What are the essential skills of the good Catholic dyke? There are a lot of answers to that question. Driving a stick shift. Tying a Windsor knot. Mixing a decent cocktail.
Like many popular dyke activities and Catholicism itself, mixology is a generally male-dominated activity with its own community, traditions, controversies, and dapper style, and there is exactly no reason for today’s ladies not to be on board. I’ll tell you right now, dykes–your straight/closeted grandmother was on board. She could mix an excellent Old Fashioned, a Martini, a Manhattan, and a Gimlet for herself and her chain-smoking bridge club with one hand tied behind her back and look good doing it.
First, I recommend that you invest in a bartending book of some kind. I have my grandfather’s old copy of Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide, Revised (originally published in 1947, revised in 1972). It’s a well-regarded, traditional bartender’s guide, which means not only that it has all the classic recipes, but also that cheap used copies are easy to find. In addition to drink recipes, Trader Vic’s book includes advice, anecdotes, history, and general information on bartending and mixology. You can learn the basics from this book: the difference between bourbon and other American whiskeys, bartending etiquette, techniques, appropriate glassware, and more. Another classic mid-century style bartender’s guide is The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David A. Embury, which is known for its engaging style and witty tone.
A cocktail contains liquor and at least one other ingredient. According to Embury, it contains a base liquor, modifying agent, and special flavoring and coloring agents. So the most important thing you’ll need, of course, is liquor.
If you’re living on a budget, I wouldn’t recommend that you go out and spend a lot on a wide array of liquors. I would recommend you start by considering what drinks you like or would like to try, and shop accordingly. I prefer traditional bourbon or gin-based cocktails, so I tend to keep a bottle of either or both stocked in my kitchen.
Usually, I keep bourbon in the house. Bourbon is a distinctive American liquor that came out of Kentucky originally; to this day, most bourbons are still distilled in the bluegrass state. You can expect future posts dedicated to bourbon and bourbon brands. For now, I’ll just let you know that traditional bourbon-based cocktails include: the Old Fashioned (believed to be the original mixed drink), Manhattan, Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour, and Bourbon and Coke–all bona fide old man favorites.
I also like gin. Not everyone does. Moreover, some people are, I’m told, allergic to the juniper berries from which gin is made and will feel horribly hungover from one or two gin-based drinks. If you haven’t tried gin before, I would try it at a bar before investing in a bottle of it. Classic gin-based cocktails include: the Martini, Gin and Tonic, Gibson, Tom Collins, and Gimlet.
There are, of course, cocktails made with tequila, vodka, rum, and other liquors, but bourbon and gin feature most prominently in the basic drinks.
A cocktail tends to include some modifying agent, which smoothes and enhances the flavor of the base liquor. For many cocktails, including Manhattans and Martinis, vermouth is a popular modifying agent. Bitters, sugar, eggs, cream, and fruit juices are also used. I would recommend keeping a bottle of vermouth and a bottle of Angostura bitters handy.
Special Flavoring/Coloring Agents
These can include liqueurs like Cointreau or Triple Sec, cordials, or syrups, like Grenadine. You’ll need these for the Margarita, Tequila Sunrise, and Sidecar, for example.
Don’t be intimidated by the paraphernalia. For many drinks, all you really need is a glass to pour it in and a spoon to stir it with. When you’re first starting out, don’t worry too much about getting all the toys.
But if you want to get some basic supplies, I would suggest you start with a jigger and a cocktail shaker.
A jigger is used for measurement and usually made from stainless steel. It’s shaped like you glued the base of a 1.5 oz shot glass to the base of a smaller 1 oz or 0.75 oz shot glass, and that’s pretty much what it is. If you don’t have a jigger and can’t get one, then just know that when a recipe calls for a jigger of liquor, it means an ounce and a half.
A cocktail shaker, also traditionally stainless steel, looks sort of like a tall, thin metal urn (yes, it’s creepy, but you’re a good Catholic dyke–drinking and dead bodies are already coupled in your psyche) and is used for shaking drinks to get them really, really cold. Not all drinks should be shaken (for example, you are not to shake a Martini–I don’t care what James Bond says–it just waters it down and bruises the juniper fruit). The most common type of shaker, and the type I would recommend, is the Cobbler shaker. It includes a cap and a strainer, so you won’t have to find another strainer to use when you pour your cocktail from the shaker into your glass. I also recommend that you invest in a decent shaker if you’re going to buy one. I picked up a small shaker for about $10, and it was a piece of crap. Temperature changes made it swell or shrink or something after I used it about twice, to the point that I can no longer open the damn thing. And by its very nature, its temperature changes–I mean, that’s the whole point of the shaker. So don’t be as cheap as I was. Get a good one.
Well, dykes, that’s my first overview of mixing cocktails. It’s pretty general, but there’s more to come.