So, what’s in a cocktail? My dictionary defines it thus:
cock·tail |ˈkäkˌtāl| noun an alcoholic drink consisting of a spirit or several spirits mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice, lemonade, or cream.
By this definition, a rum & coke is a cocktail. So is a Seven & 7. A Fuzzy Navel, too. But in my book, these are mixed drinks. They definitely aren’t the kinds of cocktails we’re celebrating here at Alamo City Cocktails.
No, what we’re celebrating here is the art of the hand-crafted cocktail. Anyone can throw some ice in a glass and fill it with a mix of rum & coke and hand it across the bar. Mixed drink. No particular skill needed.
An Old Fashioned, on the other hand, is a work of art and its quality depends entirely upon the skill and commitment of the craftsman making the cocktail. So, too, the Moscow Mule. The Blackberry Rickey. The Sazerac.
Mastering the art of the cocktail is no small feat. Those who do it well have mastered an impressive library of recipes, techniques, ritual, and lore. They know precisely how long to shake a Ramos Gin Fizz. They know which gin goes best in a Negroni. When to shake and when to stir — and why, and for how long.
They understand that ritual is important in making some drinks. The Mint Julep is not simply a bourbon-based mojito. You don’t just muddle some mint in a glass, throw in some ice cubes and mix in some bourbon and simple syrup. There’s a ritual, and the magic of the julep arises out of that ritual, not just the ingredients.
The best of the best go beyond mastering the recipes. They use their knowledge of their ingredients, the recipes and the techniques to create great new combinations and to tailor cocktails to their patrons’ tastes. When in the presence of a master like this, do what you would do with a great chef — ask them to make you something special. Tell them a few parameters: sweet or savory? bourbon, gin or vodka? citrus? floral? boozy? and then get out of their way. In a sushi bar, this would be called omakase. “I place myself in your hands.” In the hands of a cocktail master, it’s a real treat.
In the end, great cocktails, like great food, are prepared by artisans committed to their craft. San Antonio is lucky to have a thriving cocktail scene. It is those local artisans — and their cocktails — that we celebrate here at Alamo City Cocktails.