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Drink Gimmickry and Other Bartender Tales

January 24, 2012 By: Jack Robertiello

Nobody asked me, but…*

If you can’t answer any question about your aged cocktails convincingly and with very good reasoning, then barreling or otherwise resting a drink is pure gimmickry.

That was driven home to me a few weeks ago when a friend just returned from some time in India showed me a picture she took of the bar menu at the luxe Hotel Oberoi. The modified (with Cointreau) Vodka Negroni spends time in a barrel used for an Aussie red “produc(ing) a mellow yet sumptuous cocktail with subtle notes from the wood,” says the menu. Really? I’ve sampled quite a few aged cocktails since first encountering the breed at 69 Colebrooke Row, Tony Conigliaro’s landmark London spot, but even in his hands, the effect was marginally interesting, minimally different and mostly impressive as a novelty. No longer novel or even imaginative, the concept would make sense if the drink is aged in a vessel that does more than mellow a drink. (If you want to “mellow” an aromatized wine like vermouth or an aperitif like Campari, just leave the cap off the bottle for a few days before making the drink — that ought to do the trick.) Years ago, a private group of Scotch whisky aficionados tried finishing some Laphroaig in a Tabasco barrel; I don’t know how it came out, but THAT was an experiment worth examining, even if it turned out badly.

If you can watch either of these “mixologist” videos and not laugh, it’s time to change occupations: "S#!^ Bartenders Say" and "Portlandia."

Okay, now stop laughing and remind yourself every week about these doofuses, because like it or not, these perfectly played mockeries of “mixologists” and their exaggerated sense of skills and value reveal a current accepted stereotype, just like the overly intrusive waiter, the snooty sommelier and the tyrannical and slightly mad chef. Many bartenders at the forefront of their craft have embraced the videos as a suitable reminder of how weird things can seem and even be to the average drinker. I wonder, though, if that’s the way Jerry Thomas would have done it?

Additionally, if you serve drinks from a bone luge, you probably should be made to work in a frozen Daiquiri bar.

What, you haven’t heard of this latest excrescence? As proof that no trend is too miniscule or silly to be covered in today’s up-to-the-second food world coverage, Tasting Table wrote “Denver diners luge Manhattan shots; in other cities, options have ranged from reposado tequila to Madeira.” The trend has its own website (natch), and recent coverage blames (credits?) Jacob Grier from Metrovino in (where else?) Portland, Ore., for devising the luge with friends “as a tequila-fueled joke.” I, for one, am laughing, so I guess the joke worked.

(*Stolen, with reverence, from one of the best sportswriters of the 1940s and '50s, Jimmy Cannon.)


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