Category Archives: See Clair Mix

I’m Not a Mixologist

During bar shifts, one of the most frequent questions from customers is if I’m a mixologist or a bartender. I usually reply that I’m just a really nerdy bartender. Recently, people have accused me of selling myself short through my answer. The truth is that I just don’t like the term “mixologist.”

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a mixologist is “a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks.” At its root, a mixologist is a craft bartender who’s good at what they do. However, the definition is vague and fails to take into account the word’s connotations.

The first problem with the term is that no standard is set. It’s unclear which cocktails are required knowledge and what skills must be used in their creation. Since craft bartending is a vibrant and evolving field, this requirement is fluid. New cocktails are created daily, and the amount of knowledge available about product and classic recipes and cocktail history is constantly expanding.

My biggest problem with the term is with the word’s connotations. A mixologist is someone who is interesting but largely unapproachable. Their quirky drinks or personal eccentricities can alienate parts of the population by making them feel out of place. In the Portlandia episode “Mixologist,” bartender Andy Samberg makes a ridiculous and somewhat off-putting cocktail that makes his customers swoon. Three cheers for a ginger-based bourbon drink with rotten bananas, egg whites, egg yellows, lime zest and much more…

Though he’s playing up the role, he’s riffing on everything that can make craft cocktails intimidating. In a city like Birmingham where the cocktail scene is still growing and developing, it’s easy to spook people who are new to the concept. That said, it’s just as easy to make customers feel welcome and answer their questions about drinks and product. To do so, you just have to be a really nerdy bartender.

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Cocktail of the hour — the Tom Collins

photo (3)Over the past two weeks, the weather in Alabama has ranged from snowy and cold to severe thunderstorms and highs in the 70s. Since we’re quite confused about whether to turn on the heat or air conditioning, I thought it would be a great time to feature a cocktail named for a troublemaker — the Tom Collins.

Cocktail historians will tell you that this drink was named for a 19th century bartender, a prank that shares his name or both. The prank was pretty simple: a mischievous chap would pick a target and convince him that a fellow named Tom Collins was either looking for him or had been taking full advantage of him. It was such a popular gag that the height of its popularity has been dubbed the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.

Some commerce-minded bartender proceeded to name a drink after the hoax. After that point, unsuspecting victims who barged into pubs clamoring for Tom Collins would find themselves served a rather delicious beverage. Credit for the drink’s creation is where the story gets murky. Many sources give this honor to John Collins, a waiter from London’s Limmer’s Old House. If the drink originally bore his name, it’s likely that the change came from substituting Old Tom gin for another style.

Though its exact origin may be unclear, the Tom Collins first appeared in Jerry Thomas’s 1876 The Bartender’s Guide. Since then, it’s become one of the most iconic and refreshing summer cocktails. Like the French 75, its light, fizzy, citrusy deliciousness is built around a potent base spirit that packs a wallop. As the Girl Scouts say, be prepared.

Recipe

1 oz simple syrup
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 oz gin (preferably Old Tom gin)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until cold. Strain into a chilled Collins glass over ice. Top with club soda or sparkling water to taste.

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Cocktail of the hour — the Pimm’s Cup

Pimms2In the craft cocktail world, many drinks can fall under the umbrella of a single name. The Pimm’s Cup definitely belongs in this category, but it’s also special because the name only comes with two requirements: it must contain Pimm’s and it must be served in a cup. As a result, it’s rare to find two bars — or even two home bartenders — who make this libation the same way.

Many variations on this theme are tangy, sweet and refreshing. Originally, Pimm’s made six different liqueurs from different liquors that were infused with their proprietary blend of herbs, spices and juices. Due to changes in management and demand, Pimm’s No. 2 – 5 were discontinued about 40 years ago. Now, the only Pimm’s available in the U.S. is Pimm’s No. 1: a tea-colored, gin-based herbal liqueur.

This citrusy liqueur does well when combined with citrus, spice, berries or herbs. Thanks to its deep flavor, each of these different ingredients brings out unique qualities in its taste. Though the first Pimm’s cup is thought to have been created by a British bartender named Pimm’s, the historical record is entirely fuzzy on its origins. Historically, New Orleans and Britain have both claimed the Pimm’s cup as their quintessential drinks, so you should create your own house Pimm’s cup to suit your own taste.

Recipe:

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz Pimm’s No. 1

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a chilled Collin’s glass full of ice and top with ginger beer to taste.

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Cocktail of the Hour — the Ward 8

photo (1)

Out of all the contentious drinks I’ve featured so far, the Ward 8 might just top them all. With at least three origin stories and hundreds of recipes, the diversity of its manifestations almost rivals the Old Fashioned’s. In fact, when a New York Sun writer called for readers to submit their Ward 8 recipes in the 1940s, he received more than 500 replies.

People get territorial over their whiskey cocktails.

According to the available mishmash of cocktail history, Boston was definitely the Ward 8’s birthplace. It was probably created within a decade of 1900, and is most likely named for one of the city’s voting districts. The most popular backstory is that it was created to celebrate a political boss’s election victory in north Boston, but this story seems to have originated in 1951. Other sources credit other bartenders who worked at the hotel where this alleged party occurred and yet others give credit to other venues.

