Blast from the Past: The Cocktailian in the Country, 2005
Here’s an article involving CÎroc vodka that I wrote in 2005, around the time it was first launched in the USA. It was published in Entree magazine.
The Cocktailian in the Country
Winter marks down-time for Cocktails in the Country, the two-day bartender training course I hold at Painter’s the bar/restaurant/inn in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, and down-time means that I get to spend time thinking about how I might change the seminars when they kick-off again in the spring. Change or die as far as I’m concerned.
I readily admit to not being one of those bartenders who looks for obscure Asian fruits or scintillating Chinese medicinal herbs to create new drinks. Not that I have anything against that sort of mind-set–the world of the cocktailian bartender is far better since the “bar chefs” of the world emerged–but I do believe that everyone has their own style when it comes to cocktail creation, and what I bring to the party, hopefully, is an understanding of balance and harmony combined with a knowledge of how differing ingredients work in a mixed drink. When a new sponsor enters the program, therefore, I have to spend time tasting the product and conceptualizing how to properly use it before classes begin. This year CÎroc is the sponsoring vodka so I’ve been spending time getting to know its nuances.
TÜRI was the vodka we used last year, it’s a wonderful spicy product made from rye grain that we had much fun with in class–TÜRI has far more character than the vast majority of vodkas on the shelves. CÎroc also has lots of character, but it’s an entirely different animal from TÜRI. Made in France from grapes, CÎroc has marvelous citrus notes, both in the nose and on the palate. It’s an ideal medium for cocktailian creations, and it’s also a vodka that I picked as being best of the bunch in a blind tasting last year.
Pete and Sal Buttigleri, the owners of Painter’s, let me experiment with cocktails in their small private bar, and it was there that they found me, one cold afternoon in mid-December, playing around with CÎroc and various other ingredients.
“What you up to now?” Sal asked.
“Vodka, Sal. Vodka. It’s so damned easy, and it’s so damned tough.”
Fact is, the nuances of most vodkas get buried in the mix when you marry it to fruit juices and the like. The challenge is to figure out recipes in which the type of vodka you use actually makes a difference in the finished product. Pete happens to be a bit of a calvados freak, and seeing his face gave me inspiration. Pete and Sal bellied up to the mahogany and I set to work.
The Buttiglieri brothers are fun to work with, even if Pete often butts into my classes to tell the students I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. They’re relaxed, easy-going, and let me get away with murder most of the time. For instance, there’s seldom a course goes by without me purposefully breaking a few glasses and pouring a couple of shots of expensive liquor on the floor, and if Pete happens to be watching at the time he just shakes his head. Pete and Sal sat at the bar discussing all those important restaurateur details such as whether it had been worth ordering 850 cases of clam juice to get the discount, and would the new waitress make the grade by the time the Christmas rush rolled around? I ignored them and started playing with their vodka and some Busnel calvados.
By the time I’d mixed the two ingredients together at differing ratios about six times I found a mix I thought worked well, but I needed a little something extra to round out the cocktail. Could Kahlúa be the answer? Sounds very weird but I wanted to play around, and the ingredients were bought and paid for by the Buttiglieri boys so what the heck? This was going to be a difficult task, though. Kahlúa’s a very flavorful liqueur. Would the coffee notes hide the other ingredients? Not if I played it right. After a little experimentation I found that, used judiciously, the coffee flavors in the liqueur worked perfectly. All three ingredients were detectable, and they came together in complete harmony.
“Try this,” I offered the glass to Pete and Sal just as the door opened and Sandy, the floor manager appeared.
“You guys order some clam juice?” she asked. “It’s here. There’s quite a lot of it.”
“Later, Gary. We gotta make some room in the basement.”
“You’re choosing clam juice over my new drink?”
Typical owners. No sense of priority.
The Priority Cocktail
2 ounces CÎroc vodka
3/4 ounce Busnel calvados
1/4 ounce Kahlúa
1 lemon twist, for garnish
Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full of ice and add all of the ingredients. Stir for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the garnish.