Growing up in my family meant time out for a cocktail at the end of the day. I knew Dad was home from work when I heard the clink of the glass rod against the wall of the cocktail pitcher. He was definitely a stir-don’t-shake kind of guy when it came to his evening Manhattan (although the shaker was always on hand when needed).
When Dad’s Manhattan mix was ready, it was time for everyone to gather round. He would pour one drink for himself, one each for Mom and my Grandfather and, as my sister and I moved into teenage years, a short one for us as well. While this is likely considered shocking by modern-day standards, a bit of alcohol at home in the evening always seemed to be a pleasant and harmless routine to me. In winter, we would snug into the living room, and in summer we would settle outdoors on our simple but lushly-green back-yard patio – family dog in tow.
Taking a breather after a busy day with a cocktail in hand is a sweet luxury that I continue with my family. It used to be the time that my husband and I would compare notes about busy work days and now, in retirement, ia time to catch up on the day in general.
But, like so much in cooking, there is no need to be a slave to a recipe. Creating your own cocktail traditions is fun. And if you’re lucky, perhaps your family will look back on your signature cocktail with fond memories – as I do now. To this day, I don’t think I can drink a Manhattan without a rush of warm memories about my Dad.
COOKING FUNDAMENTALS: CREATING CUSTOM COCKTAILS.
What are the requirements for a cocktail? While there are no “must haves”, here are my basic flavor elements:
- Base Alcohol
- Sweetness. This could be non alcholic like simple syrup or agave or a sweet liquor like Triple Sec.
- Sour/tangy. My favorite here is citrus.
- Add-ins for flavor complexicity. These could be bitters, herbs, spices, etc.
- Top-ups for “tall” cocktails. This could be as simple as sparkling water, or it may include additions to the flavor palate.
These flavors don’t need to come from separate ingredients, and you don’t need to include all of them, but the ones you do include must be balanced. A classic cocktail that balances these elements beautifully is a Cosmopolitan: vodka (base alcohol), Cointreau or Triple Sec (sweetness), lime or lemon juice (sour) and cranberry juice (flavor complexity).
To mix your own creation, just pick a few flavor elements that you like and experiment with the proportions. You’ll know when you get it right.
I must admit that Manhattans are not my favorite cocktail – although, made correctly, they have a great flavor palate. My favorite drinks are a bit lighter than a Manhattan and lean toward the tangy/sour/citrus side of the spectrum. Here are two that I regularly ask my bartender/husband to whip up. The first, I’m-Not-My-Father’s-Daughter (at least when it comes to beverages), includes one of the best Asian flavor pairings: lime and ginger. The second, my version of a Lemon Drop Martini, was inspired by my golfing friend, Sue.
Lemon Drop Martini
2 1/2 ounces vodka
3/4 ounce lime liquor
1 ounce lemon juice
lime or lemon for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir, pour and garnish with lime or lemon.