Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, and the co-author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique. He writes about bartending and mixology.
How come nobody ever talks about orange blossom water? It’s like, “Hey, welcome to the internet. Here’s a thousand articles about a bunch of bitters that you’ll never use, and no information on orange blossom water.” Okay, sure. There’s really only one classic cocktail that calls for orange blossom water, the Ramos Gin Fizz. But let me posit this to you: do you think there might be more contemporary classics out there if most of the commercially available products didn’t suck?
My favorite were always the A. Monteux. Those of you who have been doing this for a while will recognize the bottle, as seen above. They were everywhere and then suddenly they disappeared. A quick search reveals that Mr. Monteux finally retired from the business at age 90. Good on you, sir. But, I mean, could you not have left the business to someone, instead of just shutting the whole thing down?
There really wasn’t a huge public outcry, because as I quickly learned, people are much more excited about pretty much anything else than they are orange blossom water. I picked up a few bottles when I heard the news, and when my supply ran dry a few years later, I started looking for a suitable replacement.
I’m not going to get into a discussion where I slam some of the more ubiquitous brands out there. Let me just offer a blanket tasting note for you: they all kinda suck. Here are the two problems I’ve found with most of the commercially available brands:
Half of them taste like nothing and you end up using thirty drops in your Ramos Fizz just to get any sort of orange flower essence to come through. You’re like, how did you make these, did you just squeeze a few drops of orange juice into some water? What the heck? These are the ones you find from the States, typically.
The others are super fragrant, earthy, and oily. They don’t just overpower your cocktails, they take over your drinks to the point where your tongue is coated in the thick, perfumed air of some sort of movie set bazaar. Scouring the Mediterranean markets is how you find these.
But I’m so pleased to say that I’ve found a brand that is a) commercially available b) deliciously French. The Theodule Noirot Orange Flower Water is the one you want. I’ve tried them all, and this is the only one I can honestly recommend.
I guess you probably want a recipe, then. Okay. Here’s our house Ramos Gin Fizz. Feel free to make it at home. Hint, hint. (That means don’t come ask for one on a Friday night. Get it?)
RAMOS GIN FIZZ
1½ oz. London dry gin
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. rich simple syrup
½ oz. lightly beaten egg whites
4 drops orange flower water
1½ oz. half-and-half
1 oz. club soda or sparkling mineral water, chilled
In a cocktail shaker, combine the gin, lemon and lime juices, rich simple syrup, egg whites and orange blossom water. Shake until egg whites become frothy, about 15 seconds. Add the half-and-half and a few ice cubes to the shaker. Shake for 10 to 12 seconds, or until the drink is chilled. Pour the club soda (or mineral water) into the shaker, then carefully strain contents into a chilled 12-ounce collins glass. Serve without garnish.
Happy New Year! I hope the holidays treated everyone well, especially you professional bartenders out there. I think the only folks who have it harder than we do during December are our friends in the retail business, so now that we’ve moved on to January, let’s all raise a glass.
Hey, there are a lot of spaces for people to get together and talk about cocktails online. I, for one, was raised on the classics: the Hotwired Cocktail site, the DrinkBoy Forums, and eGullet. These days, there is a great little community over at Reddit, and recently they asked me to participate in an AMA, an “Ask Me Anything” chat session where I got to answer some great questions from a bunch of really cool and passionate folks.
I recently stepped away from Facebook, which used to be a source of cocktail connectivity for me but has slowly devolved into a morass of political posts, so Reddit is a welcome refuge of old-school cocktail discussion. I hope you’ll join me over there and contribute to this terrific group of cocktail enthusiasts!
The newly rediscovered interest in slushy cocktails has resulted in me being inundated with questions about how to properly operate a slushie machine. And so, as has always been my mission with this website, I’m here to try to help. You see, for the longest time operating a slushy machine was a lengthy experiment every time I attempted it. My process typically looked like this:
Make a big batch of cocktails.
Adjust the recipe to taste.
