Getting Culinary with Cocktails

I could spend the rest of my life drinking nothing but five classic cocktails and never get bored. The reason, as I’ve previously discussed, is that technique and the freshness of ingredients often matter more than fancy spirits. People get this wrong all the time. I’ll trade a bunch of expensive spirits for a skilled hand and citrus squeezed a la minute any day of the week.

But kids these days want novelty and exotic flavors. While you can certainly go out and stock your bar at considerable expense (which I have done, for the record), there are other ways to bring some (thoughtful) novelty to your cocktails. Culinary ingredients, including fresh aromatics and juices, are the perfect way to do this. As it turns out, your grocery store has plenty of delicious things to include in your cocktails. You just need to know how to go about it.

The Cocktail Development Model

Having previously teased about a scientifically determined, shaken cocktail development model based on the statistical analysis of various key characteristics of shaken cocktails (namely, the relative content of ethanol, acid and sugar) it’s time to put out, so to speak. As a matter of brief background, based on my understanding of the interplay between those three characteristics of shaken cocktails, I determined that two relationships should exist. The first, obviously, was the balancing act between sugar and acid: Basically, the more acid you add, the more sugar you need. Strikingly, the classic cocktails I studied in my sample fell within a rather narrow corridor of sugar versus acid, which I dubbed the Classics Corridor.

On Shaken Cocktails

On my first trip to Japan over a decade ago, I had just come off my final, glorious night out in Tokyo. With an early flight out the next morning, I was wandering around the Ginza neighborhood, hoping to stumble upon a taxi stand. Instead, I happened across a gorgeous, oak paneled, dimly-lit den of a bar with more bottles of alcohol against the wall than I had ever known to exist. You don’t turn down encounters like that in Japan as a rule.

The Theory of Natural Cocktail Selection

Natural selection, at base, is the differential survival and reproduction of living things on the basis of observable traits. A cheetah is more likely to survive the wild, capture more prey and ultimately produce offspring if she has a new set of traits, ones which even her own parents lacked, that make her observably faster or more cunning than the average cheetah, for example. Her offspring have a greater chance of doing the same since they are more likely to have their mother’s advantageous traits. For this to occur, however, information needs to be conveyed from one generation of cheetah to the next, to preserve what came before. Through random and undirected changes in such information from one generation to the next, “innovation” (in a sense) has occurred. This basic idea serves as the bedrock for our entire understanding of biology. It’s a powerful idea to say the least, but it famously applies to a great number of things beyond living ones.

The Violet Hour, Chicago

Whenever poetry is quoted out of context on a bar’s web site, it commonly isn’t an indication of better things to come. The quote to which I’m alluding, appearing in the “About” section of the The Violet Hour’s web site, is from section III, “The Fire Sermon,” of T.S. Eliot’s long poem, The Waste Land….

Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago

The story of the tiki cocktail and tiki culture dates back quite a while (but probably not as far back as you may think). Its story is wrapped in history, America’s perception of the world and the evolution of that perception. As a result, this will be an unusual review of one such tiki bar,…