CVIndependent

Sun09152019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Cocktails

16 Aug 2019
by  - 

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Yes, there are things best left to professionals, like distilling grappa, dentistry and putting in a new electrical subpanel. However, when I think about all the years I was forced to use mixers that came in shiny bags or bottles—full of food additives and powdered egg whites and dyes—I cringe.

Also, I get it: For many people who give up bartending to become management, a goodly chunk of their pay is incentive bonuses. They have to make the ownership money. Luckily, in 2019, we have a fair share of beverage directors who stake their reputations on quality and owners who have come around to the idea of having such a bar manager. We certainly have several here in the Coachella Valley—but this isn’t about them, not this month.

Back to doing it yourself: Why is anyone buying simple syrup? I walk through the aisles of supermarkets and liquor stores and see bottles of simple syrup for almost $10 a bottle. It’s called “simple” for a reason, people! It costs 50 cents to make. Grab your food scale; weigh a pound (or half-kilogram) of sugar; put it in a tightly sealed container with an equal weight of ice-cold water. Now shake it like it insulted your momma. It will be cloudy, but the cloudiness will dissipate in time. Don’t have a food scale? No problem; just use equal parts by volume … only a total nerd would object. I like the cold-shake method over the heat method, because there is no evaporation: You get exactly what you put in. It does stay cloudy for some time, so don’t make it right when you’re going to need it.

Most bartenders make simple using the hot method: Use the same recipe; put it over a flame and stir, or add super-hot water to the sugar—carefully—and stir until dissolved.

OK … now that you have these methods down pat, why not take your syrup game to the next level?

The easiest way to wow your friends may be an Earl Grey-tea syrup. This has become such a standard in the industry that when I was in a recent drink competition, I used one for my entry … as did three other bartenders. (It wasn’t a great way to stand out, but we are bar geeks. Maybe next time I will use oolong.) Unless you’re in a competition, don’t worry; most people have never tasted the lovely flavor of tea and bergamot in a cocktail. Simply make a strong tea; pour it into the same amount of sugar, and stir. When it’s fully cooled, use it in an old fashioned with gin and a twist of lemon. This is a great alternative old fashioned for the hot weather we still have in the Coachella Valley, as it’s more refreshing than its whiskey cousin:

2 ounces of Plymouth gin (or other light bodied gin)

½ ounce of Earl Grey syrup

2 dashes of orange bitters

Stir over some ice cubes; serve with a twist of lemon.

Make a bee’s knees or gold rush with it, and your friends will be talking about for months. In fact, you can make it the way I did for the contest—as honey syrup—and tell me if I was robbed: Just use extra, extra strong tea, and stir into double the amount of honey. I added some lemon zest and lemongrass as well; it didn’t come through in the finished product enough to make it “mandatory,” but if you have it lying around, feel free. I used egg white, which isn’t the standard recipe but mighty delicious. Feel free to omit it if you don’t like good things … but otherwise:

Drop an egg white into a shaker

2 ounces of dry (or barrel-aged for extra credit) gin for the bee’s knees, or 2 ounces of bourbon for the gold rush

3/4 to 1 ounce of honey syrup

1 ounce of fresh lemon juice

Shake without ice for five to 10 seconds. Add ice, and shake another 10 seconds or until the shaker is nicely frosted. Strain through a fine strainer into a Nick and Nora or coupe glass, and grate a shortbread (or other tea-time-appropriate cookie) over the top with a microplane into a thick line. It’s a little extra, but it will make your guests say, “Oh, I have never seen that before”—and that’s the point, right?

Not a big fan of tea? No problem: If you have some rosemary, or lavender, or thyme, or any other shrubby herb, you can use that to make a great syrup, too! Just take your sugar and water to a simmer; add herbs; turn off the heat; and let it cool. Be sure to remove the herbs when you get the flavor level that you’re looking for, by the way; it can get too strong quickly. Oh, and if it does get too strong, don’t throw it out; just add some plain simple syrup to tame it. Once it’s cooled, you can make a refreshing non-alcoholic lemonade out of it:

2 ounces of herbed simple

2 ounces of fresh lemon juice

3 ounces of water

Shake with ice and dump into a tall glass. Of course, feel free to add vodka or gin if you could use a tipple.