Pour it into a slushy machine.
Wait many, many, many hours for it to get cold enough and hope the texture was right, fingers crossed.
The texture isn’t right. Shit.
Try adding some more water. Now we need to get it back down to the right temperature. Wait an hour.
That made it too watery. Try adding some simple syrup. Wait another hour.
That seems better. But it’s still kinda chunky-looking.
Add some alcohol. Wait another hour.
Okay, now it tastes too strong. Maybe if I add a little more simple syrup, a splash of water, and a little juice. Wait an hour.
That kind of seems to be working, but now I’m a little drunk from tasting this thing ten times.
Oh, the event is starting in ten minutes.
Good enough, I guess.
Obviously that’s a lot of steps, and way too much trial and error to make it a feasible thing to do regularly. But there has to be some sort of formula, right? Well, I did some research, and it gets really confusing, really quickly. There are formulas, there are opinions, there are arguments online, and there is a whole lot of puzzling contradictory info.
I talked to bartenders, and they’re even confusing. There are some who claim to be experts, but after some gentle prodding you discover they’re using the trial and error method I was trying to avoid. And finally I found someone who knows what he’s talking about, my good friend Cameron Bogue. You see, Cameron oversees a shit-ton of slushy machines at the massive restaurant group in Canada he works for. And he told me exactly what you need in order make your slushy drink work. Ready?
It needs to be between 13 and 15 Brix.
And that’s pretty much it. Brix is the unit of measurement of sugar in a water solution. One brix is equal to a gram of sucrose per 100 grams of solution. And, of course, there’s a whole lot of other complicated shit that you can read about that goes along with the topic, but as someone who’s going to put a Daiquiri in a slushy machine, all you need to know is that your Daiquiri needs to be between 13 and 15 Brix.
And how do you figure that part out? Easy. First off, go get yourself a portable refractometer. They’re cheap, and they’re actually kind of fun to use. Once you’ve received your one piece of specialty equipment in the mail (uh, yeah, other than the slushy machine, I guess) then you’re ready to whip up a batch of frozen cocktails with no trial-and-error required.
First, figure out your recipe. You can do this by using the methods I outline in Chapter 9 in my book (shameless plug), or you can throw caution to the wind and just do it to taste. I’ve done it both ways for use in slushy machines and it does not matter. The only two things that matter are that the drink taste good, and that the sugar content is between 13 and 15 Brix.
Next, you need to dilute the drink a little. Drinks are pretty rough at full strength, and you’re likely going to have to do it anyway once you start checking the brix, so go ahead and throw some water in there. I like to start with 20%. Want an easy way to do that? Figure out the volume of your cocktail (real easy to do if you’ve got it in a big measuring container) and multiply by .2 – That’s the amount of water you’re gonna want to add.
Okay, now the fun part. Take the pipette that came with your refractometer and grab a few drops of that cocktail of yours. Put it on the glass and close the slide cover.Hold the refractometer under a light and look through the lens. Read the total brix.
Now this is where you’ll make adjustments. Honestly, if the drink tastes balanced, it’s probably pretty damn close. If it’s not, well, maybe making balanced drinks isn’t your strong suit. That’s okay, we’ll fix that now.
Brix number too high? Just add a little water to the mix, a bit at a time, until you come in between 13 and 15 Brix. (Don’t forget to stir.) Brix number too low? Add some simple syrup, a little at a time, until you come in between 13 and 15 Brix. This is what you’ll see when you look through that refractometer, by the way:
I like to chill the mixture overnight, if I can. Getting it as cold as possible means it will take less time to come to temperature once you pour it in the machine, but if you can’t do that, it won’t negatively affect the taste or texture of the drink, it’ll just take longer to coldify. Once you’re ready, pour it in the machine and turn the machine on. This takes a couple of hours, at least. But once it’s nice and cold, you will have a perfectly slushy cocktail, provided you got it between 13 and 15 Brix. Your drink will look like this and you will be something of a hero.
