Some blather on the good...the bad...and the foo king ugg lee...FWIW.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"What'll ya' have, pardner?"

What the hell is a mojito anyway?

Well, I happen to know what the hell a mojito is because of my tenure in the restaurant business. My last corporate management gig was at a faux-Mexican restaurant that made many futile attempts at pushing this old, Latin inspired cocktail on its unsuspecting patrons. For the uninitiated, a mojito is to rum what a mint julep is to bourbon. What it is not is a foo-foo drink for the alcohol faint at heart. More on these two embibements later.

We have some artwork hanging on our kitchen wall depicting six, old, traditional cocktails: White Velvet, Manhattan, French Twist, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, and Margarita. The latter two most people might be able to identify with...the first four, good luck finding a person on the street with any knowlege of these concoctions. Seeing these framed, painted representations of famous drinks on a daily basis prompted me to write a few lines about the business of serving cocktails.

Having spent time, not only in the restaurant industry but, as a bartender as well...I have become familar with mixed drinks other than the Top 5 most popular...too familiar at times! In the early 80s, I applied for a second job (while my son was gestating) at a busy, western-style eatery in Twin Falls, Idaho called Rock Creek. It had a large, busy cocktail lounge. I walked in one quiet afternoon, sauntered up to the owner sitting at the end of the bar, and said, “I need a part time job”. “Can you bartend?’, he replied, “We need a bartender”. “Well,” I said, “I think so...I’ve never been one, other than pouring draught beer at a pizza parlor”. He then asked me if I knew what a screwdriver was and what was in it. I answered his quiry correctly. We chatted about the ingredients in a few other popular cocktails including martini, margarita, and daquiri. Two minutes later, I was shaking his hand and agreeing to come back in an hour to start my career as a bartender at Rock Creek. His only concern? My beard. In Idaho, in the early 80s, a beard was still considered to be a subversive, hippy-influenced grooming statement. I went home and shaved.

This restaurant owner informed me that 95% of the drinks I will have to mix are the Top 5 most popular. The other 5% are lessor known cocktails that can be found in the Bartender’s Companion, a thick paperback listing all drinks known to man and how to make them...always found stuck to the shelf under every bar. “Don’t worry”, he said with a slight smerky smile, “if you don’t know the drink, just look it up...or, just ask the customer what is in it!” Thus soothing some of my anxiety.

What are the Top 5 by the way? Argueably, they are Screwdriver, Margarita, Daquiri, Martini, and Scotch & Soda. Yes, there are people in the world who can not name the ingredients in that last drink...I think many of them have been on Jeopardy or worked at The Olive Garden. The other end of the popularity spectrum, ie, frequency of ordering? Grasshopper, Golden Cadillac, and Blowjob. Yes, there are people in the world who insist on ordering a Blowjob...close behind that is Slippery Nipple, Beaten Fetus, B-52, and the dreaded Purple-Pull-Your-Pants-Down. That goofy drink list is endless, especially when you factor in the crappy messes that Bobby the Lifetime College Student invented last week at a frat party.

By the way, what is the nastiest drink I have ever served up? The infamous 21st Birthday Drink. Traditionally given to the very willing, very intoxicated just-turned-21-that-day patron by his “friends” near the end of the evening...it contains the liquid found in the long rubber mat at the mix station on a bar. Considering there is quite a lot of overflow from drinks being poured by a busy bartender, this piece of essential bar equipment catches it all. Most times it is simply dumped into the nearby sink when it becomes too full. At other times, it contains the ingredients of The Birthday Drink. There usually is no charge for this mess...and should never be, don’t you agree?

Well, I worked as a bartender for a year or so...while maintaining my full time day job as a radio announcer. Both of these careers have since gone the way of the Do-Do bird...by choice. But I did learn a lot about customer service, about people, and about mixing cocktails. The old time, traditional bartender job used to be a noble profession. He or she not only mixed up good drinks with much pride involved, they also offered an ear to those patrons who were there to drown their sorrows. They needed to be amateur psychologists as well as professional mixologists. Bartenders leaned an elbow on the mahogony, looked the customer in the eye, and was genuinely interested in what he or she was saying...at least the good bartenders did that. They knew how to mix drinks for each regular patron. They remembered how they liked them to be made, how strong to make them, and when to ask if they wanted another. A Screwdriver consists of vodka and orange juice and ice. How much vodka, orange juice, and ice? That depended on the individual customer's preferrences. They provided a “service” to people. They, in most cases, actually enjoyed what they were doing.

Nowadays, most bartenders are simply assembly line clones of a since long extinct profession. Especially in the corporate chain restaurants, it is far from the noble endeavor it used to be. They just don’t get it any longer. They don’t care. And, to be fair, they are not given the latitude to be what a bartender was meant to be way back when. It is a “numbers” game. In many cases, bartenders squirt drinks out of a gun that is pre-calibrated to portion the alcohol. Margaritas are pre-mixed with everything, including the cheap-ass tequila they use, in 40 gallon plastic drums hooked to a pump and a hose. Any pride in how they perform their duties, maintain cleanliess, or present themselves rarely happens in today’s watering holes. They expect a tip rather than earn it. And they couldn’t mix a proper Long Island Ice Tea if their lives depended on it! Let alone be able to know the difference between a good Cosmopolitan and a tankerd of toxic swill in a taste test.

Back to the Mojito and the Mint Julep. Ordering a Mojito may sound good as it is a very trendy cocktail of late. But even if the bartkeep knows how to make a proper one, be aware of what to expect. It is, in it’s traditional form, mostly alcohol. Just like a real Martini, a real Cosmo, and a real Margarita.

A Mojito is as follows: Lime juice, sugar, and mint leaves “muddled” in an Old Fashion type glass (a small, squat, thick glass). The glass is then filled with crushed ice, a jigger of good rum, and sometimes a spritz of soda. A Mint Julep is nearly the same, but with bourbon instead of rum.

A traditional Margarita is as follows: In a Old Fashion type glass, add crushed ice, a jigger of good tequila, a splash of Cointreau or Triple Sec (orange liquor), and lime juice. Sometimes the rim of the glass is dipped in lime juice then coated with Kosher salt. A blended version of this drink is not a real Margarita. By the way, a Perfect Margarita is the same as just mentioned, but with a “float” of Gran Marnier...tastes even better, but your bartender will add $4 or $5 to the price of the drink!

A traditional Cosmopolitan is as follows: Made by shaking together vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, lime juice, and ice. Then straining it into either an Old Fashion type glass or a Martini glass, which may be rimmed with sugar.

Whenever someone suggests ordering a Kamikaze, just remind them “Oh, you mean a Cosmoplitan”. But instead of sipping it, you “shoot” it! You’ll get quizzical stares from the younger crowd...but it’s always fun messing with them.

Drink and be merry. But when you are shelling out those astronomical prices for “nice” drinks...send it back if it sucks. I always do. I almost always send back Long Island Ice Teas, as I have rarely found one made properly. Besides, they usually run about $8.00.

I am almost never disappointed with a Miller Genuine and a shot of Cuervo Gold...except when they don’t pour three fingers of tequila. Cheap bastards!

Bottoms up!


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