Friday, 5 August 2011

Smirk Drinks: 5 Less than Impressive Cocktails

Whichever side of the bar you're on, dignity and mutual respect are indispensable. A good bartender should never make a customer feel embarrassed by their drink order (and correspondingly a customer should not treat a bartender like their personal booze jockey). Cocktail quality and innovation are important, but for some people, a drink is just a fucking drink and that's okay. That said, there are certain cocktails so dismal, so irrevocably associated with high-end douchebaggery that even the most welcoming barkeep can only half-suppress a smirk as he makes them. We are, after all, only human. However, even these should be made well and with a smile, even if it's one with a hint of irony. These are the five worst offenders, alongside a recipe to make them in the best way possible and an alternative drink with similar flavours but which are less, erm, wrist-cuttingly abhorrent.

1) Apple Martini
One of the most popular and depressing orders in existence - the favourite of those attempting to adopt an air of chic sophistication. In fact,  As for the drink itself, the great flaw is the nigh impossibility to transfer fresh apple flavour to a cocktail. I once witnessed a bartender attempting to muddle a chopped apple to extremely little effect but the Appletini is predominately flavoured with liqueurs, which are generally pretty poor. A good rule is to stick away from any product with a name including the word "sour". There are a few decent liqueurs on the market, including Giffard and the ever-dependable Briottet, but even then the Appletini still has the problem of being a one note drink: effectively fortified apple liqueur. I've seen and sampled about a million appletini recipes, and they all taste like tangy apple syrup, of lesser or greater quality. A better choice would be either the Fuego Manzana, a tequila sour with chilli and apple, or more simply the Tatanka. The latter, a simple drink favoured in Poland, pairs apple juice and Zubrowka, a bison grass flavoured vodka, to great effect. Zubrowka sits uneasily in the vodka category, possessing a discernible and enjoyable taste. Ostensibly just a vodka and apple, the Tatanka succeeds on the basis of the unique flavour of Zubrowka, a mixture of woodruff, coconut and herbal almond, which works beautifully with apple.

Apple Martini

1.5 shots vodka
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot gomme syrup
1/2 shot briottet apple liqueur
3/4 shot pressed apple juice

Shake and strain, garnish with apple wedge (unsurprisingly)


2 shots zubrowka
2.5 shots pressed apple juice
1/4 shot lemon juice (optional)
1/4 shot ginger juice (optional)

Shake and strain over rocks.

2) Pornstar Martini
A cousin to the Appletini, the Pornstar is actually quite a fun concept for 5 seconds: a shot of champagne, followed by a passionfruit vodka sour and half of a fresh fruit. Then you drink one. The Pornstar Martini, based on passionfruit liqueur and vanilla vodka, encapsulates all of the tedious excess of eighties drinks repackaged in a martini glass and minus the inherent, endearing frivolity. Whereas a Sex on the Beach, sugary and bland though it is, at least conveyed a sense of "what the hell" fun, the Pornstar swaps this giddy kitsch for a kind of joyless, smutty bling, tinged with faux-sophistication. When a flash idiot with a fake tan states that they, "love cocktails", this is what they're talking about. In its place, I suggest the Hurricane, a sweet Tiki style drink from New Orleans, which also contains vanilla and passionfruit but happily won't corrode your soul.

Pornstar Martini

2 shots vanilla vodka (Stoli Vanilla)
1/2 shot vanilla syrup
1/4 shot passionfruit syrup
1/2 shot lime juice
The flesh of one passionfruit/ 1 shot passionfruit puree

Shake first 5 ingredients with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Float a half passionfruit and serve with a shot of champagne.


1 shot white rum (Havana Club)
1 shot dark rum (Gosling's)
3/4 shot lime juice
1/2 shot galliano
1/2 passionfruit syrup
1 shot orange juice
2 shots pineapple juice
2 dash angostura bitters

Shake and strain over rocks in a hurricane glass. Garnish with orange, cherry and pineapple, plus an inside out cocktail umbrella (clever, no?)