And that’s pretty much it! A few notes, just off the top of my head:
Yes, I’m aware that straight vodka does come in between 13 and 15 Brix. Alcohol does register as sugar on the portable refractometer. Bear in mind that I’ve never tried dumping straight vodka into a slushie machine to see if it would slush. Someone please report back and let me know if it works.
Sours are the best drinks to experiment with at first. So, Margaritas, Daiquiris, Sidecars, etc. They’re basically built to come in at the right Brix number already. Once you’ve gotten a feel for making slushy sours, then I would recommend experimenting with the trickier slushy drinks, like Manhattans, etc.
I know lots of you have been wanting a slushy Negroni recipe. Sadly I no longer have my notes from the last time I did that a few years ago, but here is the version I make in a blender at home. Feel free to scale it up and adjust for Brix:
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz 2:1 simple syrup
juice of 1 orange
2 oz water
If you don’t tend bar for a living, or haven’t at some point in your past, you probably don’t understand the quick thinking that we have to do every single second. So, in order to demonstrate what sort of complicated math we do regularly to those who don’t tend bar, and to act as a sort of fun series of brainteasers to those who do, I present to you bartender story problems. Enjoy. Cheers.
And please post your answers in the comment section.
Paula is 42 years old. She weighs 127 pounds and is 5’-8” tall. If she consumes one Grey Goose and soda every 40 minutes for 3 hours, how many seconds does it take for her to scream “Opa!” when the bartender accidentally drops a pint glass on the floor?
Greg’s bar tab is $157.30. If he wants to leave the bartenders an 18% gratuity, plus an extra $1.50 for each drink he received on the house, how long after he’s left the building will it take for the barback to notice he took the signed copy with him?
Susan has one 6-oz glass of wine and four 10-oz glasses of water over the course of the 2 hours she spends at the bar. Assuming she makes one trip to the restroom for every 15 ounces of liquid consumed, how many trips will it take before her creepy Tinder date makes a rapey comment about slipping a roofie in her drink while she was away?
Chad does not believe in washing his hands when he uses the restroom. If he consumes 8 pints of Coors Light over the course of 3 hours, and eats 2 olives from the bartender’s garnish tray for every trip he makes to the toilet, how many people can he get sick in one night? (Assume 120-seat restaurant for this problem, and show your work.)
Kyle, Aidan, and Madison have been cut off by the bartender and are planning to share an Uber home. If Muhammed is 4.7 miles away, traveling at an average of 28 miles an hour with very little traffic, how long does the group have to make inappropriate comments about his ethnicity before he arrives to pick them up at the bar?
Tristan has been tending bar for exactly three months. He can serve the following number of guests over the course of the next week:
Monday: 37 people
Tuesday: 45 people
Wednesday: 62 people
Saturday: 119 people
Assuming these totals are the same as the mean averages for the next three weeks, how many people will pretend to care about the housemade birch bark bitters he’s working on?
Kayla is walking to a neighborhood bar located .73 miles from her house, at a pace of 2.39 miles per hour. Last call is in 2 hours. If she reads a Dr. Oz article about wheat allergies right before leaving the house, how many times will the bartender be informed that Tito’s is the only gluten-free vodka before closing?
Leaf, McKenzie, and Willow split a four-course meal with cocktails and wine, and their bill is $187.50. Assuming they calculate a gratuity of 1g of marijuana per every $20 spent, how much money will their server need to collect from her other tables in order to pay her rent?
A 12-person bachelor party has chosen a Tiki bar to spend the night drinking in. If the bar carries 127 different types of rum, and each member of the party can consume one glass of rum every 22.6 minutes, how many times will the best man ask the staff about the availability of Pappy Van Winkle?
Cody is a professional athlete. He weighs 223.81 pounds, is 6’ -1.22” tall, and has a BMI of 29.21. His yearly salary is $242,000, which makes his weight-to-dollar ratio $1081.2743 dollars/pound. Solving for X, how many pounds per square inch of pressure will he be able to apply to the bartender when asking for a free birthday shot for the girl he just met?