One last twist on syrups: You can make what’s known as an oleo saccharum out of pretty much any citrus peel. Just peel the zest off of the fruit; cover it with sugar; and shake in a mason jar. Then give it the occasional shake until it’s a syrup. I will go into this more when I do an article on punches, but for now, here’s a little tip: You can use hot chilis with the same technique! I use a mix of serrano and Fresno chilis, and slice into fine rings. Ditch most of the seeds, but keep the membranes, and cover with lots of sugar. Shake in the jar … and I like to leave the sealed jar in the hot desert sun. This speeds the process along and adds some more ripeness and fruitiness to the finished syrup—but don’t leave it out there too long. Use a couple of teaspoons of this syrup, after straining, with an ounce of lime juice and two of tequila, and shake over ice next time you’re craving a spicy margarita. No, it’s not a margarita; it’s more of a gimlet. No need to tell anyone, though. Feel free to add some mezcal if you have trendy friends coming.

Oh, and you get candied chili peppers, too! Not only are they delicious; they make a great garnish. Drop a couple in the glass, or if you’re barbecuing chicken or pork, make an hors d'oeuvre with a chunk of meat and a candied chili ring on a toothpick. Talk about a pairing!

However you ride out the rest of the summer, now you can make it a little sweeter.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

18 Jul 2019
by  - 

I’ll be honest: I’m not feeling very inspired this month.

My list of favorite cocktail places in the Coachella Valley hasn’t changed much this year. With the exception of the Del Rey (sorry for not covering you yet—it’s coming), it’s pretty much still the same seven or eight places. While there is no shortage of earnest people trying, I would like to be able to get a proper negroni or daiquiri before I can get something with beet juice and cachaça. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk, people.

We’re also in the middle of a ton of retrogrades and astrological horrors … and while I am not using that as an excuse, I think many of you can relate. So this month, you’re getting a thought piece on what it means to be a bartender—specifically, a bartender in the Coachella Valley.

I realized two insane truths recently: 1) Some guy named “Joe Pizzulo” sang “Never Gonna Let You Go” when I was certain it was James Ingram. 2) I can host an event, and people will show up. Seeing a crowd actually turn out for something as weird my “Tarot Workshop” at the fabulous Dead or Alive bar in Palm Springs was great … and exhausting.

This got me thinking about bartending, and the role of the bar and the bartender. I had a bar in front of me at Dead or Alive—as I always do at work. Could I have addressed a crowd without a bar in front of me?

What is the bar? Is it a stage? Is it a barrier? What is a bartender? What am I to you? When you look at me at the grocery store, like, “How do I know that guy?” it’s a little freaky. You don’t recognize me? Honestly, I talk to you three days a week for hours at a time. It must be like when I used to see a teacher out in public. She buys milk, too?!

The bar is like a sacred space, with the bartender as the shaman or priest. When one attends religious services, one (hopefully) leaves worldly problems at the door while walking into a sacred space. One does the same at a bar. The bar is a place of freedom and camaraderie, with the bartender being something like a friend—but a little removed, like a priest, or an actor, or something like that. I suppose this is why I wave at you, and you think, “How do I know that guy?”

It can be a lonely life, but luckily, we have other bartenders. Bartenders mostly hang out with bartenders, or other service-industry folk—maybe chefs here and there, or the server or host we’re dating … anyone who “gets it.” Is it any wonder that so few of us can make it long in this business … and if we do make it for a while, we never leave? It’s both a support system and a vicious circle. We spend a lot of time absorbing energy from everyone who walks in the door, and the rest of our time drinking over-proof rum and burdening other bartenders. We’re mostly introverted, and the question is: Were we introverted before we started? In my case, I can say “probably” … I was definitely the fat, nerdy kid, but I have always had a big mouth.

