozen, muddled, or rimmed with salt or sugar tend to be the more difficult variety. Some examples of difficult drinks include (but not limited to): Long Island Iced Tea, B-52, Frozen Daiquiri, Old Fashioned, and Sidecar.

Okay stay with me here... If you rank the popularity of a cocktail on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the most popular), then rank the difficulty of a cocktail on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the easiest), add those two numbers together, and then line them up from smallest to greatest you get the spectrum of standard cocktails.

With that said there is a time and a place for everything.

First let's discuss time.

If you are in a bar in the middle of an afternoon, you are the only patron in the bar, you can order pretty much any cocktail that is considered a standard cocktail. As the bar gets more busy the less of the standard cocktails you should order. The less popular, difficult drinks (low end of the scale) are the first to go. The most popular easy drinks (high end of the scale) are the last to go. So in a situation where the bar is four people deep waiting on drinks the order should either be right off the bar's specialty menu or the simplest of popular standard cocktails... example Vodka and Tonic.

Obviously this is a judgment call as there really isn't a documented list of standard cocktails and their rank in the spectrum. The figure below attempts to graphically depict this concept. There are many more standard cocktails than what is on the chart, but for simplicity sake only a few were pulled as an example. Also the rating of difficulty and popularity is only my opinion and should not be taken to heart. To do this right would require a rather extensive survey and the results would vary based on the regional locale. This is why you really have to judge for yourself and rationalize the cocktail order in each situation.

Next let's discuss the place.

This is a really difficult thing for a patron to judge. It really depends on the experience of the tender behind the bar.

Some places lean heavier towards their drink specialties. Bars at Mexican restaurants are a good example of this. They general specialize in Margaritas and various other tequila cocktails. These drinks are pretty much all they get orders for, so there is very few standard cocktails available.

The class of the bar and the other patrons inside the bar can also be a good clue as to what range of cocktail are available. A place with a nice wooden bar, brass rails, dimly lit lights, and a mixed age crowd will be more likely to serve up the full range of standard cocktails. Hotel and country club bars are almost always a good bet.

The last two paragraphs are highly generalized. There are exceptions, any place can have a bar chef that is grounded in the fundamental cocktails that can/will make any standard cocktail no matter how busy they are. When you find a place with a bar chef like this treasure it and tip big.

As stated above this is sometimes very difficult to judge by a patron and can lead to frustration on the part of the patron and the bartender. In a recent post Mexican Restaurant in Mandeville, LA I was disappointed with my experience. Yes the place was a Mexican restaurant but the bar is very classy and there was a mixed crowd. So, I guess I expected more... I judged wrong.

So the next time you belly up to a bar and you are thinking about ordering something not on the bar specials think about the standard cocktail spectrum. Size up the time/place and the popularity/difficulty of your cocktail and order accordingly.

Sunday, May 22

Brandy Library in New York, NY

This isn't a recommendation yet because I haven't been but this place looks right up my alley.

If anyone goes, please let me know how it is. Next time I'm in NY I will visit and give a full report.

Thursday, May 19

Meaning of Words

This is a list of some of the words used on my site. Words can have many different definitions and they can be taken out of context at times. I'm not saying these are the meaning for these words, but within the context of this site this is how they will be used.

  • Classic Cocktails - A cocktail invented at least 25 years ago and is or once was considered a standard cocktail.
  • Modern Cocktails - Cocktails invented within the last 25 years.
  • Fundamental Cocktails - The most basic cocktails that when properly understood, will form the foundation of understanding how to make cocktails better. These can be classic or modern cocktails. Also sometimes called foundation cocktails
  • Specialty Cocktails - Typically a creation of the bar and is most likely the only place it is served. However this is where drinks are invented and given enough time can rise to be a standard cocktail in all bars.
  • Standard Cocktails - Should be available in all bars and range in populartiy. These can be classic or modern cocktails.
  • Non-standard cocktails - This could be a drink that once was a standard cocktail but fell in popularity or is another bar's specialty drinks. Non-standards should only be order in rare circumstances.

More may be added in the future, but this is where we will start.

Saturday, May 14

The Classics

If classics aren't ordered very often, should bartenders still be expected to
know how to make them?

This posses an interesting question.

If shootouts don't occur very often, should policeman still be expected to know how to shoot a gun?

If servers don't crash very often, should system administrators be expected to know how to reboot them?

If a bunt does happen very often, should a baseball players still be expected to know how to do it?

The fundamentals of any job should be the first thing that is learned. There are modern and classic cocktails in the bartending world that make up these fundamentals for the job. The basic principles learned by making the simple mixture of sweet, tart, and liquor to make a balanced cocktail is the core to being a good bartender.

Without the base knowledge of the fundamentals a bartender can still do very well at their job and make a lot of money doing it. By following a receipt one can make good drinks, no doubt about it. But, to be a true mixologist the person absolutely needs to know what an ingredient does to a drink.

First lets define a few things. A cocktail can be classified into 3 scopes:

  • Bar specialty drinks - typically a creation of the bar and is most likely the only place it is served. However this is where drinks are invented and given enough time can rise to be a standard cocktail in all bars.
  • Standard Cocktails - should be available in all bars and range in populartiy.
  • Non-standard cocktails - this could be a drink that once was a standard cocktail but fell in popularity or is another bar's specialty drinks.
A classic cocktail could be either standard or non-standard based on it's staying power in the minds of patrons.

When you think about it, the drinks a bartender needs know include: his/her bar's specialty drinks and the standard cocktails. There are many, many specialty drinks that are vying their way to get on the standard cocktail list a recent add to this is the Cosmopolitan.

So, what are the standard cocktails? That is another topic for another day. So I will post a bigger list in a future post, but the standard classic cocktails that every bartender should know, to name a few are: Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, Martini, Margarita, Daiquiri, Mojito, etc... These drinks are known by patrons and they are the essence of what people think of when the word cocktail is spoken.

Within the standard cocktails there is a spectrum of drinks that range in popularity whereby the less popular drinks are less important to "know" and the more popular are more important to "know". Once a cocktail becomes unpopular it then falls off this list and becomes a non-standard.

So for the obscure non-standard cocktails patrons just should not order them. They maybe classic cocktails but they have been long forgotten. Actually, you can still order these drinks but there are three things that must be true before it is allowed:

  • The bar is slow
  • You know they have all the ingredients
  • You have a very good repoir with the bartender going.

And if you do order one of these oldies but goodies be sure to let them know that you know it is an obscure drink.

So don't go into a bar and play stump the bartender by ordering a Devil's Torch unless you want to get thrown out on your ear and I would be glad to help them do it.

Drinks have evolved over time by modifying and creating variations of cocktails. A large explosion of this occurs when there is a new type of mixer available. For example when carbonated water became widely available a fizz was invented from a sour.

As more and more mixers become available it is easy to see why one would get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of cocktails, and it is only going to get worse. The key is learning the fundamentals because you are learning the base recipes that beget all the others.

So the answer to the original question, should a bartender learn the classics if they are not ordered very often, is yes and no. This is because a classic cocktail could be a standard or non-standard cocktail.

You should definitely know all of the classic standard cocktails. But, more importantly learn the standards (classic and modern) with an emphesis on the more popular ones. Learn them and learn the modifiers that got you to your bar's specialty drinks. Make them and taste them for yourself. If you don't like the way they taste, modify them by adding more sweet or more tart flavor to get to a balanced cocktail you would be proud to serve.

As for the non-standard classics you don't have to memorize them. However they should be studied because a lot of them are the building blocks and foundation for nearly every modern drink made today. By learning the basic fundamentals of building a good balanced cocktail one can quickly refer to a bar book (don't be embarrassed to this) to get the base liquor, modifiers, and glass type and still make a great drink.

Sunday, May 1

Mexican Restaurant in Mandeville, LA

Last night my wife and I went to a local Mexican restaurant. We love the food at this place. The atmosphere is loud, lively, and fun. They have a great LOOKING bar and the wait is never very long.

That's all I can say good about this place.

The bar needs some talent.

Behind the bar they have the obligatory Margarita Rocks pre-mixed in a bucket and the Frozen Margarita machines whirling away. We've sat at the bar 3 times now waiting for our table and all three times we have been fairly disappointed.

First time there, we get this crusty guy who has the attitude of a rusty nail. Being a Mexican place I order a Margarita on the rocks. No problem and it was decent. My wife orders a Mojito. The Rusty Nail's response, "We don't serve that here! You must be watching too many episodes of Sex and the City."

Ummmm, okay. Are you just trying to piss me off?

So, she orders a Smirnoff Vodka and Tonic with extra lime. Not only did they not have Smirnoff it was returned with NO lime at all.

Well, we chalk the first time up to a bad bartender. So on our second visit we go to the bar happy to see the Rusty Nail nowhere in sight. We sit down for our pre-meal drink by ordering a Maker's Mark Manhattan straight up for myself and a Vodka and Tonic for my wife. Barkeep then informs me they are out of Maker's Mark and still no Smirnoff. Very sadly, I end up with a Jim Beam Manhattan without bitters and shaken.

Third times a charm, right? Nope. Knowing at this point to keep it simple I order a Whiskey Sour. Still no Maker's Mark I go with Wild Turkey and of course I get
Finest Call sweet and sour mix. There is nothing fresh here. My wife's VODKA and tonic, which comes back with so much vodka that she sent it back. (still no Smirnoff by the way) She ends up getting a Margarita on the Rocks with an extra shot of Blue Curacao. She liked it.

This place is very busy and sells decent Margarita by the bucket. It is obvious that they are not concentrating on the bar. It's too bad. This restaurant is in a great location, the bar is very nice looking and has a lot of potential.

I write this in hopes they upgrade their efforts in the bar area because I will be coming back because the food is just that good.