After an off-season back East, I’m back in the Coachella Valley, with a new bar gig and more-reliable transportation—meaning I am ready to search once more for the tastiest drinks in the area!
Sadly, most of the places I visited this month were a bit … disappointing. In particular, there were two cocktails I tried at a “high-end” establishment that were actually tough to finish (and $20 each!).
Fortunately, I had much better luck at Window Bar at the brand-spankin’ new Kimpton Rowan Hotel Palm Springs. Not only is the design of the place pretty breathtaking; this diminutive bar in the lobby also makes a mean drink. After looking over the menu for a bit (there are some interesting ingredients on there, including local dates), I went with the Dealer’s Choice. Bartender Bryan Bruce was in a classical mood and made me an excellent martinez cocktail with a nice chinato, an aromatized Barolo wine with a pleasant bitterness that makes beautiful cocktails. If you’re wondering what a martinez is … well, it’s basically gin and Italian vermouth with bitters and a spoon full of sweetener (usually Boker’s and Maraschino respectively). Some folks think it’s the martini’s absentee dad, but I respectfully disagree—and Maury Povich doesn’t have the paternity results yet.
For my friend who was on a vodka-soda kick (I know, I know), Bryan indeed made a vodka soda—but it was a pretty cool vodka soda: The soda water was infused with local juniper branches and lemon zest, and carbonated à la minùte in a plastic soda bottle. (You have to see this glass contraption they use to infuse things; it’s straight out of Harry Potter.) The drink itself occupied a nice middle ground between a gin-and-tonic and a vodka soda. There are two more bars on the property, but I saved those for my next visit.
I also checked out the new offerings at Moxie, where they’ve created a pretty extensive list of cocktails these days. Bar-manager Blake gave us a sneak peak at his “poptails,” which combine a cocktail with a popsicle on a skewer, which serves as a garnish and/or snack. We tried the Pretty in Pink Pop Drop first. This is not intended for whiskey-swilling bearded dudes like me. It certainly was pretty, and pink, and will definitely appeal to less-hardcore drinkers, thanks to its flavors of vanilla and the super-fragrant Combier Liqueur de Rose, replete with sugared rim and strawberry basil lychee pop.
Next, the Desert Sun was reminiscent of an Oaxacan old fashioned, with mezcal, tequila and sweeteners, but served up. The mango-serrano popsicle, when it was mostly dissolved, added some needed brightness. Blake responded: “It’s a drink that rewards patience.” In any case, it’s nice to see someone having some fun designing their cocktails.
While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss that deceptively simple drink, which is perfect for winter get-togethers—the old fashioned.
First of all, what the heck is an old fashioned, anyway? The old fashioned is a callback to the early days of cocktail—booze, bitters and sugar. The cocktail, without getting too bogged down in historical details, was consumed in the morning as a hangover cure. Later, cocktails moved in a more-elegant direction, but certain drinkers still wanted that old standby.
Notice that I have mentioned nothing about a cherry or an orange slice—or muddling, or even ice. That doesn’t make those additions “wrong,” per se (certainly not the ice!), but they’re not necessary. So we’re going to strip things down here and go back to basics.
Here’s what you need:
• Rye whiskey, or bourbon
• Sugar (white or raw—no brown sugar)
• Bitters (Angostura, in the brown bottle with the white label)
• Ice (cubed—large cube for extra credit, but certainly not necessary)
Take the sugar, and mix it equal parts with water. You can heat it to mix, and then cool the mixture; or you can shake it in a bottle and let it sit. That’s the only “hard” part here. (I won’t get into the sugar-versus-syrup debate here, because this is the 101 class; we can get nerdy some other time.)
Take a short, wide glass, and lash in a couple of good slugs of those bitters. (Don’t be shy.) Then put that sugar syrup in there; until you know just how sweetened you like it, start with one teaspoon. Then add 2 ounces of the whiskey—just pour it right in. Add plenty of ice, and stir until seasoned. You’re done.
Of course, you can make it look and taste better with a little citrus oil. Do you have a lemon, an orange or even a grapefruit? Take off a nice swath of zest with a peeler or a knife, and squeeze the oils over the drink; then rub it on the outside glass. Toss it in … or don’t. (Just be careful with that peeler; I don’t need any lawsuits. You can peel a bunch ahead of time, and keep them in a damp paper towel to prevent Ramsay Bolton-ing yourself after a few drinks.) As for the cherry, either get good ones (like Luxardo brand), or don’t bother. Stick the cherry on a skewer so you can enjoy it; it does little good smashed under the ice.
There you go—it’s the perfect get-together drink for Dad, Grandma or your buddies. But when you see a bartender “making it wrong,” keep it to yourself; that’s between us.
Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at email@example.com.