I recently read an article by Gary Regan about a couple of modern cocktails he predicts will eventually become classics, and it made me think about exactly what makes a cocktail a classic. The answer may seem fairly obvious in that it just needs to taste awesome, but I've had many newly created cocktails that were quite awesome tasting and yet I wouldn't even think to categorize them as classics.
So it begs the question, when does a great cocktail become considered a classic? Or better yet, when does a modern cocktail gain such immortal status? What does it take for the cocktail cognoscenti to confer the crown on a particular drink created within our generation? Of course there is no particular rule, nor even a definitive list of classic cocktails, but the query's still an intriguing one.
I don't feign to know the answer, but I presume it has something to do with achieving the critical mass of consensus that flings certain cocktails into the stars to live forever and leaves others to wither on the bar (or blog page). So often at some of the city's top craft cocktail bars we see complicated drinks involving a dizzying array of ingredients. Perhaps this is a natural byproduct of constantly pushing the envelope, because you certainly won't see any creativity at your average shot-and-beer bar. Yet while we might be awestruck by the creativity employed in some of these enevelope-pushing potions--and they may even taste amazing--we don't really see these ultra-complex cocktails achieve the status of the two modern classics Regan discusses in his article, the Gin Gin Mule and the Cable Car.
Of these two modern creations, the Gin Gin Mule created by Audrey Saunders of NY's Pegu Club is one that figures most prominent in a discussion of modern classics. Created about a decade ago, this clever yet simple combination of gin, ginger beer, lime, sugar, and mint has rightfully achieved such an exalted status among cocktailians that most of the top craft cocktail joints in the world will be able to make you one if you ask. Now that's bragging rights, to say the least.
What's really interesting is that both of the cocktails that Regan mentions are riffs on other classics, which speaks volumes about the importance of keeping it simple. The Gin Gin Mule is basically a cross between a Moscow Mule and a Gin Gin Cocktail, with the addition of mint. So maybe that's the primary lesson here, that a drink can't have a shot at staying power if the person who created it is the only one that can execute it, either because of esoteric ingredients, technical difficulty, or some combination of both.
So with that idea in mind I played around with the Gin Gin Mule and came up with the Gin Gin Sour. Now let me first state my intention is to showcase the virtues of simplicity, and not to create a potential classic cocktail. All I did was take a "long" drink (the technical term for highballs and such because you can take a longer time drinking them since there's ice in the glass to keep things cold) and make it a "short" drink (the technical term for cocktails served up, because you ought not take too long to drink them, for they've no ice to maintain the chill). The point is to illustrate how creating a delicious and refreshing cocktail doesn't always require egg whites, wine reductions, and amazonian tree bark tinctures.
Gin Gin Sour
2 oz gin (recommend G'vine Floraison here)
3/4 oz ginger syrup (recipe below)
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
Lemon or orange twist for garnish
Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: coupe or cocktail glass, pre-chilled
Combine everything except garnish in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist the lemon or orange peel over the drink to release its oils and place as garnish.
Ginger Syrup (makes about 4 cups)
2 cups chopped ginger
2 cups sugar (I like using demerara aka raw sugar)
2 cups water
Place everything in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a slow simmer and once the sugar has completely dissolved, turn off the heat and let it sit for at least a half hour, both to cool the mixture and to allow the ginger flavor to fully infuse. Strain out the ginger pieces through a cheese cloth or fine sieve into a jar or bottle. Add about an ounce of 80 proof spirit (Vodka if you don't want to alter the flavor) which will help keep it longer, and store in the fridge. Remember that like garlic, the intensity of flavor that ginger gives off depends on the size of the cut pieces--the smaller the pieces, the more flavor it gives off. So if you like more intense ginger flavor in your syrup, place it in the food processor, or for seriously intense flavor juice it or grate it and add the juice and ginger pieces to the pot. Conversely if you like a less intense flavor, slice the ginger into larger pieces.
In this cocktail you can use any type of gin you prefer, though the varying botanicals in various gins will result in subtle differences of flavor. I particularly like the G'vine Floraison in this particular cocktail because of the noticeable hint of ginger on the palate of the gin itself, which gives the cocktail a bit more depth of flavor and rounds out the sharp edge of the ginger in the syrup.
The more you try different spirits the more you'll begin to see how they work to produce different outcomes in cocktails depending on the other ingredients the spirit will be interacting with. Naturally this can mean endless tooling and tinkering, which for someone like myself is where most of the fun is. And of course sometimes we can let our creativity carry us away, but if the example of the Gin Gin Mule teaches us anything, it's the power of less quite often being more.
Keep it simple, kid.
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.