I’ll be honest: I’m having a hard time picking a lane with this column. Part of me, in my small way, wants to be a voice for the industry—one that is paying a high price of late regarding social responsibility. But another part of me wants to ignore current affairs altogether and have this be a work of escapism—because that’s what cocktails are all about. Bartenders are free to opine on movies, or sports, or relationships, but never politics, and certainly not life and death.
So in light of that, let’s look at some cocktails that I think are underrated by guests (not necessarily by bartenders)—and let’s just have some fun! I present these in no particular order.
Created by San Francisco bartender Jon Santer and made popular at Bourbon and Branch, this is a Manhattan variation for the coffee lover. The original recipe was 2 ounces of bourbon, a half-ounce of coffee liqueur, two dashes of orange bitters and a flamed orange peel. It’s pretty great that way, served up in a coupe—but I prefer to serve it on the rocks. I also add a teaspoon of Demerara sugar syrup, as I think it needs a little body. The syrup makes up for the lower amount of added sugar in craft coffee liqueurs, since the original was likely made with Kahlua. The flamed orange peel is best left in the mid-’00s.
This 1970s cocktail is an underrated Tiki classic. Most people use the recipe from Jeff “Beachbum” Berry or Smugglers’ Cove. This cocktail is pretty loose, so feel free to experiment with rum and gin. (I prefer gin, because I am a contrarian.) The important thing is that you get 2 ounces of rum (or gin)—as with most Tiki drinks, a mix of two rums is preferred—as well as an ounce each of apricot liqueur, creme de coconut and lemon juice. It’s all really going to depend on your coconut cream and apricot, and the sugar levels can vary greatly. Make sure you put in an umbrella, blown backwards!
Army and Navy
Named after the Army and Navy Club, this is a mid-century classic that I have covered in the past—and, frankly, it’s a cocktail that I thought was horrific the first time I tried it. The key is a quality orgeat, and if you don’t make your own at home, I certainly suggest procuring the best one you can find online or at a well-stocked liquor store. I would start with 2 ounces of quality gin, an ounce of lemon juice, between a half and a whole ounce of orgeat (depending on the sweetness—it varies a lot!) and a solid dash of Angostura bitters. A lemon peel is the original garnish, but freshly grated nutmeg is the better choice. Flavor-wise, this one straddles the line of Tiki and classic, and it’s one of the biggest “cult-favorites” out there.
This one is a Tiki weirdo. The name is about as Tiki as can be, but the flavor is out of left field, and certainly not for every palate. It was invented by Jeffrey Ong at the Aviary Bar in Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s, and stayed a local drink there before its recent “star turn.” It’s actually hard to call underrated, as it is pretty ubiquitous these days, but it’s still mostly unknown to the general public. Start with an ounce and a half of dark rum (Jamaican black strap is the consensus choice; I like a mix of black strap and overproof like Smith and Cross), an ounce and a half of pineapple juice, and three-quarters of an ounce of Campari. Most bartenders I know also add a half-ounce each of lime juice and simple syrup. Shake and dump into an appropriate glass, and garnish with a pineapple slice or leaf. I made a variation I call the “Corporate Retreat” that substitutes gin for rum, and it is basically a Negroni on vacation.
According to Imbibe magazine, this cocktail was created in 2005 at Bourbon and Branch (so the bar made this list twice), but I am pretty sure every bartender who has been in the game long enough has come up with this one on his or her own. I had a drink on the menu at my first real bar job (also 2005) in the mountains of Arizona that was exactly a black Manhattan, but with Jägermeister instead of Averna. Before you scoff, Jäger is an amaro, and I didn’t have bougie amari like the San Francisco bars did back then. So whether you want to credit me or not, here is the consensus recipe: two ounces of rye whiskey, one ounce of Averna, and a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters; stir and serve up. I use Ramazzotti instead of Averna, to get a little closer to my original creation, but you can use any amaro you have (except for fernet). In Palm Springs, this one is actually getting some traction of late: Black Manhattans are big sellers at Paul and Blackbook.
OK, this one is a beer and a shot, so you can argue with me over whether it’s even a cocktail. It’s always been my drink of choice, and it has a workman-like efficiency. If you pick your beer and shot well, it’s also pretty damn delicious. Some favorites include a High Life and fernet; a stout and Irish whiskey; or a Mexican lager and tequila or mezcal (duh), but substitute Ancho Reyes for a real treat. A blonde ale and a light, orange-forward amaro is a completely underrated order; drop the amaro in the beer for a Gallic delight.
I imagine a lot of you out there are getting a little stale with your home bartending, so I hope this helps until you can come and see me and my cohorts again. Stay safe!
Kevin Carlow can be reached at CrypticCocktails@gmail.com.