First drink: Ramos gin fizz
All on its own, the word leaves a sour taste, sending my upper lip into a slight frown.
“Are you a mixologist?”
The question provokes a wince that quickly becomes a mildly (very) unattractive snarl and uneasy hesitation.
“I’m a bartender,” I automatically respond, left wondering what a mixologist is supposed to be and why I so humbly don’t want to be one.
And yet: my ego isn't satisfied just passing on such an illustrious title. Naturally, I delve into an internet wormhole and find that the word “mixology” dates back to way before modern-era mixologists were cool. She's been around since 1860, folks; alert all your hipster friends to adjust their frames of reference. Cocktail guides printed in the late 19th century often refer to bartenders as mixologists, and in at least one case, “mixologists of fluid excitements.” I’m extremely disappointed that the latter did not stick. I’d wear that title like a badge of honor. Even in its shortened form, the title has an almost science-fiction vibe, like mixologists might be mad scientists of booze with space-age equipment and cool goggles. But the word has been around for well over a century, and it’s tied to one of the defining eras of classic cocktail development just before and during Prohibition. As it happens, using obnoxious names and fancy ingredients was a great way to disguise alcohol.
Classic cocktails are my favorite things to make and to drink. I love when a guest defaults to ordering their usual old fashioned, because I know that taking the time to slowly dilute a bourbon, rather than sweetening the crap out of it, will make them smile and tell me it's just right. Any pressure created by the busy bar and backed-up service area seems to dissipate, because there's no sense rushing a century old drink.
New York has a way of blurring the past and the present. In this city, we go to modern speakeasies (an oxymoron?) to travel back in time. We go out to hear Django Reinhart or The Ink Spots and wait fifteen minutes while a mutton-chopped man dressed in all sorts of pre-elastic apparel crafts simple, beautiful cocktails from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then we ride home in electric cars that we summoned on our smartphones, listening to Kendrick Lamar. It might seem pretentious, sure, if you're pretentious and think any of this wacky mixology is a new thing. But have you ever heard of a Boulevardier? Sure you have. It's made its way on every hip cocktail menu in town in the last few years. Many assume Mr. B is a crafty new spin on the Negroni that cleverly replaces gin with bourbon, but it's actually been around since the early 1900s. In fact, it predates the Negroni by two decades, one of many simple but lasting cocktails to come from Harry McElhone, a New York-based bartender who expatriated himself to Europe during Prohibition. History is clear: where some lack in bravery, they make up in boozery.
Then there’s the mighty Ramos Gin Fizz, found on cocktail menus in lavish, trendy spots throughout the city. The iconic cocktail was first made in 1888 by a blessed fella named Henry C. Ramos who decided his life’s work was to ruin the lives of New York’s speakeasy mixologists for centuries to come with the mandated shaking marathon for this drink. Ramos’s original instructions called for at least 12 full minutes of shaking, including dry-shaking and shaking with a specific measure of ice. Following that, the drink gets a couple minutes of resting in the icebox before the bartender adds the finishing touches and hands it off. Modern-day bar customers, especially in New York, don’t like long wait times at the bar, but for a real Ramos Gin Fizz you’re typically looking at at least 10 minutes of prep… if you're lucky enough to find a willing barman. It’s truly a spectacular cocktail, and if you make one yourself, all the cool kids from 1860 might even think you're a mixologist.
Handlebar moustache and suspenders variation:
- 1 large egg white
- ½ oz fresh lemon juice
- ¼ oz fresh lime juice
- ¾ simple syrup
- 3 dashes orange blossom water
- 2 oz gin (I’m a fan of London Dry for this drink)
- ¾ oz heavy cream
- Seltzer (or champagne, if you’re celebrating)
A ramos gin fizz is all about the method. Take your time and don’t try to do this on arm day.
1. Dry shake the egg white, citrus juices, syrup, and orange blossom water in a cocktail shaker without ice for at least three minutes. Aim for an oval shake instead of up and down. You are essentially making a meringue, so you’re folding in as much air as possible. Watch some TV or something.
2. Add the gin and heavy cream, and shake for another two minutes with two kold-draft ice cubes, or the equivalent in another kind.
3. Strain into a collins glass without ice, making sure to shake out the frothy stuff at the end.
4. Let this sit in the icebox (or “fridge,” if you want to be modern about it) for a minute to settle
5. Slowly pour the seltzer (or champagne, if you're celebrating) into the very center until the meringue pops out of the glass. Throw a straw in there and sip up the fizzy goodness.
Lab coat and tattoos variation:
- 1 large egg white (organic, cage free, please obtain hen’s birth certificate)
- ½ oz yuzu juice
- ¼ oz lemon juice
- ¾ oz vanilla bean syrup
- 1 dash rose water
- 1 dash orange blossom water
- 2 oz gin (from somewhere in Brooklyn, of course)
- ¾ oz coconut cream
- Kombucha (make it in your backyard for extra points)
Use your Delorean and whip this all up in a blender. Not kidding: it works perfectly. Just tell everyone you churned by hand for six weeks. If you want to do it the old fashioned way, follow the steps above. If you want to be hip:
1. Throw everything into a blender except the kombucha, of course. Whip that baby up with two ice cubes per drink for a minute or two, until everything is frothy and angelic.
2. Pour into a collins glass without ice, and let it sit in the fridge for a minute to settle.
3. Slowly pour the kombucha into the center until meringue pops up. Top with your favorite locally sourced straw, sit back, put your hip playlist on shuffle, and let Glenn Miller become De La Soul become Oscar Peterson. Wonder what year it is and how you became so timelessly cool.