Monday, February 1, 2010

Cutting Corners

Someone reminded me that there was little discussion of cocktails in a blog with cocktails in the title. This post rectifies that issue.

I advocate regularly for taking the quick fix over a difficult solution when it seems appropriate. There are a huge number of cases where good enough is just right. But you need to pay careful attention to whether it's really the case that something is good enough, not quite right or just plain inefficient.

My favourite cocktail is the Manhattan. In its proper form it contains:

2-3 parts Rye whiskey
1 part Sweet vermouth
Dash of bitters
A Maraschino Cherry

Made right it's brilliantly balanced drinking with some fantastic flavours. Unfortunately, there is a large risk of making it too sweet and a number of bars don't stock the exact ingredients or would prefer to use cheaper ones. Instead they introduce a few modifications to try and make the drink anyway. Some of the modifications can be plain wrong, bourbon sometimes replaces the rye whiskey and sends the drink way into the too sweet category. While others are OK if used sparingly but should not be used to excess.

Some of the common modifications that seem to spring up in relation to the Manhattan include: cheaper Canadian whiskey(often Canadian Club) instead of actual rye, Maraschino liqueur instead of the cherry and low quality or aged vermouth(as a relatively low alcohol drink, vermouth does not age well and turns into a syrupy mess over time). The problem with these changes isn't that any one of them ruins the drink(although it certainly lowers the quality) it's that they all add sweetness so one cheat I can live with, more than that and you have an overpriced sickly mess in your hand.

When I was in Melbourne recently I went to a bar with some friends and at some point ordered a couple of Manhattans. The venue seemed like it was of a standard to cope with making a decent cocktail; however, I got something back that fitted the definition of sickly mess. They'd clearly replaced the cherry with Maraschino liqueur and probably replaced the rye with Canadian Club. It was also garnished with an obscenely large slice of lemon rind. It was quite possibly the most disappointing cocktail I've ever had.

It's a sign of skill to be able to cut a few corners and still get everything to an acceptable standard. Learn to balance these things, be a perfectionist or give people free drinks.