Hayley has a ticket up for 1 Ramos Fizz, 3 Mojitos, 1 Pisco Sour, and a well vodka tonic. Assuming she can make an average of one drink every 45 seconds, how many minutes will she spend running around the restaurant looking for all the components for the herbal tea someone just ordered?
Man, there are few things out there more polarizing to people than creamy drinks. And it’s funny, you know, because I think it’s a pretty universal thing that our mouths just water at the sight of a creamy cocktail. Look at a properly made Ramos Gin Fizz. Or a White Russian. Or Egg Nog. How delicious do they look?
But then there’s this guilty feeling that I think kicks in for most people, where it’s like, “I can’t justify drinking something that contains a bunch of fucking cream.” And I get it, I totally do. Personally, I also try to save up those points and spend them during the holidays.
But there’s no getting around the delicious factor. So what about alternatives? I like almond milk in my coffee. I even make my own at home. But one creamy substitute that I can’t live without in my life is horchata. See the previous post for more on that. Anyway, as someone who has been making drinks for almost half of his life at this point, I had to try making something with horchata.
My partner in crime at Clyde Common is a gentleman named Benjamin Amberg. But we all call him (among other things), simply Banjo. Banjo and I have a great way of working on cocktails together. It’s very collaborative, and nobody gets too attached to an idea if a better one comes along. (I wrote more about this process for Playboy, check it out)
And so it happened that we started working on our new horchata cocktail. And, of course, we broke out all of the typical formulas that we’d both seen on menus before: aged rum and horchata; aged tequila and horchata; variations on a White Russian with horchata instead of cream. And none of them were working, and we were about to scrap the whole idea.
But then we had a thought: what if instead of a flabby, creamy drink, we did something more bright and citrusy? We certainly hadn’t seen that done before, and we know rice milk isn’t going to curdle the way cream would. And suddenly, within minutes, we’d assembled what is quickly becoming one of our most popular new drinks, the Southbound Suarez. Named after our favorite song on our least favorite Led Zeppelin album, I like to think the same stands of a reminder of just how tough this one was to create.
1½ oz. reposado tequila
½ oz. agave syrup
½ oz. lime juice
1 tsp. Becherovka
1½ oz horchata
Combine ingredients with ice cubes and shake until cold. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lime wedge.
Okay, first off. I’ve gotten a lot of shit from those of you (you know who you are) who seem to think I don’t post here enough. Well, I’ve been busy. But I am listening to you, and I’m trying to fix that. Because I owe a lot to this blog, and to all of you guys, and so I’m making a conscious effort to add more content. Third post this year, WTF!
Anyway. You know what I love? Horchata. There is nothing in the world like a giant Styrofoam cup filled with pebble ice and sweet horchata while you nosh on greasy tacos from a street truck. Coming from California originally, it is one of life’s great pleasures. And since I’m obsessed with all things drink related, it got me thinking that I should really know how to make this delicious non-alcoholic beverage (and super awesome cocktail ingredient) at home.
Whenever I embark on this sort of thing, I always try a bunch of different versions from around the web and from my ever-growing home cookbook collection. And, of course, I’m never 100% happy with any of them. And so, I take the best parts of the recipes I do like, and throw them together with everything I know about technique, and after a few tries I usually end up with what I’m looking for.
There are many articles out there about Horchata, the history of it, and all of the different variations available. For our horchata, I wanted to stick to a few rules:
Our horchata should be as simple as possible. A long series of complicated steps would be a failure here.
Our horchata should have as few ingredients as possible. No almonds, sesame seeds, barley, or tiger nuts. Just the simple, spiced, sweetened rice milk you’d find at a taco truck.
Our horchata needs to be made from simple, natural ingredients. No flavors, powders, or store-bought rice milk allowed.
What I ended up with was a simple, natural, delicious horchata that could be made with a minimum of tools and prep. Bear in mind, you will need some specialty tools to make this one, but they’re the sort of thing any serious bartender will usually have on hand. Anyway, there are just three simple steps to making great horchata.
