Remember the fun days of getting trashed on $15 handles of local liquor store brand vodka screwdrivers and all the awesome multiple meetings with a porcelain god? Ah, those were the good days…
But now you’re no longer a teenager and you (hopefully) have an income and a life. Things are different and you’re in [or well past] your mid-twenties. The women that you are meeting and talking to are also different and the situations and bars you find them in are also different. Most importantly, one would hope that what you used to drink versus what you can now drink is very different.
Generally men know what they want and how they want it, but when it comes to exploration with cocktails and drinks, there are too many of us that are lost at sea. Frankly, women are much more adventurous and open to cocktail lists and bar programs than men are. For example, I tried the other night explaining to a friend that drinks like an Old Fashioned and Tom Collins are now “in” (thanks to the Mad Men effect), but apparently he had no idea or clue of what they were or what was in them. I’m willing to bet that he’s only one of many – maybe a majority of younger males today.
I have no interest in swaying someone from his drink and alcohol of choice, but rather I’d simply like to serve as a educational guide on how to navigate the bar as the modern (and somewhat classic) man – a man who is more than capable of mastering a bar menu and spirits list in the palm of his hand. Hot Food Porn aims to help my fellow male drinkers become sophisticated enough to assert themselves in a proper cocktail bar setting.
Part 1: Spirits You Should Know But Probably Don’t
I’m not going to go over the basics and if you don’t know the likes of whiskey, brandy, vodka, gin, tequila and rum, then you need to crawl out of your mom’s basement. Pronto. I do however want to talk about are some of the rarer, but also commonly found spirits at proper cocktail bars and discuss them in a little bit of detail. I'm also not a bartender, so if you happen to be one, you probably can offer so much more insight, knowledge and subtlety for the spirits listed. Then again, you wouldn't need to read this anyways. For everyone else, hopefully this will help you on your way to being a more sophisticated you:
Cordials, Aperitifs, and Digestives
*fyi* - An aperitif is a French designation for a opening or starter drink prior to a meal, but nowadays you won’t really find these on a menu anywhere other than the spot next to the dessert menu. No, it doesn’t really make sense. Aperitifs are not light in any way, but they are supposed to have digestive qualities and these aperitifs have also been showing up commonly as the subtle supporting component to many a great cocktail.
Lillet – Comes in Blanc and Rouge (White and Red stupid), Lillet is a fortified wine from France (fortified meaning, more alcohol power). It has been a staple since the time before your grandparents were born. The Blanc is a sweet soft citrus, herbal and vanilla flavor. It is one of Bond’s favorites (as found in the Vesper) and it is certainly one of mine because it pairs so beautifully with gin.
Campari – Probably the most no-brainer of aperitifs. It’s a bitter (and bitter in taste) and will make you cringe a little if you try to take it down like a PBR. It’s preferable with soda water and also best known as a great complementary component to gin and vermouth in a Negroni. It’s a relatively distinctive flavor, because it’s kind of tastes like a subtle orange and bitter kick in the balls. Can you tell I’m not the biggest fan?
Pastis – This spirit is sometimes called the cousin of absinthe. Flavor profile-wise they are not too different – both are anise flavored, but Pastis’ flavor comes from star anise and has no absinthe. I’m not a big absinthe drinker, but [quality aside] I can tell some subtle differences in their flavors. Not enough to really care all too much.
Pimm’s No. 1 – A popular digestive in England, Pimm’s No.1 is normally made into what people call a Pimm’s Cup. Pimm’s No.1 is based on gin and a blend of herbals. It’s definitely lighter than gin and has a nice hue to it. People love it with lemonade, sour mix and ice tea. It is a nice mixing liquor for a refreshing summer citrus cocktail.
Chartreuse – This is a cordial named after a color (kind of like a yellow green pear color) that is made from a blend of 130 different herbs, flowers and other things that I have no idea about. It sounds fancy and shmancy, but it’s not as soft as you think. It’s got some heat to it and has a subtle sweet anise bitterness, but it’s pretty overwhelming in flavor. It is one of those flavors where you’re not sure if you remember it properly, but you don’t think you’ll ever forget it when you drink it.
Aperol – The nicer younger sister of Campari with less alcohol, more flowery fennel sweetness and a tinge more orangey. Many people can dig on Aperol and still not quite enjoy her bitch sister Campari.
Cointreau – All you need to do is substitute Triple Sec with this. It’s pretty much the same orange goodness maybe without some of the disgusting cheap aftertaste.
Cachaca – Cachaca is a Brazilian Cane Sugar Rum. To myself, it has a superior flavor to rum because there seems to be more distinction and clarity in the flavor. It tastes more refreshing and less syrupy. The most popular drink to come from cachaca is a caipirinha. If you have not had one, go find a good bar and have one. The caipirinha is the savvy man’s mohito.
Pisco – is a Peruvian/Chilean grape liquor. It’s got a grape mustiness to it and is generally very sweet with a little bitterness. I don’t drink much of this or anything really sweet, but I guess ordering a Pisco Sour is more fun than say a Whiskey Sour. Apparently, someone somewhere said bars are digging Pisco more nowadays. Give it a whirl.
Shochu or Soju - A lot of people are starting to carry this Japanese grain alcohol purely because it has some familiarity with the taste of vodka. The benefit and reasoning for this is simply because it is normally less than 25% alcohol, which makes it fall under the "wine and beer" designation for liquor licenses. Shochu that is under 25% is normally called Soju because the original can vary well above 25% alcohol. So what you drink at beer and wine bars is somewhat of a bastardization of the original. The great thing about Shochu is that it's not vodka and tastes pretty good mixed with stuff as supposed to tasting like rubbing alcohol.