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"Don't mess with a good thing."
"There's no need to reinvent the wheel."
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
However many adages there are that extol the virtues of the classics, there is always room for minor tweaking - especially when it comes to matters of taste, like cocktails.
According to Adam Bernbach, the bar manager of Proof and Estadio restaurants in Washington, D.C., there are a couple of things experimental imbibers should pay attention to when riffing on the classics.
Five Tips on Getting Creative with Classic Cocktails: Adam Bernbach
This can, of course, be prohibitively expensive in practice. However, keeping on the lookout for tastings held by restaurants, bars and the like will help accelerate the "studies."
Classics like Harry Craddock's "The Savoy Cocktail Book, " David Embury's "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks," and newer classics like Kazuo Uyeda's "Cocktail Techniques," Jim Meehan's "The PDT Cocktail Book" and David Wondrich's great Jerry Thomas biographical recipe book "Imbibe" are major sources of exposure to different techniques and ideas, new and old, in mixing drinks. Many of these books contain recipes for various syrups that will be irreplaceable in reproducing the classic cocktails.
3. Visit a bartender
Polite, well-timed questions are welcome. Bartenders who are genuinely interested in the craft and history of mixing drinks are more than happy to share their opinions, their experiences and what they've learned. Naturally, there is a time and place for these Q&As. A busy Saturday night is not the ideal time to elicit pearls of wisdom from a bartender. Earlier in the night and the week tend to be the best times to chat.
4. Build your home bar
Building up a nice collection of spirits can sometimes be a tricky endeavor. Some of the ingredients common in the classics are not common now. That doesn't necessarily mean they're unavailable. Usually, it's a small percentage of stores that carry these ingredients. It might require some calling around. If a local store doesn't carry them (and they can't special order them), sites like Astor Wines have a nice selection in which to find a missing ingredient. Procuring the ingredients to a cocktail, one cocktail at a time is an efficient way to build the home bar.
5. Adjust and swap
Another great variation is to replace one ingredient with another. A seemingly small switch from sugar to honey will create a different drink entirely. In one Manhattan, rather than simply using angostura bitters, I chose to accentuate the lighter, floral qualities of red vermouth (I use Dolin Rouge) mixed with rye whiskey (I use Old Overholt) by utilizing the anise, fennel, herbal notes in Peychaud's bitters. This creates a bright, lively version of the rich classic we know.
2.25 oz. rye whiskey (Recommended: Old Overholt)
Stir. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry. (Rub a bit of lemon zest on the rim of the glass.)
Above, Adam Bernbach shared his riff on a classic Manhattan. Have you shaken up a classic cocktail recipe? Share your liquid pleasure in the comment section below.
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.
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