I’m not about to rail on the way Americans drink. Yes, America is the Birthplace of the Great Cocktail. Yes, we’ve strayed. And yes, we could probably all stand to focus a bit less on the Drunk, and a bit more on the Drink.
But let’s not kid ourselves. We didn’t become a nation of recreational drinkers overnight; we’ve always been one. Our forefathers didn’t step off the boat and start cranking out Ramos Gin Fizzes for the Algonquins.
America was built by men and women with a hunger for freedom—one matched only by their unquenchable thirst for warm, thick, gritty, gummy, bitter, rotten booze, fresh outta the cargo bay from a 3-month sea voyage. Our drinking roots begin at the bottom of the barrel.
We’ll drink anything, because we’re in it for the buzz. Always have been. If you don’t believe me, check out the signatures on the Declaration of Independence, which predates the first cocktail by about 83 years. Now tell me those guys weren’t sauced out of their minds.
So I’m not one of those “You’re drinking it wrong” guys. I drink for the same reason you do. Gotta fridge shelf full of PBR next to my homemade limoncello. I’m just doing my egotistical part to correct the #1 cocktail misconception:
“I can’t make that. It’s too haaaaaard.”
Fact: You can make better drinks starting now. And by better I don’t mean more authentic or retro or high-falutin’ or douchebaggified. Well, okay I do. But I also mean better. The kind of better that raises your friends’ eyebrows and lights up their faces. And you don’t have to spend more money. You just have to spend it in a different grocery aisle.
You. Me. Booze. Let’s do this.
Start by taking every bar-related liquid in your house that doesn’t contain alcohol (okay, you can keep the tonic… for NOW) and tossing it. That thing of Bloody Mary mix? Dump it. That sticky Rose’s bottle? Throw it out. That jug of neon-green floor stripper with the Mexican stereotype on the label? Deport that shit.
Whether it’s Collinses, sours, margaritas or fizzes, there are three ingredients that’ll account for some 75% of popular home bar drinks. Sorry, no substitutions.
1. Fresh, Real Fruit
No bar ingredient is so often and so miserably synthesized as the one that comes perfect right off the tree. The Whiskey in a Seoulbrother Smash might hail from Loretto, Glasgow, Tokyo or Ontario. But the lemon juice? It comes from lemons. (It also comes from lemons more easily with one of these som’bitches. I found mine at T.J. Maxx for about $5.)
To stress the importance of never compromising with fruit, I submit this verse:
There is no substitute,
For freshly procured fruit.
−Author Unknown (me)
Put another way, without limes, you don’t have a margarita. You have a glass of shit. And you just poured 2 ounces of expensive tequila into it.
2. Simple Syrup
Here’s the thing about most liquor and fruit juices: They ain’t sweet. And we like sweet, don’t we? Balls yeah. How else do you explain Boone’s Farm? Thankfully, Jesus gave us simple syrup. Because Jesus knows the secret of a great cocktail: Balance. Seriously, highlight that part with your mouse. Not the Jesus part, the Balance part. Make it all blue and read it again. Balance. Balance. BalOH shit I fell out of my chair.
Make it: One part sugar. One part water. Dissolve over low-ish heat (or hell, use hot tap water). Funnel into a bottle. Cool to room temp. Store in the fridge up to a month, or until it starts smelling like Drambuie.
*Special! If you’re the kind of person who likes ratios, and who isn’t, here’s a solid starter: 6:4:3
6 = 1.5 oz liquor
4 = 1 oz simple syrup
3 = ¾ oz lemon or lime juice
You just made the base for like eleventy-million drinks. As always, adjust to taste. I prefer to reverse the last two ratios for a more tart drink. That’s right. I’m a 6:3:4er. In your face, Drink Nazis!
3. Club Soda
In cooking, everything’s better covered in melted cheese. Soda is like that. Hence the old expression, “Soda is the cheese of booze.” Similarly, soda’s the last ingredient you’ll top-off the glass with (since shaking it would be stupid). But don’t start thinking it ain’t important.
A splash of water, incorporated with a quick stir, is the glue that holds all those awesome ingredients together, but it’s the bubbles that ensure they don’t get too close, keeping them at arm’s length so everybody gets a chance to dirty dance with your tongue.
If you think that sounds limp-pinkied, consider how scientifically wrong it likely is as well. But whatever. That’s what it feels like in my mouth. (Shut up.)
Oh, and if you start to get serious about it, I can vouch that the iSi Soda Siphon is top shelf, although my wife and I recently graduated to the obnoxious, SCUBA-tank-sized tabletop carbonator by SodaStream. Because we are fucking intense.
So yeah. That’s all I got, except… oh, hey. What’s THIS? How did this delicious Raspberry Collins get all up in my text post?
Looks good, don’t she? AH-AH-AH-AH DON’T TOUCH.
First, hit the trash bin, then hit the store for a few lemons, some sugar to make your syrup, and some club soda. Grab some gin while you’re at it (or vodka if you’re not into the whole “flavor” thing). I have about 8 favorite gins, but for the money, depth and flexibility, nothing beats good old Bombay. And if you’re feeling daffy, pick up a fistful of raspberries, or blueberries, or strawberries, or whateverlooksgoodberries.
Today we shop. Tomorrow, we drink.