1. Pre-soak the ingredients.
You’ve got to soften up the ingredients first, in order to combine those flavors and make it a little easier to pulverize that rice. So I start the night before and combine the rice, cinnamon, and sugar with hot water and let it sit overnight.
2. Grind up that rice.
Once everything is nice and soaked, the next step is to put the whole mixture in the blender and get it as smooth as possible. Hopefully you’ve got yourself a good blender. I mean, a normal household blender will work fine, but you’ll just have to run it on high for a really long time to grind up the rice. I’ve got a super fancy Wolf blender at home, of course, so it’s a snap. The Vita-Mix blenders we use at work do a beautiful job as well.
3. Fine-strain the whole mess.
Horchata is naturally a little chalky, but you definitely don’t want yours to be gritty. Even the finest of fine mesh metal strainers aren’t going to work here. You need to get yourself a nut milk bag. They’re cheap, they’re reusable, and quite frankly they’re a lifesaver when you’re filtering anything with a fine grind. I use mine all the time, I even make almond and cashew milk for home with it.
That’s it! Could that have been any easier? I doubt it. And once you chill it or pour it over some ice (or both), you’ll be enjoying the best horchata you’ve ever had outside of your favorite taco truck. Here’s the recipe.
1 cup California long grain rice
3 cups hot water
1 three-inch long Ceylon soft cinnamon stick broken into pieces*
½ cup sugar**
Combine all ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar, cover, and let rest overnight or for up to 24 hours. Pour entire mixture into a blender and blend on high speed until rice is pulverized, about a minute. Strain through nut milk bag into a bowl and refrigerate. Horchata will separate, stir before serving.
*Don’t be tempted to use that rock-hard cassia bark they sell at the supermarket. Get yourself some soft, crumbly soft stick Ceylon cinnamon at your local Latin grocery, or online for cheap.
**I’ve tried all kinds of sugars, from agave syrup to plain white, and I’ve got to say that I prefer the plain white baker’s sugar. It doesn’t come to the party with any of its own flavors, so the rice and cinnamon can really shine through.
Okay, I know. This is some seriously low-hanging fruit and I should be ashamed of myself for making fun of it. But come on. It’s so bad, but it’s so fun. So sit back, and enjoy this video from one of our longtime favorites.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Sazerac. A drink that originilated in New Orleans.
Sazerac Cocktail Drink Recipe - YouTube
1. Get a mixing cup to get your ingredients in there.
2. Be old school and add an ounce of brandy (note: this makes approximately half a drink)
3. Add six times the amount of sugar normally called for.
4. Get those Picard bitters in there.
5. Add ice and then grab some abstinenthe. Abstinenthe is a blue version of absinthe and tastes like mouthwash.
6. Placing a bar spoon upside down in the glass, stir until it’s nice and chill.
7. Skip the always-specified lemon peel and garnish with an orange peel for some unknown reason.
8. Serve in a cocktail glass.
9. Profit from the fools who enroll in your bartending school.
For many years, I’ve occupied two worlds: not only have I been behind the bar full-time for the past 20 years, but also I’ve been writing about it for well over a decade. People like myself, who not only publish their thoughts on spirits and cocktails but also work behind the bar on a daily basis, are normally inundated this time of year with requests for speculation about what will be trending behind the bar in the coming year. And, as anyone who knows me can attest, I have some pretty strong feelings about all things bar-related. So here are my predictions.
Cocktails that you can actually Drink
Contrary to what many trendy bar programs are pushing, I have always considered it to be a massive failure when a bar is full of people sitting around smelling their cocktails and quietly posting them to Instagram. That sort of deep reverence for the liquid gold found in the glass screams failure to me, as the true sign of a healthy bar is the sort of place where people are talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves first, and paying attention to the nuanced aromas of their cocktails last. Cocktails that people can drink really help create that sort of atmosphere and as a decades-long veteran of the business; I can assure you that the vast majority of guests enjoy cocktails they can actually drink.
