The Spirituous Cocktail: Not Only For New Yorkers


I was bartending the other night at Cantina and made a round of drinks for a group. When it came time for the second round, one of the guys said he liked the cocktail I made him, but wanted something "stronger." Now I hate it when people ask for "stronger" drinks. Bartenders put the right amount of alcohol in each drink, so don't ask for more. You wouldn't ask for more steak in a restaurant after your first serving, would you? I told him that his last drink had been strong, just balanced so it didn't taste that way.

Turns out, the guy just meant he wanted a drink that was stronger tasting or, I should say, harsher tasting. He was used to drinking straight alcohol and I guess liked that burn on his throat and heat on his tongue. So I obliged him and stirred up something with just straight spirits that would taste longer. In the biz, that's known as the "spirituous" cocktail, a style of drink—served up—that uses only spirits with perhaps liqueur or vermouth as opposed to fruit juice. Today's spirituous cocktails are seen as stylistic offshoots of some of the great classics like the martini and the manhattan. When the topic of East Coast  versus West Coast styles of drinks come up—as it often does in bartending conversations—it's largely accepted that the East Coast (meaning mostly, New York) is more into the classically modeled spirituous drinks while the west coast is more about citrus and fresh fruit. While I feel that's a gross generalization, as with many stereotypes there is some truth there.

With that in mind, I was very pleased the other day to go in for cocktails at the beautiful bar of Jardinere and find on Brian MacGregor's excellent list a number of spirituous drinks. As he stirred up a drink he invented called the Deep Sleep, he told me that he loves spirituous cocktails and believes they have as much a place in San Francisco as they do in New York. I couldn't agree more. Incidentally, the Deep Sleep was wonderful. And like any well-crafted spirituous cocktail, it didn't taste "strong" even though its only ingredients are high proof spirits.

The Deep Sleep
by Brian MacGregor, Jardiniere

1 1/2 ounces 23-year-old Ron Zacapa rum
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1/2 ounce amaro nonino
dash of Regan's orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

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