Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cocktails Are Fun!

Stop Stressing - and Start Shaking

One of the things I emphasize in The Liquid Muse Cocktail Classes is that Mixology is not brain surgery! You’re making a drink, not creating an atom bomb. Most likely, you’re mixing one up at the end of the day; to relax, enjoy with a loved one, sip as the sun goes down and the stress rolls off your mind and body. It’s a moment to wear a smile and have a chat. In a word – cocktails are fun!

Now, don’t get me wrong – a well-heeled bartender making historic cocktails and quality drinks is a thing to treasure, praise and throw money at. But, the average person doesn’t want to feel intimidated when opening a bottle. “Am I doing it right?” Or worse – “Am I doing it wrong?,” is not something someone should be thinking when pouring him/herself a drink.

I encourage people in my classes to “make the drink your own.” If someone likes it sweeter than the recipe calls for, or if they prefer it more tart --- by all means, add more sugar / simple syrup / agave nectar or lime juice / lemon juice or whatever. It is YOUR drink, after all.

For example, I hate wine tastings where some guy in a suit “talks down” to the crowd, or talks over the average person’s level of knowledge. It is pretentious and counter-productive. It is equally unfortunate in a Mixology seminar. Cocktails are something to enjoy. The history is fascinating, the lore is intriguing, the 'good old' recipes, spirits, liqueurs and traditions are something to uphold. But, not everyone who loves a quality cocktail is a bartender, mixologist or industry professional.

I also don’t believe in strictly “following the rules" when it comes to food, wine or cocktails. As long as you start with quality ingredients, and absorb a few basic guidelines, I believe in following your own palate. If you like red wine with fish – who cares? It’s nobody’s business but your own.

I think that some of the appeal of people like Rachael Ray, for example, is that she makes everyone feel like they can whip up a decent meal. Her catch phrases like the somewhat hokey “Yum-o!” and getting the average American housewife in Kentucky to by Extra Virgin Olive Oil (versus Crisco or some other such crap) by calling it the cutsie “E.V.O.O.” gets that housewife to remember the healthier option when she’s walking down the supermarket aisle. And, isn't that the whole idea?

Rachael Ray draws scoffs and sneers from some professional chefs - and even nobodies who have nothing better to do than diss her - but let them laugh. Her books, TV shows and other endorsements prove that she’s on to something… people want to feel like they can make a dinner their friends ad family will enjoy. She gives them some basic skills, tools and ideas – then sets them free.

This is my approach to cocktails. Anyone can do it. Everyone should do it – and feel free to do it his/her own way. Use good ingredients – fresh fruit, herbs, vegetables, juices. Throw away the sweet and sour and pre-bottled lime juice. Chuck out the nasty "bubble gum" vodka, and get some quality spirits. Then squeeze some grapefruits, muddle some cucumber, press an apple … and get creative while having a good time creating a drink that YOU enjoy.

I respect the classics as much as anyone. I admire a maestro who can bang them out so that others can experience what that revered drink should taste like. However, I also am so passionate about cocktails that I want more people to love – and make – cocktails as much as I do.

I say: get out of your head, put down that book, and start shaking and stirring, sister!

*Photo on right courtesy of DPR

No comments: