This event was inspired by a chance encounter I had with an almost-famous Christian rock musician who, at age 32, had never had a cocktail. “I’d like to try one sometime,” he said, “What do you think I should have?”
It’s an excellent question, and one I though best vetted by wide audience of experts: What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?
I’ve been tending bar for a couple of years now and, aside from people who abstain from alcohol on principle, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone of legal drinking age who has never had a cocktail. If I did meet such a person, however, I’d want to make them a good one. My own first taste of spirits was probably one of my grandfather’s strong gin Martinis; it was enough to turn my young palate off of liquor for years. It wasn’t until my friend Court introduced me the Long Island Iced Tea that I started exploring again.
Given that experience, I’d probably choose something similar for someone’s first cocktail. Not a Long Island, but something on ice, bubbly, and with some flavors they’re accustomed to. If I knew nothing else about the person I would probably choose a Dark and Stormy. Or maybe a Mojito, but then you’re potentially sending that person down the path of annoying every bartender she meets for the rest of her life. Ideally, before choosing a drink I’d start by asking the person what other drinks she likes. Black coffee? Then maybe she enjoys bitterness. Hoppy IPAs? Maybe she’s receptive to gin. Sprite? OK, back to the Mojito. It doesn’t really matter what that first drink is, as long as it tastes good and piques her interest.
The situation I’m more frequently faced with is a customer who’s curious about cocktails but has only tried some very basic drinks, likely variations of vodka mixed with soda or fruit juice. My job then is to expand their horizons. For people who are used to white liquors and citrus, this is when I often mix up a Pegu cocktail. (The cockles of Doug’s heart are so warm I can feel them from here!)
I first came across this one at Jeff Morgenthaler’s site and it quickly became one of my favorites at my first bar job, mainly because it was an esoteric cocktail that we actually had the ingredients for (minus the orange bitters). It originally appeared in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. Here’s the recipe I’m using now:
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz Cointreau
.5 oz lime juice
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash orange bitters
Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnishing with a lime is optional, but I tend to avoid it because a customer squeezing it into the drink is going to make the drink too tart.
People who are accustomed to basic sours like a Cosmo or Margarita will find some familiar tastes here, while the gin and bitters will introduce them to new flavors. I’ve had numerous people try it at my suggestion and say that they don’t normally like gin, but they like this. Would I serve it to someone who’s never had a cocktail before? Only if they really like citrus and have an adventurous palate. But as a gateway to better cocktails, I think this makes a great choice. It also happens to be one of my favorites to make for myself at home.
Previous Pegu action: Earl Grey tea lends a bergamot note to the Earl of Pegu.