What Defines a Cocktail?

For some reason (probably because I’m a dork), a few months ago I started worrying about what defined a cocktail: the proportions or the ingredients? If you read DIY Cocktails (which is a great book, by the way), they define cocktails by the proportions: two parts strong to one part aromatic (makes manhattans), three parts strong to two parts sweet and one part sour (makes margaritas), and so on.

But a lot of cocktails have different proportions according to different people, yet are still defined as those cocktails. For example, one of my favorite cocktails is the sidecar. I make it with two parts strong, one part sour, and one part sweet; but I’ve come across recipes where it’s proportioned more like a margarita, recipes where the sweet and the strong are equal and there’s very little lemon juice, and everything in between. A sidecar is defined by its ingredients: brandy, triple-sec, and lemon juice. How you mix them is up to you, but you’re still mixing a sidecar. The same is true with nearly any other cocktail you can think of: a cosmo has to have cranberry juice and vodka; a martini can gin or vodka and vermouth.

So, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ingredients “make” the cocktail—or at least define it—not the proportions. Because of this, I think coming up with original cocktails is actually *really* difficult, maybe more so than coming up with original food recipes. If you want to invent a new cocktail, you have to basically use a new ingredient (this is why so many “modern” cocktails use obscure ingredients, which drives me crazy fyi) or combine classic ingredients in a way no one’s tried before (good luck with that).

What do you think defines a cocktail, the ingredients or the proportions?

Drinking Hours

It’s well-known that writers generally like to have a drink or two or five, as the premise of this blog testifies. But what happens when one spends more time drinking than writing?

Brendan Behan once said, “I’m a drinker with writing problems,” and when you’re your own boss and make your own hours, keeping business and pleasure separate can certainly be a problem. In his book, The Blogger Abides, Christopher Higgins talks about when he first started freelance writing. Every day he’d go to the pub to write children’s novels and have a pint. Then he’d have another pint and write some more. And then another pint. Point is, he wrote a whole series of children’s novels drunk (and hopefully edited sober) before he realized the need for “drinking hours,” which he recommends to every freelance writer.

I usually never drink before dinner, and we usually have dinner around 8 pm. I just can’t face drinking on an empty stomach; and besides that, I have things to do. I’m uncoordinated enough without adding alcohol to the mix.

Out of curiosity, do you keep “drinking hours”?

20 Photos of Authors Partying

LOVE this. I actually collect pictures of my family members drunk (don’t tell them), so this is right in my wheel house. I think the two best are of Ernest Hemingway. Which are your favorites?

A Well-Stocked Bar

Whenever you pick up a cocktail recipe book, they usually have a list of things you should have stocked in your bar. If you’re anything like me, you probably skip this section, because they list every single alcohol known to human kind, and who’s really going to have that much stuff on hand? Not me. However, I do have what I consider a well stocked bar.

This is based on what I like to drink on a regular basis. My favorite cocktails, in order, are:

  • sidecars
  • Manhattans
  • martinis (gin)
  • hot toddies
  • margaritas

I have a martini on Saturdays and a Manhattan on Sundays. I don’t know why, it’s just a thing. Anyway, in order to be able to have my favorite drinks when I want them, I need these ingredients on hand:

  • Vermouth (sweet and dry)
  • Triple-sec
  • Whiskey
  • Gin
  • Brandy
  • Tequila
  • Lemons and limes
  • Honey

There’s my well-stocked bar! Any other items, as far as I’m concerned, are just a bonus and for experimenting with different cocktails.

What does your well-stocked bar look like?

The Best Liquor with Eggnog

This post isn’t exactly timely, but hey, you can still drink eggnog, right? Over the holidays I conducted a Highly Scientific Experiment with four different types of liquor and how they paired with store-bought eggnog. The liquors were: brandy, rum, whiskey, and bourbon (I did not try tequila and gin. Gross. If you’ve tried them, though, feel free to share).

The proportions I used for my Highly Scientific Experiment were 2 oz liquor to 6 oz store-bought eggnog (you can make your own eggnog, but I already had the store-bought stuff on hand). I sampled my test examples over the period of several weeks.

I didn’t expect a huge difference in results, but it turned out there was very definite winner to my Highly Scientific Experiment: rum (Bacardi light to be specific). I expected I would prefer brandy, since I love brandy, and that’s usually the liquor I add to eggnog anyway; but the rum was literally perfect with the eggnogg, lightening the flavor of the drink with no unpleasant bite or aftertaste. The runner-up was bourbon, which had a good flavor but made the eggnog look like it was curdling. So that was unappetizing.

The two losers—whiskey and brandy—just tasted slightly off in the eggnog, especially the whiskey (and I used a very light, blended whiskey, too). Perhaps if I’d added less liquor in proportion to the eggnog with these liquors, I would have had a better-tasting drink.

So there you have it! What’s your favorite thing to add to eggnog (besides nutmeg of course)?