Anytime I take it into my head that I’m going to come up with a brand new cocktail recipe, I spend way too much time thinking about it. Sometimes, I might start with an already-extant, tried and true cocktail recipe, strategically tweaking it with subtle substitutions (e.g. cinnamon syrup instead of simple syrup, apple bitters instead of aromatic, etc.) to create a more novel palate. This technique is usually undertaken in a spirit of playful experimentation–the “low hanging fruit” of mixology that allows me to create something interesting and unusual, but with relatively little effort.
Other times, I’m on more of a mission. I might also experiment with subbing in other ingredients with similar but distinct qualities for a different experience of the same drink (e.g. making a “Vieux Carré” with Cynar as opposed to Bénédictine)–a process which, though similar to just subbing in different-flavored bitters, generates a drink with substantially different character than the original. I may even embark with a very distinct vision in mind: herbal-exotic-spicy, or milky-sweet-warming, or sharp-tart-bitter. I may have an actual person in mind when I begin. That person may or may not be a character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (more on this later).
Regardless of the specifics, the process almost inevitably degenerates into a tormented voyage through endless permutations, obsessing over the result and imagining other possibilities: How well do these ingredients play together? Am I getting closer to pulling off my concept? Does this drink have a distinctive, substantial quality? What ingredients might work better?
But every so often, when the mood is just right, my brain just pushes something out there, mewing and sticky (very, very sticky), into the world. Such an event occurred several months ago, when the British comedy Mitchell and Webb appeared in my Netflix recommendation list and became part of my late-summer comedy rotation. For those of you who haven’t experienced this excellent show, I recommend that you have a look. On first pass, it doesn’t stand out too much–a smutty, slightly schizophrenic British skit comedy with lots of kooky characters, all of which are essentially created in order to showcase the talent of the headliners and their supporting cast. But unlike shows like Little Britain or (ugh) Snuff Box, it manages to harness strangeness and trashiness without going WAY overboard AND still manages to be actually funny.
But I digress. One evening as I anxiously watched the little Netflix bar turn grey as it loaded the next episode, I decided to just “make something”. I proceeded to the kitchen. The first three things I saw were: Campari (an omnipresent substance in my kitchen from about June – October of any year), Gin (an omnipresent substance in my kitchen from about September – October of any year), orange juice and ginger beer. Not wanting to miss the startling conclusion of “Sir Digby Chicken Caesar“, I had to work quickly: into the rocks glass went ice, about 2 fingers gin, 2 fingers Campari, 2 fingers orange juice, top with ginger beer–DONE (back in time for the chase scene)!
Fortunately for me, the resulting beverage was just perfect for the time and place. VERY sweet, with a lovely pinky orange glow–but with just a little bitterness and bite thanks to the Campari and Ginger Beer. All that was left to do was set that puppy down and document the magic (by the way that picture was not staged)!
So regardless of what’s on your telly, if you’re ever in the mood to drink something that I think tastes (and looks) like a bitter Orange Sherbet, then put that jigger away, get out the OJ and gin and “clink, glug, glug” your way to glory.
The Bitter Sherbet
2 fingers Gin
2 fingers Campari
2 fingers Orange Juice
Ginger Beer (I love the super-spicy Goya brand)
In a rocks glass filled with ice, combine the Gin, Campari, and OJ. Stir briefly to mix, and then top with Ginger Beer.