I will never be David Bowie. Or Nick Cave or Jack White. I will never stand before a hundred thousand adoring fans and be christened a rock god. My art will never hang next to Bacon or Rosenquist or Hirst. I will never stare at a bolt of fabric through Paul Smith’s eyes and see what he sees. Nor will I ever cook like Joël Robuchon or Ferran Adrià or Grant Achatz. With all certainty, I can tell you that Christopher Nolan does not cite me as an influence. And although I believe that it may possibly be buried somewhere in the recesses of my brain, with each passing year, I become less confident that the great American novel will pass through my fingertips. There is one thing I know, however. I can make the world’s greatest cocktails.
The reason why I can made the world’s greatest cocktails is because the world’s greatest cocktails can be made by anyone. Now, I’m not saying anyone can become a world-class bartender or mixologist. What I am saying is that, with an appropriate amount of care and understanding, great mixed drinks — the Martini, Sours, Highballs — are an art form that is open to all. There is no need for formal training or years of apprenticeship or to buy esoteric and expensive tools. For $50, you can acquire everything you need to make the absolute pinnacles of libation.
Knowing this is what propelled me into the cocktail space in the first place. The wife and I have always been devout foodies, and while we’ve made phenomenal meals at home, there’s a ceiling that you quickly reach. This isn’t to say that food is too complicated or that we couldn’t have spent the rest of our lives producing prime examples of perfect, obtainable cuisine. What it means is that there will always be a higher level of technique and equipment — like the almighty sous-vide machines. Even if we had the tools, the time and effort (what with a toddler in the house) are more likely prohibitive than not.
Sure, I could run out to the art store and stock up on the finest paints and brushes and canvases, but I would remain as far from Picasso as I am without them. But cocktails, truth be told, are a science, not an art. Unlike painting or cooking, where extensive precision and skill are required, mixing drinks is pure chemistry. Follow the directions, and it’s hard to go very wrong.
Which isn’t to say that, when it comes to getting a proper drink, things don’t go wrong more often than not. Unfortunately, we tend to undervalue our. They’re hired because they’re quick, or cheap, or funny — or a combination thereof. I was speaking with someone recently about the bartender’s exam. The final test, she told me, was how many drinks could be correctly made in a certain period of time. Now, go to a proper classic and see how well that applies. Great drinks take care and understanding — not speed.
Eliminate the need for speed, and I can shake and stir alongside the best of ’em. Sure, I might be slower, and I might still need to look at a recipe or two, but the drink put before you at my home bar will be as good as the one down at the local retro speakeasy. Esoteric spirits and mixers aside, if we’re covering the basics, I have access to the same great ingredients. There’s no 4am run to Chino Farms for my bottle of Gin. My recipes comes from the samebook as theirs. My ice is filtered, and my shaker gets just as cold. All that are left then are care and understanding.
Care about what you’re making. Know why a Martini should taste the way it does. Know why a Sour is called a Sour (hint: it’s not because it’s too sweet). Understand your ingredients. Know that a little bitters or Absinthe go a very long way. Understand that the most difficult part of the entire process is mastering what happens when ice meets energy. Start with care and understanding, and the rest will follow.
Cocktails are egalitarian. The kings and queens and Diddies of the world aren’t drinking anything better than you are. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Cocktails don’t need to be made in $40,000 shakers, and they don’t care how many Michelin stars you have. Sure, they won’t get you to headlining at Wembley — I’ll concede that point — but they will be there when you’re knocked off the charts by Justin Bieber.
I’m at the point in my life where I’ve accepted what I won’t be. Being twenty, invincible, and having the world at my feet now seems so far away. If by some fluke of space-time, however, I should meet that twenty-year-old, I know the first thing I’d do. I’d sit him down and make him one of the world’s greatest cocktails. Because I can.
- Shaken or Stirred? (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- The Madness and Brilliance of Grant Achatz (foodgloriousfoodoc.blogspot.com)