"Mixing good drinks deftly and easily is a skill that not only affords a host a fine sense of accomplishment but gives guests a great deal of pleasure. It is a skill worth having, one that enhances hospitality and can make jovial a gathering of any size." - House and Garden's Drink Guide, 1973
That nearly 40–year–old recommendation perhaps marked the end of the golden era of true cocktails. We became a society of cola and spirits; of flavored rums, tequilas and vodkas. And in that subsequent four decades, the art of the cocktail has become mostly lost amid a sea of convenience flavors.
But changes in state and federal laws have paved the way for new, small craft distilleries. This new crop of spirit makers are returning gins, whiskies and their kin to a time when purity and a product’s true flavor reigned supreme.
That movement has given rise to more and more emphasis on what are often referred to as “pre–Prohibition cocktails.”
These mixed drinks, like a Tom Collins or a Manhattan, relied on a great foundation of core spirits — which was then skillfully manipulated by a bartender wielding magical ratios of other ingredients like vermouth, cointreau, or bitters.
Fresh fruit and herbs, fresh squeezed juices and a hands–on style made cocktails glamorous, sought after and the pinnacle of social drinking.
Lindy Colburn, manager of spirits and mixology for Quality Wine & Spirits, has the enviable task of traveling Georgia to show off her company’s craft spirit brands — and help coach a new generation of bartenders through concocting these fresh and tasty, high–quality pre–Prohibition drinks.
At a recent stop–over she showed a finely made family of vermouth from Dolin, an amazing collection of whiskies from High West Distillery in Utah and the latest bottlings from blended and flavored Scotch producer Compass Box.
The vermouths, made with wines of the region and botanicals found in the Alpine meadows, deliver subtle but complex flavors. I’m anxious to try the slightly sweeter Blanc label muddled with a strawberry and a splash of soda..
High West whiskies rely on rye blends and rye only recipes (most popular among the pre–Prohibition set). One, Bourye, marries rye whiskey with Kentucky Bourbon.
The balance and complexity of this whiskey would make it a perfectly wonderful guest with which to sip the night away.
Your favorite barkeep is no doubt going to get some additional training in the months to come.
For retailers and bar owners, a movement away from the dozens of flavored vodkas should be welcome.