Of course, being a bartender in the Coachella Valley can be a little … different. Why does nearly every new-to-town entrepreneur seem to think you can bring in a consultant from San Francisco, an architect from Los Angeles and a manager from Brooklyn (who are all going to leave within six months) and succeed? Why not see what the local talent pool has to offer? There are many talented locals who would jump at the chance to take on a project. You want the good local people to work for you? Well, we take care of each other around here. No disrespect to the consultants—a lot of you are friends—but not everything that is a hit in the Meatpacking District will be a hit here.

The Coachella Valley could also use a more-robust nightlife scene. The number of questions I get every weekend in the range of, “So, what is, like … fun to do around here?” is in the dozens. Perhaps the tendency to drink by the pool all day or have bottomless mimosas is the real problem. That’s a pretty wicked combination. The fact that people occasionally bristle when I suggest a “gay bar” on a weekday (even if it’s a welcoming little spot like Retro Room—come on, people!) doesn’t help.

But there is hope. We have a new music venue, The Alibi, bringing cool and exciting acts to town (which you can read more about here), and an arcade and nostalgia bar called Glitch just getting rolling. (They’re both working on their cocktail programs as of writing, this so forgive my not talking about their drinks.) I am also aware there are new venues slated to open all over the place in the fall and winter … and that’s just in Palm Springs proper! In fact, the number of events and things to do has never been greater. FOMO is a real thing these days, and I hope to contribute to that in a small way.

So … get out there, people! If you’re a young bartender, it’s time to shine. Make your mark! The Coachella Valley needs you to step up—and I am just an email away if you’re in over your head.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

18 Jun 2019
by  - 

Hot, isn’t it? Well, don’t fret; I am here to help. This month, I thought I would give you some basic tips and tricks to beat the heat—cocktail-wise, at least.

The most common question I ask guests at the bar is: “Shaken and citrusy, or stirred and boozy?” Why? Well, most people generally think of drinks as sweet or not sweet, which is understandable, based on the checkered history of cocktails in the last 70 years, but not really helpful when it comes to getting you into a cocktail you’ll love. If you went into a restaurant and told the server, “Nothing too salty,” without explaining you have hypertension or something, the server may think, “OK, these people think our chef isn’t good.” If you say to me, “Nothing too sweet,” I get it, but I also can’t help thinking that you think I suck at making drinks. My attitude on my better days is, to paraphrase one famous wine-maker, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But I digress. Most of the guys (and some ladies) will answer, “Well, I want it boozy!” Of course you do, but you clearly didn’t grok what I meant. Most people, when it’s 105, actually want a citrusy and shaken cocktail—and don’t worry; it will be plenty boozy. That being said, a stirred drink can be wonderful on a hot day if prepared correctly. Let’s take the classic gin martini, for example. For the coldest and best martini, you need ice. That sounds trite, but most home bartenders (and some “pros”) don’t use enough ice when stirring a martini. Fill that baby up—like two-thirds of the stirring glass. Invest in something nice, or order a graduated Pyrex pitcher from your favorite internet monopoly; they look nerdy, and they’re cheap to boot.

Also, never make two martinis in the same pitcher; and have different ice on hand for different drinks. Here comes the science, people.

Ice, depending on how it’s cut, has different properties when used in cocktails. If you make a martini with crushed ice, due to the increased surface area of the ice, you’ll get a watered-down mess. Make a martini with one cube, and you’ll need to stir forever to achieve a properly chilled and diluted drink. What you want are evenly sized cubes, like from a classic ice tray, or in a pinch, the bags of ice from a convenience store. (If you’re looking for extra credit, get a block, and hammer it into 1- to 2-inch cubes.) Fill the glass past half after adding the desired ingredients, and use your senses to know when the drink is ready. A good guide is trusting your stir: When the ice and liquids start settling into their comfortable free states, the drink is ready. It’s as cold as it’s going to be.

Practicing your stir not only makes you look cool, but also helps you make a better drink. When your pitcher gets cold on the outside, and the stir becomes silky-smooth, you’re done. If you do want to use the fancy big cubes, stir your cocktail over smaller ice first to get it colder than a text breakup, and then strain over the big cube. Keep your stemware in the freezer while you prepare your martini as well; it looks great and helps the chill. Some people who come into the bar tell me they keep their gin in the freezer for martinis, which is fine if you want to just drink cold, undiluted gin—but that ain’t no martini, sir. Water is an ingredient. A good compromise is one I read in Japanese bar-hero Kazuo Uyeda’s book: Keep it in the fridge instead. That way, you still get some dilution, but a stiffer and colder drink. The vermouth should always be in the fridge, and you should be using it. These days, when it comes to gin or whiskey, “Skipping the vermouth is uncouth”—copyright me.