Drinks People Love to Hate
I’ve gotten a lot of praise and a fair amount of criticism for the way I’ve embraced so-called ‘terrible’ drinks over the past few years. The Grasshopper, the Amaretto Sour, and the Blue Hawaiian are all extremely popular in my bar. But the reason we champion these drinks isn’t simply because we enjoy being anachronistic. It’s because we firmly believe that there are no bad drinks, only bad bartenders. And as more of us take up the cause of redeeming all cocktails, not just those pre-Prohibition classics we all know and love, it’s going to be harder and harder to defend the stance that a certain style of drink is no good. Especially when there’s a bar down the block turning out craft Strawberry Daiquiris to an eager crowd.
More Flavored Whiskies
Speaking of terrible drinks, here’s one we can probably all agree to dislike, though there’s nothing we can do about it. Some of you might remember the 1990s and easy 2000s, when there was a new vodka on the shelf every week. Well, the marketing machine has officially moved off of vodka and onto the very spirit we all worked so hard to re-popularise: whiskey. We’re already seeing overly expensive ‘craft’ whiskies, all sorts of flavored whiskies, and we’re only going to see more of this. Education is going to be paramount, because the consumer is about to become very ill-informed by every brand seeking to make a buck. Sure, when this dies out we’ll be left with a handful of decent options and about a hundred that didn’t make the cut, but that will be driven by consumers, not bartenders.
Less Gimmicky Vodkas
There is an upside to spirits companies putting all of their energy into terrorizing whiskey, and we can safely predict a return to well-made, flavorful (though less ‘flavored’) vodkas. Let’s face it: none of us who know what we’re talking about ever hated vodka, we just hated hearing and having to talk about vodka all the time. There are fewer pleasures greater than a frozen glass full of ice-cold, rich, creamy vodka placed between yourself and a towering Olympus of chilled shellfish. I know it, you know it, and your guests know it. Welcome back, vodka.
We’ve been hearing this one for years now, from bartenders all over the globe. “I just want to open up a dive bar with good cocktails.” Am I right? The fault in this idea is that it continues to polarise bars as one of two possibilities: dive bars, and bars with good drinks. But there are so many other types of bar out there, and your average cocktail bar seems to think that any place that doesn’t stock twenty different amari is a ‘dive’. As someone who worked in a dive when getting started in the business, let me inform you that a true dive is a terrifying, unsafe, horrid place to work. What’s really on the horizon is a more relaxed atmosphere with a return to entertainment, games, and music. Look at Prizefighter in Oakland, California. Look at Good Times at Davey Wayne’s in LA. Look at the Tiki craze. People are getting tired of walking into dark recreations of Prohibition-era saloons. Drinks have always been about fun, and the tide is turning: pretending it’s 1922 isn’t fun anymore. You’re going to see more juke boxes, more bowling lanes, more shuffleboard tables, more music. A nice game of pool with a Belgian beer in hand and Zeppelin on the jukebox shouldn’t be that hard to find. And we’re not talking about the sort of pitted, slanted, felt-torn pool table you’d find in a “dive”.
We’ve already seen a dining revolution in the fast casual model, and I have a strong suspicion that we’ll be seeing a similar pattern in the bar business. The current system of $16 cocktails that help pay for two hosts at the door, a team of educated cocktail servers, and the other sorts of amenities that are the trappings of a fancy cocktail bar isn’t going to last forever. We’re now seeing an order-at-the-bar model that does away with all of the formality that has crept in during recent years, and these sorts of places are packed on a nightly basis.
Because at the end of the day, a good cocktail, a delicious spirit, and a solid bar shouldn’t solely be reserved for special occasions or date nights. These things have always been, and should always be, accessible to everyone. And accessibility has always been a trend that will never go away.
