One advantage of living where I do is that I have access to a bartender.
Actually, our household has two (very bored) bartenders: Myself and longtime Coachella Valley barman Neil Goetz, the head bartender at Blackbook in Palm Springs. We’re resisting the urge to do what most barmen do in their downtime—it’s funny how little I feel like drinking now that I am not behind the bar—so we decided to do some research, and record some videos on basic cocktail making and such. I also sat down with Neil to talk about some of the things we researched and some random subjects as well.
If anyone wants to see the videos or hear the entire half-hour interview, where we go way off topic and tell some off-color stories, visit crypticcocktails.com.
KC: Let’s start with the martini. What are your thoughts on the martini?
NG: Still one of the best drinks ever—simple, two ingredients, and when made the right way, 2-to-1 (gin to vermouth), it goes down like nothing.
KC: In our research, we found that dry vermouth wasn’t really around until the end of the 19th century, making it a relatively new drink compared to, say, the Manhattan.
NG: Unfortunately, now we’re in that world now where most of the world thinks a martini is shaken vodka.
KC: I still have people coming in, asking, “What kind of martinis do you have?”
NG: In a true restaurant environment, I am basically OK with that. If you have three goofy drinks served up (called martinis), so be it. A properly made cosmo …
KC: Yeah, or a lemon drop; those drinks are basically daisies. (More on daisies later.) But back to proper martinis. I like a dry martini, with a 5-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio, at home.
NG: With a lot of gins, I would actually prefer a nice gin on the rocks with a lemon twist. I’m that guy, I guess. I like a super-light, citrus-forward gin on the rocks with a lemon twist.
KC: Let’s move onto Manhattans.
NG: Still probably the best cocktail ever. Virtually every whiskey drink is kind of derived from that. Let me rephrase that: The whiskey drinks that are popular today, they’re all just derivatives.
KC: Whiskey, fortified wine and a bitter component. The first person who added citrus to a whiskey cocktail must have felt like he discovered the zero—like, “Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?!” People must have resisted at first.
NG: The best variation—I like to call it a Manhattan on steroids—is the Vieux Carré.
- 1 ounce of rye or bourbon
- 1 ounce of cognac
- 1 ounce of sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters
Stir; serve on the rocks; top with a half-ounce of Benedictine.
KC: I feel like that’s one of those “throw everything in but the kitchen sink” cocktails.
NG: It’s a Manhattan, with “extra.” It’s a coolish weather drink in my brain. The Benedictine gives it that Christmas-y vibe.
KC: We also looked into the history of the margarita—how, despite all of the legends behind the naming of the drink, it’s a daisy, and was probably just named that, but in Spanish; once the tequila went in—voilá, “margarita.” The daisy template:
- 1 part spirit
- 1/2 part triple sec
- 1/2 part lemon (or lime) juice
Shaken, served up (or sometimes tall with soda). A little simple syrup helps; it can be made with almost any spirit.
NG: I subscribe to that, too. The simple answer is usually the right one. I’m sure you’ve done it; I know I’ve done it: A girl comes in, usually a girl, sometimes a guy. You made them something that’s basically a margarita with a little something different in it. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. What do you call this?” And you say, “What’s your name?” And you name it after them.
KC: Oh god, you’re playing to the cheap seats! Yes, I am guilty of doing that once or twice, back in the day. That’s better than when they ask me what the drink is called, and I don’t have a name for it, and they tell me I should call it “The Kevin.” First of all, I would never name a drink after myself; secondly, “The Kevin?” What is it? A boring, suburban white guy? Besides, my drink is an over-proof daiquiri or a boilermaker.
NG: If you can find rum out here. I went looking for a decent clear rum at four different places the other day, and the “best” they had was (redacted) silver. I can’t believe I said that was “the best” out loud.
KC: Yeah, I pretty much get one if I see good rum and know the bar has fresh juice. It’s a shame, with all the Tiki and Tiki history in this town, there isn’t more rum available retail here. Let’s change the subject before we go down the tiki hole, though: How about a light-hearted question. Favorite bar snack?
NG: For sure: Pickled eggs. There is nothing better to see behind a bar than that big old jar of pickled eggs floating around in it. It’s perfection.
KC: Agreed. Anything pickled, even a pepperoncini. I am not a big Bloody Mary guy, but if they load it up with assorted pickles, I am in.
NG: One of my biggest pet peeves is someone who comes in and orders a Bloody Mary or a chavela at 9 p.m. It’s like, buddy, go (expletive) yourself.
KC: A lot of them are probably Canadian. They drink Bloody Caesars all night. But it’s cold up there, so maybe the salt keeps the blood from freezing or something.
NG: When I worked at the club at Fantasy Springs, people used to drink five or six chavelas in a row. It’s like, switch to a Bud Light or something; you’re dancing.
(At this point, the conversation spiraled off topic, so we’ll leave it here for now. Stay safe, everyone, and please don’t drink yourselves through this mess! If two bar-lifers can practice moderation and find some constructive things to do, you can too!)
Kevin Carlow can be reached at CrypticCocktails@gmail.com.