Mind Your Own Business

Last week I was talking with a bartender/consultant about a variety of things, including a program he put together that involves batched and kegged cocktails. I'd tried those cocktails, many of them, myself last month, and found them all good, some very good, even those made with citrus and other high acid ingredients. Now, today's cocktail orthodoxy teaches that you cannot do this, because of the way acids will break down or interact with the spirit and other ingredients or how the enzymes will turn the drink and your face purple or something - chemistry is not one of my strengths, so I couldn't tell you exactly what the problem is. I do know that numerous cocktail pros don't like the idea, and insist that lime and lemon juices break down fast and ought not be batched up, and that's okay: let a hundred flowers bloom, as Mao Zedung said, sort of.

What bothers me, though, isn't that these folks have opinions about another person's operation; I get paid to have opinions, so it would be small of me to object to others forming their own. But I also get paid to say them aloud. I may have opinions about writers who do what I do, but there's little purpose in flagging their work if I find it inadequate. Yet many bar folk feel entitled to slag the efforts of others to serve their customers in a way they deem suitable, even if it seems to stray from the accepted path. You know - WWJTD - "What would Jerry Thomas do?"

Rigorous clinging to orthodoxy is an insider's game, meant to keep others in line and prevent the boat from being rocked. Take whisky geeks: for some of them, one's manner of drinking reveals one's relative respect for the spirit. A little water, very good; ice; oh, well, if you have to; with ginger ale, what's wrong with you? It's one-upmanship, pure and simple, a cheap and easy way to show that you know what's right and you are not shy about sharing it. Funny thing is, whiskey makers, American, Canadian, Irish or Scottish, universally say the same thing: "As long as you drink it, you should drink it the way you like."

They remember the bad old days when people bought bourbon to get the ceramic collectibles the spirit was sold in, or when distilleries were closing like morning glories at sunset, up and down Scotland. And they're happy to see people savoring their most rare iterations, and just as happy to know that multi-ingredient cocktails increasingly include whiskey.

I personally don't like barrel-aged cocktails, not because they are new or experimental, but because the resulting drinks that I've had haven't benefited from time in wood, and I can't see that they will, given the uneven quality of the oak and environment they age in. I'm sure many disagree, but regardless, I'm not against the concept, I simply pass when the opportunity arises to try one, the same way I do when the second round of Fernet Branca appears. Dismissing a concept, or a style of drinking, without sampling the results is just another form of enforcing rules, and I think folks who loudly object to kegged cocktails should zip it until they've at least sampled the ones in question.

Many years ago, it was acceptable in some quarters to look down on customers who ordered VS Cognac and cola. Cognac deserved to be savored, in a snifter, one that was warmed, preferably - that was the way an intelligent drinker did. Of course, if those snobs had gone to any bar in Cognac, they would have seen VS Cognac served with tonic, with orange juice, anything, even cola, because the locals knew that the VS needed some help going down.

There's always a reason to scoff quietly at someone else's choices, and I am as guilty as the next person of that. But forming opinions about others work and speaking them for public consumption are two radically different things. Among the brotherhood and sisterhood of bartenders, I'd like to hear a little less of it, please.


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