My wife and I went to a fancy restaurant recently and decided to have a cocktail before dinner. When I asked the server for the drink menu, she handed me a list that consisted of 10 choices. Not only had I never heard of any of them, I had no idea what a lot of the ingredients were.
One drink called a “Gin & It & Juice,” for instance, included cynar, aperol and other stuff that sounded alarmingly chemical to me. An “Infante” involved B.G. Reynolds orgeat. The “Bitter Boogie” started off with thyme-infused amaro blend. It was all very intimidating, because most of my first-person experience with cocktails is limited to drinks with names such as “vodka tonic,” the major ingredients of which are vodka and tonic.
Cocktails aren’t new, of course. When I worked as a waiter in college and was pressed into service one evening as the emergency bartender, a group of customers came in and ordered Zombies. Having no idea what was supposed to go into the drink, I started with rum and then went down the bar pouring different liquors at random into a shaker. Ten minutes later the group ordered “another round just like that.”
But now cocktails with mysterious ingredients and funny names have replaced beers with mysterious ingredients and funny names as the choice of seriously pretentious drinkers.
I’m not sure when cocktail drinking became so complicated; maybe it was when they first started referring to bartenders as “mixologists.” Which probably was shortly after barbers became hair stylists. Whenever it was, funny drinks with silly names are all over the country these days.
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Mixologists in Seattle are offering a drink they call “Prosciutto and Melon,” using ingredients previously found only in Italian appetizers. It consists of prosciutto, which is an overpriced ham, and honeydew that has bee infused with grappa for a month.
In Chicago, you can get a “Something Dutch” if you’re in the mood for a drink that involves rhubarb, angelica root, vinegar and Bols Genever-Pineau Des Charentes rose.
At a restaurant in Alexandria, Va., they serve an “Audrey 2” — tequila, chamomile citrus berry aperitea, and wild hibiscus flowers.
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You no longer can smoke in bars these days, but in San Francisco at least you can combine your vices with “The Mohawk,” which has dried whole-leaf tobacco, rye, Bonal Gentianet and quina.
Not even a drink as basic as the martini is safe from the demented minds of modern mixologists. What was born as a pure glass of gin with a just a hint of vermouth now is being violated by everything from slices of apples to slices of zucchini bread.
James Bond never would have understood.