Bartenders – and amateurs – pour a little ingenuity into their glasses
Way back in 1658, an English writer taking stock of advances in civilization at the time wrote, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Translated, that means difficult situations result in ingenious solutions, or more to the point: It’s cocktail time. The bar’s depleted. Come up with something.
This, of course, raises a few questions.
Is a Rusty Nail with no scotch screwed?
Can a Yellow Bird fly on anything besides rum?
Has a Grasshopper with no cream got a leg to stand on?
Is a Manhattan minus sweet vermouth really just a Brooklyn?
Or better yet, what’s in a name?
The truth is, since mankind discovered alcohol, mankind has been dreaming up things to mix with it, mainly because early alcohols generally tasted horrible. Thus arrived the necessity to make it palatable, which led to the mother of all inventions, the cocktail.
Mankind liked them so much, he named them. Then, with each name came specific ingredients with specific amounts and specific ways of preparation. This was followed by world-changing arguments such as shaken or stirred, gin martini or vodka, over ice or strained through, tall glass or short, on the wagon or under it.
Fortunately for mankind, one cocktail begat another. One man’s perfect drink was only another man’s challenge to make it more perfect. Cocktails flourished like false rumors on Facebook.
Just less than a century ago, this country was on the cusp of its greatest era of cocktail creation, kicked off by that little Prohibition thing. Here in 2016, the country is once again pouring out its ingenuity with great gusto as bars introduce endless new cocktails using ingredients and methods that never cease to surprise.
What’s truly exciting about this new age of exploration is that anyone can get involved. Be it a grand mansion or a modest double-wide, every home can have a “house cocktail.”
Creating a personal cocktail is not as daunting as it first sounds. Most professional bartenders suggest starting with an existing cocktail and going from there. One bartender compared it to Mr. Potato Head. You start with the potato and then start adding and removing the parts.
For example, one of the most popular revivals of a classic drink right now is the Negroni, made with equal amounts of Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. When one mixer substituted bourbon for the gin, the Negroni gained a relative called the Boulevardier. When a photographer in Dallas complained about the bitterness of the Negroni, she was served a drink in which the gin had been replaced with citrus vodka and a splash of Cointreau and a little orange juice had been added. The Fancy Nancy was born.
Gina Hasty, beverage supervisor at Hilton Galveston Island Resort, has been mixing cocktails and creating her own for 23 years. It’s a solid 23 years of nothing exploding and not a single poisoning.
“I always start by thinking of a seasonal drink,” Hasty said. “In spring, I want to go with something light. In summer, I think about what makes a drink refreshing. In the fall and winter, I look at spices. I like to try new products I come across, too. These always give me ideas.”
Many of her creations also begin with classic cocktails. While working in New Orleans, she began experimenting with various smoked meats, oysters and even octopus, especially in Bloody Mary cocktails. She did another several cocktails using green tea. Currently, she has her Texas Collins on the hotel menu. It’s similar to a Tom Collins, except she has switched to a Texas vodka, Tito’s, and added muddled jalapeños.
Anyone creating a personal cocktail should make a list of things they like without limiting that list to alcohol, Hasty said. Think of herbs such as mint, rosemary, basil, thyme and cilantro. Go through fruits such as pineapple, apples, cherries and peaches. Don’t forget to think about mixers such as tonic, cola, wine and juices. There also are salts, sugars and syrups.
“My best rule to go by in creating a drink is to take the five senses,” she said. “Taste is, of course, obvious. You want it to taste good, but you also want its taste to fit the moment. Something heavy and spicy might be delicious in January, but not so much in August on the beach.
“Think about smell. Right before anyone takes a sip, they will smell the cocktail. The aroma, which can be from the herbs or fruit or from the alcohol, is a first impression. Sight is another sense you should consider. Does your drink fit better in a tall glass or a martini glass? Think about the kind of garnish and the color of the drink.
Touch is something not too many people consider, but it’s important, Hasty said.
“You may want to serve it in a chilled glass so people feel that,” she said. “The texture is important. Finally, there is sound. People react to a Champagne bottle being opened or a cocktail being made in a shaker. It’s part of the experience.”
One thing all mixologists agree on is that the first attempt at making a new cocktail will probably be like the first flight by the Wright brothers. It’s headed in the right direction, but not exactly soaring. It takes time and many attempts to fly.
There will be a lot of trial and error. Being that these attempts are cocktails, getting it right the first time would actually be taking the fun out of it.
And speaking of fun, creating cocktails can be a party in itself. A number of national writers have made suggestions on how to have a party in which guests are provided all kinds of ingredients and challenged to invent their own cocktails for the evening.
Invention could well be the necessity of others.
Courtesy of Gina Hasty, beverage supervisor at Hilton Galveston Island Resort
5 fresh jalapeño slices
1¼ ounces Tito’s Vodka
½ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 lemon slice
In tall Collins glass, lightly muddle 3 fresh jalapeño slices. Add 1¼ ounces Tito’s Vodka, ½ ounce simple syrup and ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice. Add ice to glass and top with club soda. Garnish with 2 more jalapeño slices and lemon wheel.