Cocktails Are Conservative

Here is a great story from The Weekly Standard (its cover story) on the resurgence of the cocktail — and not the sugary concoctions that pass for cocktails — the liberal versions.

The cocktail is a lovely simple thing: a mixture of spirits and flavorings that whets the appetite, pleases the eye, and stimulates the mind. It is one of our conspicuous contributions to cultured living, up there with the Great American Songbook and the tuxedo. Yet, like almost everything else to do with culture in this country, the cocktail fell on hard times in the 1960s. A generation preferred other intoxicants and, when they drank, took their alcohol in sickly sweet concoctions that defied any idea of sophistication. As time passed, the places one could order a decent cocktail grew farther in between. By the 1990s, few establishments outside of the fustiest hotels could produce a passable Martini or Manhattan. Fewer still a Negroni, a Jack Rose, or a Sazerac.

Some of it is the ignorance of the folks behind the bar, who not only have a limited mastery of the ratios that make such cocktails refreshing but also fail to measure–every drink should be meted out accurately with jiggers and spoons. It is a profession after all dominated by disabused actors and women comfortable in brief attire. But it is just as much the lack of audience. For a Negroni, your sweet vermouth and your Campari must be fresh, used and replaced regularly. For a Jack Rose, you not only need bottled-in-bond applejack or high-grade Calvados, but also real grenadine, which at this point you must make yourself as the product sold domestically has no pomegranates in it. And a Sazerac?
To make the signature drink of New Orleans, you need not only good rye and an absinthe substitute, but a bottle of Antoine Amedie Peychaud’s anise-dominated bitters. You need, in other words, fresh ingredients, a fair amount of knowledge, and practiced skills.

Do read the whole thing.

18 comments to Cocktails Are Conservative

  • Rufus

    I can’t stand sweet cocktails. More often than not I’ll order a gin and tonic, or scotch and water. I used to order martinis, but then all the cool kids started doing it and they came out with appletinis and chocolatetinis. I avoid them like the plague now.

  • Floyd

    I love gin and tonic. My brother got me hooked on Stingers for awhile…. brandy and white creme de menthe… apparently Al Capone’s drink of choice.

  • Matt Helm

    Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant in Boston is the only place in that town that knows what a Jack Rose. I’m guessing there’s probably two in NYC, but that’s it for the east coast.

    Is a martini still a cocktail if you just pretend to add vermouth?

  • Brandon

    You know I have seriously never had so much as a single drop of alcohol my entire life. How odd is that on a scale of 1 to 10?

    • Floyd

      not odd at all Brandon…. coming from Southern Baptist stock I can tell you it’s not odd — it’s becoming rarer…, but not odd at all….

    • Rufus


      I have seriously never had so much as a single drop of coffee in my entire life. Mrs. Firefly swears she’s going to shove a cup down my throat on my deathbed, just so I can’t leave this Earth making that claim.

  • Stephanie

    Make mine a Cosmopolitan…if not then I’ll have a Dirty Vodka Martini. Or a Vodka Martini. Won’t drink any whiskeys as I literally have a personality change. I can’t go near that stuff. Ick. But I keep it on hand for others who do like it. Bookers anyone? We also have a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue hanging around here…

  • Mr Sideous

    I used to love a gin and tonic. In a bucket. Or a bombay saphire martini. A couple of the old steak houses in the area used to make them classic, with the extra in a small glass in a tray of ice. Now for the #4 Havana…
    Or a whiskey sour
    or an old fashioned (I forgot the difference between the two…hic!)

    a rusty nail.

  • I’ll take a glass of somewhat translucent water… I’m not picky and alcohol is bad news for some of us.
    The youth gave way to many a Jack & Coke.. Is that considered a cocktail or just a reason to get oneself in trouble?
    I guess I’ve either grown up or have grown boring.

    JL Mealer
    Mealer Companies LLC
    America’s Next Major Automaker
    & Green Power Device Manufacturer.

  • I spent too much of my youth extracting Jim Beam from my body the hard way. To this day the smell of bourbon makes me ill.

  • Stephanie

    Brandy does teh same to me Fritz. My Dad had like a bajillion shorties of brandy in this old duffle bag he had so my friends and I grabbed a bunch of them and partied like rock stars and then um um um…..didn’t feel so good after.

  • JJ

    as it happens I am a bartender semi-extraordinaire.

    though, I don’t work in a hi-falutin’ enough establishment to ever need Campari to make a Negroni. I don’t know a bar here where the Campari is ever “fresh.” No one ever drinks it so all the bottles are older than my father (and that’s old).

    but it IS an important factor in making some cocktails that the mixture be just right.
    When you make a margarita, it’s basically a drink that is citrus: you need orange from the Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier, limes, and lemon from the sweet and sour, and one shouldn’t overpower the other. the tequila complements all that. You need a sufficiently tangy sweet and sour mix to make a good one. A great substitute for the orange is Midori, a green Melon liqueur that is not real good on it’s own.

    but I personally think it’s a little fallacious to state that every cocktail needs to be exactly measured with a jigger. true, in a Manhattan (which I love, by the way…Maker’s Mark is GREAT in one) you need to watch your sweet vermouth, but a little extra doesn’t hurt; add a bit of maraschino cherry juice and a dash of angostura bitters and you’re close to perfection for me.

    The only cocktail I’ve come across that really needs to be perfectly measured is Floyd’s aforementioned Stinger. If it’s not right you either get too much of a brandy burn, or it’s too minty. If it’s made just right, it is a VERY nice smooth drink.

    I ask a lot of questions of some patrons to try to get out of them whether they like fruity drinks, sweet drinks, sours. 9 times out of 10 I hit the right note.

    oh, and Creme de cassis = liquid tree bark

  • Great JJ, now I have to go get a margarita. Easily my most favorite drink although lately been loving on the bloody marys.

    I can’t drink whiskey now because one of my boyfriends tried to get me to like floaters, swearing if I would just drink it fast enough I would only taste the Coke, not the whiskey. Turns out when you drink Coke and whiskey really fast, you get sick really fast and can hit a wall from across the room. Then we went to go see the Doors the next day. Ick.

  • JJ

    oh Bloody Mary’s are great. Needs to be spicy though. Absolut Peppar, fresh ground pepper, Worcestershire and a dollop of horse radish helps!

    the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs apparently has a fancy one wherein the bartender zests jalapeno peppers into the mary mix. Supposed to be wonderful though out of my price range!

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