The Ward 8 is a whiskey sour sweetened with grenadine. The use of orange juice and the amount of grenadine varies by recipe, but however it’s made, it usually turns out light, spicy and slightly dry. Since so many recipes for this beverage exist, I’m not going off the reservation by saying that if my recipe doesn’t suit your fancy, tweak it until it does.

Ward 8
1 tsp – .5 oz grenadine (to taste)
.5 oz lemon juice
.75 oz orange juice
2 oz whiskey
Add all ingredients to a shaker tin. Shake vigorously for 13-17 seconds or until cooled through and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

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Introducing — Stock The Bar

Last week, David Griner challenged me to pick the drinks I’d mix for stock photo characters. After a few trial names were thrown about, Stock The Bar was born. Without further ado, here’s round one!

1. Brickman obviously needs a Blood & Sand. It’s sweet without being cloying and contains Scotch — the perfect combination to loosen him up. But watch out for sales pitches. The drink’s color may trigger residual brick salesmanship.

2. Silence in the library! This perturbed teacher probably loves quiet, Doctor Who and suspenders, so a Sidecar would be suitably geeky. It might be a little sweet for her taste, so I’d add a dash or two of bitters to dry it out.
3. Following the Golden Rule is paramount in life, so this yogi will drink as I drink. Does rye whiskey, lemon juice, Luxardo and green Chartreuse sound appealing? Maybe not on paper, but he’ll have the Final Word.
4. If Fae Barbie wants a double vodka soda with lime, that’s what she’ll get. Unless she’s an avowed whiskey drinker as well, there’s not much I can do to change her preference.
5. This child of the corn will take a Dirt ‘n’ Diesel. With blackstrap rum, Fernet, demerara, Cynar and lime juice, this earthy recipe needs rebalancing but should be dark, rich and challenging.

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Cocktail of the hour — the French 75

photo (1)Since it’s my birthday week, I thought that an easy, bubbly cocktail would be perfect for the Cocktail of the Hour re-inauguration. The French 75 is just gin, citrus, sugar and champagne (or prosecco, if you’re partial). Despite its simplicity, the drink packs a kick much like its namesake — an accurate and quick-firing field gun used in World War I.

Per cocktail lore, this lovely libation was most likely named by a Parisian bartender around 1915ish, but its roots go back much further. In the 19th century, upper class folks on both sides of the pond drank a mixture of bubbly, citrus, sugar and ice. Dump in a little bit of readily available gin and voila, the French 75.

Other stories indicate that the French 75 was also, in some circles, a brandy drink. The shift away from brandy may have been caused by the wine shortage that also changed the Sazerac’s base liquor. Personally, I prefer gin to brandy here — gin makes the cocktail herbaceous while brandy slightly spices and sweetens it. If I can get my hands on a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 1840, I’ll try it again and report back.

It’s also possible that a bartender subbed champagne for soda in a Tom Collins as some early versions of the recipe specify that the drink is served over ice. In this version of the French 75’s origin story, it’s not clear if the substitution was intentional. Regardless, the result was delicious.

Like the daiquiri and gimlet, this cocktail probably existed for decades before it was named, so history buffs and cocktail nerds alike can savor its qualities.

Recipe:
1 oz gin
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake for 12-18 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe glass and top with 1 – 2 ounces of champagne.

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2014

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

2013 was full of more love, triumph and running than any other year before it. At the beginning of the year, I was about to leave my first (and probably last) ever corporate job to start working at a local hospital. After only a few months, I left that job to bartend and freelance.

As a beginning bartender, the hours and fluctuating pay have been challenging, but knowing I don’t have to keep office hours can be its own reward. Technique-wise, it’s been so fun to begin mastering the basics and working towards a deeper understanding of the foundations and science that underpin it. However, the combined time constraints of Adam’s and my work often mean that we can go days without seeing each other for more than five minutes. During this upcoming year, I will set my priorities and honor them as such.

I also began treating my writing like a business and building it accordingly. This approach has expanded my market significantly and given me a bit of financial wiggle room. Connections within my network have afforded an online column for mental_floss, pieces for a gorgeous wedding magazine and a continued relationship with my first freelance client. In 2014, I’ll build my market and marketable (writing) skill set even further.

This year also marked the start of my journey to become a runner. It hasn’t been easy or extremely consistent, but it’s consistently demonstrated the necessity of exercise. I haven’t been blogging much about writing or running recently because I had too much material. Once that had passed, I didn’t have enough so I stayed away. That changes in 2014. Instead of trying to continue a breakneck pace of personal blogging, I’m cutting back.

Each week, I will be posting twice: one Cocktail of the Week post and one running or writing post. Two posts each week will provide a stable schedule (hopefully) without giving me an excuse to skip runs. 2014 looks different than any previous year, but it looks pretty nice from here. Bring it on, 2014. Bring it on.

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