Oh, about those vodka martinis: Skip the vermouth; add olive brine; no judgement. If you stir, you’ll get a silkier drink; if you shake, you’ll get a colder, but more-watery finished product. It’s a matter of preference, and the fridge trick still applies.

Now, for the citrusy stuff. The first thing you’re going to need is what I call “basic sour.” Feel free to experiment a bit here. Start with a cup of fresh lemon or lime juice, and a cup of 1:1 simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water by volume or weight), depending on the desired drink. Let’s use lime, and say it’s a daiquiri. Using 2 ounces of rum, add an ounce of lime to the shaker and a half-ounce of the simple. Shake it really well, until the shaker frosts up, and pour. It might taste too tart, so make one with 3/4 of an ounce of simple. Try it with an ounce of simple as well, for comparison; I have seen recipes using that spec, mostly from liquor brands for some reason, but it’s a little sweet for my tastes. Play around with fine sugar, too! We use simple at bars for convenience, but a powdered sugar (not the kind you’d use for frosting with the corn starch, but the super-fine stuff) daiquiri is divine.

Once you have your proportions, you have a tool in your tool-set. Want a Collins? Use gin and lemon with your fancy new techniques, and put it in a tall glass with soda water. How about a mojito? Just add mint to the daiquiri recipe; give it a light shake with crushed ice (for Pete’s sake, don’t abuse the mint too much), and add soda in a tall glass. The list is nearly endless. Margaritas are an important exception: They use a “daisy” template, which is (and, again, play around with it) two parts spirit, one part orange liqueur of your preference, one part fresh lime, and a little sugar or simple. Find your preferred proportions, and have the best margarita on the block—but if you add orange juice, I’ll disown you.

About crushed ice … did you know you can get it at Sonic? Well, you can. Just don’t use it for everything. I know, it’s super fun, and everyone goes nuts when they see it, but it’s not fit for a gin-and-tonic or other highball-style drinks where the carbonation matters. That includes the Collins, but the mojito loves crushed ice. So do tiki drinks in general (and when I finally do a real tiki column, we’ll get into that).

I’ll finish with a shameless plug: I have uploaded videos on my Cryptic Cocktails blog showing you how to make a perfectly cold and balanced martini, as well as daiquiri, featuring two of the best bartenders in Palm Springs, as a companion piece to this column. There is also some stuff on there you might like that doesn’t fit the parameters of On Cocktails; do check it out if you can’t get enough cocktail nerdery!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

18 May 2019
by  - 

My kitchen counter looks like a biology lab.

Milky water and floating produce sit in jars that burp when I loosen the cap a tiny bit. The smells of cabbage, garlic and onions waft through the air. The sauerkraut, in the largest jar, is diminishing steadily by the day—and the cauliflower giardiniera is being enjoyed as well. The slimy pickles have been a harder sell; they taste, as my chef put it, “Weird.” They’re definitely pickles, but kind of carbonated.

Microorganisms are a crapshoot … what can I say?

My expedition into natural fermentation got me thinking about the less-than-sexy process of making very-sexy booze. You see, I am what they call a “nerd.” Being a bartender hides that a bit, but the craft-cocktail scene is infested with us. Why else would we care about a cocktail from 1879 when vodka-and-soda pays the bills better? Because I am a nerd, I care—and wish others also cared—about how these amazing alcoholic products are made. Liquor companies throw around phrases like “single barrel” or “10 times distilled” or whatever the marketing term of the moment is, but how many actual consumers or bartenders really know how the sausage is made, so to speak?

I am reading Proof: The Science of Booze, by Adam Rogers, which covers everything about alcohol from yeast and sugar to hangovers. Without giving away his tales of the unsung people who contributed to the history of distilled liquor (and you should definitely pick up a copy for your bar library …. wait, you don’t have a bar library?), I thought I would share some of the basics about what goes into making your favorite spirit.

