Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why would you drink that?

In an age where a good libation is more accessible than ever, booze aficionados are gravitating towards barely potable potions of late. From shots to craft cocktails, bartenders are pouring fashionable tipples that cause us to ask, ‘why would you drink that?”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever grabbed the pickle jar from the fridge and taken a big ol’ swig of the brine. How about taking a shot of whisky before that pull from the jar? Anyone? Alright, a few of you have and I may or may not be among you. But what is done in the comforts of home at 3am is rarely done in a polite social setting.

Chasing whisky with pickle juice, or Pickle Backs as they're known, have become quite the vogue amongst even the most sophisticated tipplers. In fact a number of otherwise unthinkable libations have come to fashion of late, leaving some of the bar community bewildered at these shocking trends.

I’ve long mixed cocktails with amaris, Fernet Branca, Cynar artichoke liqueur, and other such bitter potables. Recently, however, these spirits and liqueurs have taken center stage with booze hounds. Fernet is a popular sipper and shot amongst those in the business and can even be found on tap in a number of markets.
“We’re in San Francisco, the industry drink is Fernet, why not be the first to put Fernet on tap?” says Duncan Ley, owner of the Russian Hill bars Bullitt and Tonic. (link to previous blender post)
Kirk Estopinal from Cure in New Orleans currently has a cocktail featured at Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Oregon, with a base of Cynar and Punt e Mes (two of the most bitter digestives on the market). Aptly titled “The Search for Delicious”, this cocktail is a hit with the industry crowd and highlights ingredients that could give the unwitting a facial expression as bitter as the spirits of which it’s comprised.

At Tales of the Cocktail this year I was kindly treated to a newer favorite amongst the daring. A straight shot of Angostura bitters, a cocktail flavoring classified as ‘non-potable’ and as Gary Regan asserts (in The Joy of Mixology) “are not meant to be consumed neat or on the rocks.” While I knew what I was getting myself into I can’t help but be a little concerned if the college crowd catches a whiff of this in the wake of the Four Loko ban. It was less than pleasant, I assure you young readers, and one is better served keeping the dasher on for use in their Old Fashioned or Manhattan.

Another order that might make your bartender cringe is any number of the party drinks made popular in the 1990’s. While thankfully the Flirtini has gone out of fashion the Pomegranate Cosmo and Dirty Martini are still going strong. On paper some olive juice or brine should add some salty and savory notes to a cocktail, but having seen the brine that goes into most dirty birds a guest is perhaps better off adding a splash of dishwater.

While drinking trends are constantly evolving it never ceases to amaze what curious lengths folks will go to for a little flush to their cheeks. Should you find yourself at a bar where these or other dumbfounding drinks are ordered you can likely share a knowing look with the bartender who’s probably asking the same question you are: “Why would you drink that?”

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