Thursday, June 12, 2008

Cocktails in my pocket

Last weekend I volunteered to bartend for a friend's cocktail party. Not only do I like the idea of a cocktail party-- classy shin dig with liquor -- but I was at the last one she held. Again, I like the concept. It reminds me of the days when Hugh Hefner and Sammy Davis Jr. were tossing back highballs at Hef's Chicago mansion. Unfortunately, that's not how my friend's last party went down. She set out liquor filled punch bowls, mixers and recipe cards, and asked guests to mix their own drinks. They did ... for a while. In too short a time, though, they stopped mixing and went straight for the punch bowls -- the rest of the liquor and anything else they could get their hands on. Suffice it to say, the brunch plans we had the next day didn't happen.
When she mentioned that she wanted take another crack at a cocktail party, I volunteered to bartend, hoping that if the guests had to wait for me to make their drinks, they'd pace themselves better than before. They did and I had a hell of a time. Mixing drinks all night, busting folks' chops when necessary, getting to be the center of attention. What's not to love?
Not only was I happy, but I was curious to see what it would be like to play bartender for a night. From time to time, the missus and I thumb through our Mr. Boston cocktail book and try out new drinks or learn to make a few classics. The cocktail party gave me the chance to see what it would be like to do much the same on a larger scale.
Although I worked off a menu at the party, there are a few drinks I don't need help with. Blindfolded and standing on my head, I can make a martini, perfect manhattan, a mint julep and a white russian (because the dude abides). Sure, sure I can make cuba libres and screwdrivers, but they don't count. If you're going to keep a couple cocktails in your pocket, make sure they're a little more involved or a bit more classic than booze and soda.
While it's one thing to draw up and practice a menu for a cocktail party, it's very much another to know how to make a few drinks well. It also gives you a much better understanding of how these drinks should be made when you're paying someone else to do make them (I cringe most every time I watch a bartender shake the shit out of my martini).
So from me to you, here are two classic cocktails. Get to know them, they'll serve you well.

Classic martini

4.5 oz. of gin (use a good quality gin, like Plymouth, because it is the overwhelming ingredient)
.5 oz. of dry vermouth
lemon twist (or olives, as you like)

Carve out the lemon twist and drop it in the cocktail glass. Fill a shaker half full of ice, pour the vermouth over the ice, stir and strain out (The idea is to use the minimum amount of vermouth to flavor the gin). Add the gin, stir and strain into a cocktail glass (Most people mistakenly refer to cocktail glasses as martini glasses. Don't make that mistake.).

Perfect Manhattan

3 oz. of bourbon (Early Times, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey)
3/4 oz. of sweet vermouth
.5 oz. of dry vermouth
Angostura bitters
maraschino cherry

Add the dry vermouth to a cocktail glass, swirl and pour out. Fill a shaker half full of ice and pour in the bourbon and sweet vermouth. Add three shakes of bitters, stir and strain into the cocktail glass. Pop in the cherry before serving ... or drinking.

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