For some, the Great American Road Trip is exotic, big game, to be hunted and bested, mounted like a trophy. For us, it was the beginning, the prototype of the life we want to lead. It was something we wanted to befriend, to find the secret scratching spots behind its ears. The US is its own ecosystem, and every line on a map a different species. The vast stretches of the upper Midwest, the endless forests of the Northeast, the towns that dot the Gulf Coast; all are beasts we would love to study. Not to capture, not to claim as a spoil-of-war, but to reveal more of the tapestry of humanity. There is no upper limit on the knowledge and experience to be had, and our aim to see just how far we can stretch our own. One of my favorite parts of the trip was discovering the myriad threads that tie humanity together, whether it was the creation myths of the Pueblo nations or commiserating with the bartenders we met along the way.
One of our least favorite things about the restaurant industry, even after we’ve largely left it, is the prevalence of shoddy journalism. Beyond the dime-store food critics that thrive on creating drama without checking facts, possibly the most offensive articles, are the lists of drinks (imaginary) bartenders hate, or 10 drinks not to order, or any permutation of this lowest form of jaundiced journalism. Since the internet and various outlets can’t seem to get their shit together and offer something more than clickbait that diminishes and disrespects an entire industry, here’s a real article, from a real bartender.
Fruits and vegetables are where syrups can become a little complicated. Too much heat with some things will ruin a syrup, while too little may not give you the desired effect. The good news is that anything you can think of is up for grabs. If it grows together, it goes together is the main principle of both cuisine and cocktails.
Due in large part to the cocktail renaissance of the last few years, shrubs have come screaming into the present from an era when the United States were but a gleam in the Founders’ eyes. Shrubs are an old method of preservation, and when done properly, you can enjoy the fruits of summer’s labors in the dead of winter. They’re used in cocktails in a similar fashion to syrups. The component parts are a subject, a sweetener and vinegar. We’ll break down how to do a basic shrub and what the rules are, so that you can break them when you make your own. There’s a bit of science involved behind the scenes, and the whole process is based in fermentation, but don’t let that shake you. Making a shrub is as easy as discovering penicillin, when you get down to it.
Once you’ve mastered basic drinks, you’re ready to riff on them. Learning the rules allows you to break them. Since our options at the liquor store are scant, we’ll mostly be doing this with different infusions and different house-made syrups. We’ll take a trip to the market with the next few posts and play around in the kitchen.
Infusions are an ancient trick bartenders began using in earnest in the 1980s, and they’ve now become de riguer for cocktail programs and home cocktail enthusiasts alike. It’s an amazing and incredibly easy way to clean up some cheap alcohol (as some of the heavier oils and compounds will be absorbed by your infusion subject), or to simply elevate your favorite spirit or cocktail. I happen to love cane-based spirits, and Cristal is a solid product. It’s also well within our budget at 8 dollars a bottle.