You might be like me and didn’t even know the word mixology existed a few years ago. It makes total sense, but the idea of applying it to creation of a craft cocktail is new. This is an exciting innovation to the area of professional drinking. No more rack liquors and bulk manufactured mixes to slop together into an industrial cocktail. It follows the fine dining trend. Why would you precede a wonderful 10 course tasting menu with a cocktail better served at a frat party?
What makes this new field of beverages different?
To be frank, it isn’t really new, it is a return to basics – no mixes, natural ingredients, locally sourced and handcrafted. This is how cocktails used to be made until we entered the most recent era. It has unleased amazing creativity and has rejuvenated long-lost classic cocktails.
The spirits behind the bar are normally classified either into the cheap stuff in the speed rack behind the bar or “Call” (as in call a name), which is the stuff up on the shelves and goes for higher prices. The spirits being used for high-end cocktails are usually locally sourced, small batch and many times have unique flavor profiles.
Some would argue that the use of such special spirits is a waste, after all, it’s just getting mixed with other things which mask it. But you’d be wrong. The mixologist may have tasted 20 gins to find the perfect one to make their Gin and Tonic, with small batch or home-made Tonic, and special citrus to finish it off. These boutique liquors aren’t cheap but like the best ingredients used in the kitchen – it’s worth it.
Flavoring – back to basics
Flavoring is where mixology shines. Small amounts of carefully crafted flavor additives are the key to the perfect cocktail. Most of the mixologists are putting their own spin on a traditional drink, but others create new cocktails, inspired by a new vermouth or a specialty absinthe or an interesting liqueur they found. While the doses may be small the harmony between the spirit and the flavoring make the magic happen. I can remember a gin and tonic in a bar in Spain using a very high-end gin, a house-made tonic and an amazing local orange slice. It was probably the best gin and tonic I’ve ever had and now I am completely spoiled for supermarket tonic. Once you’ve experienced this thoughtful combination, it is hard to go back.
Just like wine, there are glasses that enhance the flavor or the presentation of a cocktail. When I say Martini, instantly a long-stemmed glass with a V shaped bowl comes to mind. That evokes the elegance of the drink and allows room for the required garnish (three blue cheese olives, in my case). Every drink has a glass that gives the right feel and look. A proper mixologist has a complete supply of clean and elegant glassware to present their creations. While drinking your mojito out of a red Solo cup is fun at the beach, it isn’t the experience you’ll have at an adult bar.
I mentioned my preference for three blue cheese olives in my dry Martini, but like the perfect glassware, cocktails have a perfect garnish. To be fair, the definition of perfect is somewhat in the eye of the beholder and an area of creativity for the mixologist. Like the more sophisticated flavors in the drink, the garnish will be carefully selected for flavor profile to complement the beverage and lend a finishing touch. You’ll see unique citrus and herbs from exotic locations to complete the experience.
We’ve all had a rum punch with the rum from an unrecognizable producer slammed into a cup as fast as possible and served with a little slosh over the top lip. Mixologists are the exact opposite of this. Ingredients are carefully measured, layered and combined in a painstaking process to net the best possible drink. Don’t be fooled, these techniques have been tested and perfected to put that delicious liquid together. I liken the technique to half surgery and half ballet when it is done at the highest level. You’ll be paying up for the drink, but don’t miss the show.
You knew it was coming, the bill for all this wonderfulness. Specialty cocktails are the fine wine of the bar scene. Each of the ingredients are the best available, the mixologist is seasoned, educated and creative. All of this put together with flair, using the perfect glass and a garnish that makes it all shine. Yes, it will be a bit more expensive than your rack vodka and cranberry juice, but like a fine meal or a fine wine, you are paying for the experience.