The bar I’m managing at Castle Street Café has been shaping up, but work continues as we approach a short shutdown for some physical renovations to the bar and room and kitchen as we get ready for the new identity for the restaurant. One of the new bar’s distinctions will be a focus on American Whiskey, with what we hope will be the largest selection around these here parts. The other focus is on classic cocktails, both those well known by any bar hound and those undeservedly forgotten by most others.
So, a possible tagline to describe the new bar: “Crafted Classic Cocktails.”
Crafted, because a cocktail should be well-made, consistent, use great ingredients, and overall, it is attentiveness that is the final special component. Crafted, because the recipe isn’t just plucked out of a book, but tried, adjusted, and shaped with respect for the cocktail’s origins, but also shaped to reflect contemporary tastes. There are lots of new “old” ingredients back in the marketplace—Crème de Violette may be my favorite example—but sometimes it is best to make one’s own ingredients, such as the cacao bitters I’m still infusing until enough time passes for me to strain, filter, and bottle for the bar. Another example: grenadine, as seen in the ubiquitous Rose’s that is little more than corn syrup, dye, and some sorts of flavors out of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. The old recipes for grenadine are out there, and we find it well worth our while to take the time to make our own grenadine from actual pomegranate juice, among other ingredients.
Classic, because there are decades upon decades of effort and attention that has built a wealth of cocktails, and I, for one, can’t see any good reason to throw out this accumulated wisdom, and especially not so as to name a new cocktail or fall victim to the whims and fashions that so often appear ludicrous if one steps back just a bit. Not that I have a problem with someone making a basil-mango shrub for a drink, but I do have a problem if someone is trying this sort of thing without bothering to learn the basic structures of traditional cocktails, since such a lack of knowledge makes for a high likelihood of haplessness.
By the way, my sense of classic isn’t inflexible, and I certainly pay attention to and often serve what is often called “contemporary classics,” of which there are, I’m glad to report, a healthy number. Still, when you look over the vast majority of the successful contemporary cocktails, what you’ll most often see is that the recipe is built on older successful cocktails that provide guidance on basic structure and balance to offer a leaping off point for inspiration or to use of new ingredients. New ingredients such as the aforementioned cacao bitters, which, I had the pleasure of finding out, can be quite a nice addition to Manhattans, providing a nice base note and a bit of earthiness. Depends on the bitters, though: the one I wanted to buy is out of stock, and other cacao bitter choices tend to add coffee or chili to the mix, which is not what I wanted, and that is why we’re making our own.
Cocktails, because, well… that’s obvious, isn’t it?