3) Dirty Vodka Martini
The only cocktail on the list, which actually has some sort of relation to the original Martini and yet (perhaps because of this) it besmirches its honourable relation more than any other. Although I'm willing to abide the existence of a regular Vodka Martini (though I wouldn't necessarily bother drinking one), this brine-laced abomination is unjustifiable. Even more so than the drinks above, this cocktail marks out a pretence to style.Especially when ordered "extra dry". Vodka and olive brine: it defies explanation. In fact, there is no way to make this drink decently, even by its own standards. No recipes here.

4) Sex on the beach
As aforementioned, the Sex on the beach is too preposterous to truly resent as much as its sleeker, smugger descendants. The internal reaction to an order nowadays is more one of incredulity than disdain. Nonetheless it's very much the original embarrassing cocktail, so it certainly earns its inclusion. In its place, I recommend the Delicious Sour, one of the first award-winning cocktails from the nineteenth century. It's fruity, it's refreshing and it's even got peach liqueur.

Sex on the beach

2 shots vodka
1 shot creme de peche de vigne
1.5 shots cranberry juice
1.5 shots fresh orange juice
1/2 shot lime juice

Shake and strain over rocks in a highball. Garnish with orange wheel and pineapple wedge... and cherry and umbrella...  and lime and...

The Delicious Sour

2 shots calvados or Laird's Bonded Applejack
1 shots creme de peche de vigne
1 egg white
1/2 shot lime juice
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/4 shot sugar syrup (2:1)

Dry shake to froth up the egg white and then shake again with ice. Strain over rocks in a highball, add a dash of soda and garnish with mint and a cherry.

5) Tequila, Salt, Lime
Ok, technically not a cocktail, but it's certainly an aberration at the bar and, considering the inevitable ceremony that goes on (one drinker gamely refuses tequila for about 4 seconds, another revving everyone up like they're about to leap out of a jet into a warzone), perhaps the most annoying. There's nothing wrong with the odd round of shots; there's nothing really too wrong with twelve rounds of shots, but the ludicrous performance of licked hands and the wincing bite into a lime wedge is truly unconscionable. It's a bizarre tradition, book-ending an implicitly devil-may-care, swaggering action with techniques designed to minimise the experience of the alcohol as utterly as possible. They don't do it in Mexico, y'know. The usual justification for the whole fiasco is that it's a necessity to get bad tequila down. Here's an idea: stop drinking bad tequila. Mixto tequila (any tequila without the 100% agave certification) can legally contain e as little as 51% agave distillate - the remainder generally being filled out by cheaper alcohols. That's largely why tequila has a reputation for inducing hangovers. A decent 100% blanco tequila can be shot without salt and lime. You could even try sipping it.

Tequila Shot

Shot glasses
100% agave tequila (El Jimador Blanco is my choice here, it's reasonably priced, tasty but not so complex as to be wasted in a shot)

Pour. Drink. And, just to prove that tequila has a life beyond shots and margaritas, follow it with this slow sipper.

Tequila Old Fashioned

2.5 shots Ocho Reposado
1/2 shot agave syrup
2 dash xocolatl mole bitters
1 dash Angostura Orange butters

Stir slowly over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a lime twist.


Possibly the one surprising absence from my list would be the much-derided Cosmopolitan. Although it may be over-ordered and often badly made, it's certainly not a terrible cocktail. In truth, it's quite a neat drink - pleasantly citrussy and sharp, with plenty of complex orange notes from the Cointreau and flamed garnish. So here's the Cosmopolitan restored.

1.5 shots Absolut Citron
3/4 shot Cointreau
1/2 shot lime juice
3/4 shot cranberry juice

Shake and strain into a coupette. Garnish with flamed orange zest. It's really quite good.

PS Stop ordering Lychee Martinis too

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