As a Bartender/Mixologist/Cook, whatever you would like to call yourself, we understand ingredients differently than many fellow patrons or event goers that visit our bars. This blog entry is about identifying the way you taste a cocktail from both perspectives as well as deciding whether to compromise the integrity of the cocktail(in the eyes of the creator) versus manipulating the cocktail in order for it to be more appealing to the masses.
I like the taste of alcohol. I like the upfront intense heat and cool lingering finish, the punch you in the nose with herbs as well as the very subtle fruit, flower and coffee arrangements that delicately balance the party in my mouth. This was not always the case as is the same for many if not most everyone who has encountered alcohol.
I remember my first beer as a teenager and wondering how in the world anyone could like it, let alone profess they love beer. A bunch of liars is what I thought. My first hard liquor drink was Tequila, albeit Jose Cuervo Gold but this is not about brands, and I am pretty sure I threw it up; and not because I got drunk. Islay Scotch? Man oh man how I love the stuff now but 15 years ago, that is another matter. What does matter is that as professionals in our industry, we understand that there is a beauty in all of the complexities and age old tradition in many of these liquors that many others outside of the industry will potentially never understand. That doesn’t mean we deserve a badge or even a pat on the back. It does however mean that those of us who can assimilate some of these, what would be cloying to the common vodka soda drinker, into a cocktail that they can relate with, well we just might stand a chance in enlightening others who may not understand those delicate and age old traditions; even if only for the respect and appreciation(owed to the liquor not the person simply pouring the stuff!). Now this is not to say that you have to be a nightwalker in order to appreciate Campari. Or Fernet. Or any of the other thousands of high quality amaros, modifiers, etc… I wouldn’t even go so far to say that half the population of night walkers even like these types of flavor profiles, hence, just because you work behind the bar doesn’t mean you should be pushing these ingredients, although if you have access to them you should definitely do yourself the favor of trying them in many ways until you understand them. Even if you understand why you can’t stand them.
Then there is the other side of the coin. Those of us who so intensely like a particular flavor or ingredient that we highlight it, even if it is intense. To us it is a thing of beauty. To most of the population it is where I stood when I drank my first “cowboy cool” light beer.
It is probable that the most efficient solution is being able to clearly understand why you love something and why someone else may not love it, then be able to make the responsible decisions as to whether it is introduced in the creation, highlighted, omitted, or anywhere in between. I personally am of the school of thought that there is always a right time and place to introduce a new taste to someone although just like broccoli, if you are forced to eat it at too young of an age, you will never love it(that one was for you Colby).