by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes
Doug Frost holds a rare combination of titles. He is one of three people to be both a Master of Wine and Master Sommelier. That's worldwide, thank you very much.
He's also a founding partner of Beverage Alcohol Resource (a killer program for high-end bartenders). Frost has forgotten more about wine, spirits and cocktails than most of us can ever hope to learn.
It's not surprising that he thinks in original terms -- and occasionally lets loose with a phrase nobody else would utter. Consider this recent one on the subject of cocktails: clarity of flavor.
"What is that?"
Chuckling, Frost admits, "It's not what other people would think about." Granted, but what is it? The double-master sets it in the context of contests. "Typically, there are competitions that are out to promote a particular spirit . . . I very much want to taste the spirit that's part of that competition."
A cocktail that's too busy -- or a bartender who's keener on serving his ego than in highlighting the liquor -- won't offer that. You'll be able to taste lots of things, but not the spirit of the day. In a good cocktail, as in a well-prepared meal, tastes, like good schoolchildren, should play well with others. "The flavors," Frost says, "enhance each other . . . I'm looking for balance. I like the cocktail to be easy to understand."
That doesn't mean not experimenting. "Sometimes you get a clarity, where everything seems to be highlighted, where everything is balanced and everything seems visible and it's easy to understand -- and yet, I haven't seen these flavors before. I find myself looking at the cocktail and tasting it and smelling it and thinking, 'I think I know what's in here and I like the way these go together. They seem to enhance each other, instead of clashing or covering each other up." Clarity.
Which bartenders produce that? In Chicago, Frost likes the Violet Hour. "Steve Cole has always been one of my favorites there, and Charles Joly [of the Drawing Room] is fantastic; anything he does, I'm going to be grinning. He says, 'What do you want?' and I says, 'You tell me, man.' "
Joly acknowledges that professional mixologists and their customers don't necessarily savor the same drinks. Among professionals, he says, it's a common subject. "We have that conversation a lot: cocktail menus that are written for your guests; cocktail menus that are written for bartenders."
So how do you find your way to a cocktail with that sought-for clarity? For Joly, it's not about following written recipes. "I always tinker with proportions," he says. "They never seem to be in balance to me, these 'equal parts' recipes."
Frost's tips for beginners: Use good ingredients."It's not that hard to squeeze fruit. The fruit needs to be in good condition." Oh, and have fun. It's pretty straightforward, Frost says. "It's booze."
Joly, on the inspiration for the cocktail (pictured above): "This drink came up while enjoying brunch at a bar I worked on in Milwaukee. Sunday, being a bartender's Friday night, leads to a lot of interesting findings. A friend bought me a dram of Maker's Mark . . . somehow my maple syrup ended up in the glass as well.
"Not being one to waste, I finished the gift and it wasn't half bad. I decided then to create a drink from the combination.
"The name partly alludes to the time of day the drink was inspired. It also pays homage to so many great, early American cocktail names that were chock full of innuendo."
2 ounces Maker's Mark
½ once Navan
1/3 ounc maple syrup
1 bar spoon fresh grated ginger
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice and shake well. Double-strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Dash with 3 drops orange bitters (Regan's No. 6). Flame orange peel and float on top.
(To double-strain, pour the drink through a cocktail shaker into a small sieve held over the glass.)
Joly says, "This is a simple variation on the Corpse Reviver #2. It's very different from the Nooner, having bright citrus and ultimately coming across a bit lighter. Still, you can't and wouldn't want to cover up the mezcal."
1¾ ounces Del Maguey Chichicapa
¾ ounce Lillet Rouge
¾ ounce Cointreau
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, melted together)
4 dashes of absinthe
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, shake and strain into chilled coupe. Flame orange oil over cocktail.
(To flame orange peel, cut a fresh piece of orange skin, approximately 1-inch wide. Hold it about 5 above the glass. Strike a match and hold it between the glass and the peel. Hold the orange peel by the sides, skin down, between thumb and forefinger. Squeeze it swiftly, letting the orange oil spray across the flame en route to the glass. The heat will caramelize the orange oil.)