My wife Jen and I have been getting into cocktails lately, and it has been glorious. First, because cocktail-making has all the trappings of a great hobby–lots of paraphernalia to sink money into, techniques to learn, countless articles telling you the real right way to do a thing. But cocktail-making is a great hobby also because even if I screw up a cocktail, it’s still booze! So there’s no way it’s not going to be enjoyable. And as a bonus for me, Japanese people are super into it enough to write a meticulous and highly technical book about it. The best part of taking an interest in cocktails is that my wife’s and my routine of dinner wine, post-dinner brandy and cigars, post-brandy-and-cigars cognac, and pre-bed schnapps was feeling a little incomplete.
After acquiring our new hobby, I even considered taking up bartending before realizing that I had no experience in the service industry and looking at the average income of a beginner bartender. (The average income of a beginner Bart Ender–that is, a hired assassin specializing in people named “Bart”–was much higher, so I may look into that for a future hobby.) So I had to be content with being a home bartender, even though the tips are terrible. I’ve learned quite a bit, though, and it’s filled the post-college “I need to continue learning stuff in order to feel like a well-rounded person and ‘This American Life’ only comes out once a week” gap. For instance, I now know that in cooking, you can substitute vermouth for cooking wine, but in cocktails, you can’t do the reverse.
The other bonus of getting into cocktails is that I now have the confidence to sort of talk to bartenders about drinks. It’s kind of like when I first discovered while growing up that it turns out you can actually talk to adults and have a conversation with them, that they aren’t going to just tell you to clean your room or go find something to watch on TV. Bartenders actually like to talk with you about how they make different cocktails. I asked a bartender what kind of vermouth he used in a gin martini because it was so delightful, and he poured me two different kinds of vermouth and explained the differences and what kinds of drinks each was best with. I felt like some kind of international vermouth celebrity. And when you google “international vermouth celebrity,” this is the image that comes up:
Yup. I felt like that guy. Another time, I asked a bartender what kind of cherries she used in a Manhattan because they looked and tasted way better than the lame maraschino cherries you can buy at *insert store where normal people buy cherries*, and she gave me and my wife an entire bowl of them to eat! Which was actually way more than we wanted, but that didn’t make it less awesome.
So I guess at this point, I have become bartender? Because if there’s a diploma from bartending school, I think free vermouth and cherries is what it looks like.