So after much deliberation, I decided to print this question and my response, as it’s a question that I get from you guys at least once a month. And therefore I think it’s important. So here we go:
I’m new to the bar, but not our company’s restaurant group. I’ve done my research and understand how important fresh juice is, but have already had negative feedback from the bar manager when he “caught” me juicing lemons with my own juicer before my shift off the clock. In addition, I’ve been told they like my enthusiasm, but apparently only on a per case basis. I asked them for some new bottles to make some great classics with as well as modern favorites (I was told I could get whatever I wanted) three weeks ago and haven’t heard word one.
Our place lies somewhere in between volume driven and quality driven, is a block away from a world-renowned cocktail bar as well as three other decent cocktail programs, and I feel that we aren’t keeping up in a VERY ritzy neighborhood that’s only getting bigger.
I understand that not everywhere can be a great cocktail bar and not all places are meant to be, as well as the fact that there are many other variables here, but am I wrong to think that we should be trying harder to grab some of that market share?
It’s tough to try to swim upstream when you’re working someone else’s program. As a bar manager, consistency is key and to have guests want to come in on your nights because you use fresh juice as opposed to other nights when the rest of the bar doesn’t, well, that’s just not good business for the bar. I know it sounds counterintuitive and I’m sure that someone is going to comment here that fresh juice is better than sour mix, to which I say – “Yeah. We know. That’s not really the point here.”
You’re going to burn a bridge if you keep trying to force a square peg into a round hole at your current bar, and is that what you really want? I know you’re thinking of yourself as the guy who makes the delicious drinks at the crappy bar, but I can almost guarantee that you’re really known as the prick who can’t follow the rules. And that’s certainly going to hurt your career – I know, I’ve had my share of those bartenders on my team over the years, believe me.
Look, I feel for you, man. You want to get better at what you do, and the situation you’re in isn’t letting you do that. That’s a really tough place to be, and I’ve been there before. But as I see it, you’ve got two choices: move on to another bar that serves the sort of cocktails that you’d like to make, or stay at your current establishment and step in line. Anything else would be career suicide.
Sorry if that sounds kind of harsh and wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but this is real talk. I want you to have a healthy career, I want you to learn all you can and become a better bartender, but I just don’t want you to shoot yourself in the foot while you’re trying to do so.
I was having this conversation with a writer about my new book on cocktail technique last week, and she got on the subject of bar tools. “A lot of this stuff is really expensive,” she said, “Do you have any advice for home cocktail enthusiasts who don’t want to spend a ton of money?”
And I was thinking, you know, like – she’s right. Bar tools are super expensive, and there are some places where you can skimp, and some places where you can’t. Like, you just won’t find a substitute for a good 18/8 stainless steel cocktail shaker. A cheap one from the liquor store just isn’t going to do the job.
But there are other areas where you can have great bar tools for not a ton of money. Like, my first piece of advice when I’m posed this question is to use a plastic chopstick from a Chinese restaurant instead of an expensive bar spoon. They’re actually easier to use, and they cost very little (free, if you just steal one). Sure, they’re not very stylish, but they’ll do the job every bit as well as a $30 bar spoon.
But then I remembered my favorite muddler – the one I made myself. See, there are all sorts of wonderful muddlers made of exotic African hardwood out there that will set you back $40 if you want to go that route. But the best, easiest to use, most stylish wooden muddler in my bar bag cost me all of $5, which is about as cheap as those pieces of shit they sell next to the register at pretty much every liquor store in the world. And that, my friends, is my ten inch, maple, French rolling pin muddler.
Then, simply cut it in half (ask an adult for help with this, kids).
Lightly sand both cut ends until smooth, and then finish with food grade mineral oil. You’ve just spent $11.26 on two muddlers that will last you years, and you can split the cost with a friend if you’re extra broke.
You’ve got a narrow end for lightly muddling herbs, and a wide end for mashing the heck out of some limes for a tasty Caipirinha.
There you go, cheapskates! The good news is that you can allay some of your shame with the knowledge that this is seriously one of the best muddlers you’ll ever use. Enjoy.