Despite the fact that I have been to countless bars, happy hours and cocktail parties, I still find myself at a loss for words when the bartender turns to me and asks, “What can I get you?”
I tend to be a bit envious of people such as my boyfriend, who has his signature Jack and Coke combo that has been there for him throughout the years, while I stand there and rack my brain over what I should order. While a lot of people enjoy the taste of scotch, tequila or whiskey, I tend to like alcohol…that doesn’t taste like alcohol. Sweet mixed drinks that taste like candy appeal the most to me, so I always ask the bartender to make me the “girliest drink that doesn’t taste like alcohol.” I’m always met with a strange stare, followed by a look, then he names some drink that I’ve never heard of and I nod my head, deciding to try it because I’m always game to try something new…not to mention that I don’t want to keep the other ten people that are in line behind me waiting. Then the drink is served, and half the time I’m disappointed. I decided that it was time to stop being such a “bar ditz,” so I spoke to Pete Capella – the resident bartender/cocktail expert and writer for The Savory – so that he could help set me straight.
Alcohol 101: First Pete broke down some basic cocktail terms for me so that I can at least attempt to sound like I know what I’m talking about the next time I’m at a bar. On the rocks? Okay, I know what that means (on ice), but neat? And dry? Pete explained to me that neat means “served without ice.” He said, “When ordering something neat, it is usually just 2 oz. of spirit in a glass, i.e. a whiskey neat.” Got it.
And dry? “This is a tricky one,” Pete explained. “People toss around the words ‘dry’ and ‘extra dry’ and usually have no idea what they are talking about. A martini by definition is gin and dry vermouth. Saying you want it ‘dry’ means you would like very little vermouth. When someone says ‘extra dry,’ it should mean just a whisper of vermouth, but they usually want no vermouth.” (And if you want extra vermouth, then wet is what you want.)
Next we arrived at shaken vs. stirred. Thanks to my childhood love for all Sean Connery-based James Bond films, I recognized these terms, but I still needed elaboration. According to Pete, a cocktail is shaken or stirred when you dilute 1 oz. of water into the drink. Shaking “bruises” the cocktail, which dilutes it more. (Note: a drink should only be shaken if a juice, egg or cream is added.) “Those drinking gin or vodka martinis shaken are drinking it improperly, though I am a strong proponent of drinking it how you like it,” Pete added. Wait, so does this mean that Bond has been doing it wrong all along?
Drink Recommendations: “If you want a sweet drink and are at a proper cocktail bar, you should first trust your bartender,” Pete told me. Then he provided me with a few standby drinks to fall back on:
Moscow Mule – vodka, lime and ginger beer
Sbagliato – prosecco, sweet vermouth and Campari
Mojito – rum, mint, sugar and lime
St. Germain (ask your bartender about this one)
“There is no reason why you should feel left out,” Pete said, referring to my fear of asking questions at the bar. “Be honest about your knowledge of cocktails and a good bartender will help lead you down the right path. And hey, you might learn a thing or two.”