A Spirited Discussion

The debut of my new bi-weekly column for Cleveland Scene Magazine.

The goal of the column is not so much different than the goal of the blog: I want to make cocktails spirits more accessible to people.

Unlike the blog, the column will have a Cleveland slant to it. The goal is not necessarily to break news or profile bars/restaurants and their owners: I'm more interested in covering specific topics and educating through conversations with Northeast Ohio's finest barkeepers and distillers.

“Is the Sidecar Actually a Disgusting Drink?”

For the aspiring home bartender, sometimes a recipe is a terrible place to start: A recipe describes how a drink should be made but not what a drink should taste like. That’s great if you have a reference implementation to go on but not so great if you’ve never had the cocktail before or you didn't like the one you tried.

I had a terrible Ramos Gin Fizz while I was out with my wife recently. Here’s a drink that contains both heavy cream and an egg white that must be shaken for at least three minutes or you’ll feel like you’re drinking heavy cream and an egg white. 

The bartender used about four ounces of Half and Half—at least twice what is reasonable—and I immediately realized that this was a trick: By adding more of the white stuff, she could achieve the visual appearance of a properly made Ramos Gin Fizz without properly making it. Which is great, except this drink tasted like Half and Half.

I don’t know what a proper Ramos Gin Fizz is supposed to taste like (insofar as I wasn’t alive in New Orleans in the year 1888) and neither do you. But I know what I like it to taste like, and that’s all that matters.

A reader wrote to me recently and lamented a bad Sidecar he had at a restaurant recently and wondered if he should give the drink a second chance. “Is the Sidecar actually a disgusting drink?” he posited.

It is if it’s made to be disgusting.

When I write about a drink on this blog, I am writing about the way I think it should taste. I've found that some classic recipes as given lack the balance that I seek in a drink, so I fuss with the amounts until they don't. By definition, balance is achieved when the optimal amount of each ingredient is used such that it is featured as intended. 

A Sidecar contains brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice—what's not to like about that? A good bartender (and indeed a good home bartender) should be able to make those ingredients work.

There are no wasted ingredients in a good drink, only wasted amounts of ingredients.