Let’s start with sugar. Most people have heard the terms “malt whiskey” or “malt beverage,” but what does that actually mean? Malting is a process by which grains, often barley, are turned from starch—a form of sugar that yeast can’t eat—into something that yeast can eat. I am going to skip most of the technical jargon here, but basically you trick the grain into “thinking” it should start breaking down its starchy body so it can grow.

Scotch-makers love to brag about their malting floors, where earnest men with shovels and boots turn grain in an old barn. Sure, some (tiny) distilleries actually do that for their entire output. Chances are, however, the Scotch you last enjoyed wasn’t really made that way. Yes, it was malted—at a large industrial operation controlled by one of the major beverage giants. When an American distillery attempted to skip the malting stage using a process created by Japanese scientist Jokichi Takamine, the facility suffered a massive fire, as well as a more-than-suspicious comedy of errors putting it out. As a result, malted grain is here to stay; after all, tradition reigns in the high-end spirits world.

Other spirits—rum, brandy, tequila/mezcal, etc.—that are not made from grain don’t have to worry about this step at all. Makers of cognac and tequila still emphasize the sources of their sugars—limited quantities of grapes and blue agave, respectively, both of which need to be grown in a small region as dictated by law. Some higher-end vodka-makers often market their source sugars, so only rum-makers tend to stay away from glamorizing the humble grass that makes their product … at the moment, at least.

Sugar is just sugar until the magic happens—and that magic comes from yeast. But where does the yeast come from? It’s often already just sitting in the environment ready to go. If you leave wine grapes in a bucket long enough, they will become wine (of a sort). According to various scientists interviewed in Proof, humans may have “domesticated” yeast, just as they domesticated the wine grapes. Perhaps the yeast “used” us too, because as we spread the v. vinifera, we spread the yeasts along with them. The funny thing is the ancients had no real concept of yeast—just that grapes became wine in the way that clouds become rain, or something like that.

Brewers both old and modern use closely guarded strains of yeast that contribute to the specific flavors of their beer—but they always have to worry about getting the right flavors and not letting unwanted yeasts ruin the finished product. These days, strains of yeast are so specific that someone can actually go into a tasting room and try products that are identical, aside from the yeast used. I’ve done this myself at a bourbon distillery, and I can tell you the differences range from subtle to striking. When you buy a “single barrel” bourbon, you’re buying a particular batch with a particular yeast blend, and not hedging your bets on the distiller blending different batches together. It’s a matter of trust that the distiller is choosing the whiskey where the yeast, among other factors, is giving you a flavor profile that justifies the higher price.

What other factors make alcohol taste differently from maker to maker? Many things, depending on the actual spirit. There is the “mash bill” for whiskey, the agave and elevation for mezcal, the barrels used for aged spirits, the actual method of distillation—and a maker is going to put whatever makes the product unique and marketable on the label. Since many get their sugars and yeasts from the same large facilities, the production methods are often what get marketed.

So … what do those pickles on my counter have to do with making all that sweet hooch? The bacteria and yeast in the air that are turning my chilis into beautiful hot sauce also affect the methods that lead to the creation of spirits. While you may not taste the byproducts in the finished spirit in the way that you might in a wine or beer, the fermentation process is still one of the beautiful mysteries of nature. It’s controlled chaos, where we as humanity stumbled for millennia without scientific precision, using our taste buds are our guide. Apparent mistakes can become beloved styles of food or drink as a culture embraces their particular microbes. Maybe my pickles will be next … that is, if I can get anyone to try them.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

19 Apr 2019
by  - 

The idea for this column came to me as I was getting my head smashed in by a large man in a ninja outfit.

Don’t worry; this didn’t happen in real life, but during a video-game tournament at The Hood Bar and Pizza—a suggestion from our Uber driver who said he would also be competing. I noticed several of the competitors were consuming, in pint glasses and pitchers, something that looked like barber-shop comb sanitizer.

“Why would anyone want to drink that?” my companion wondered. “That’s just begging for a hangover!”

“Why do people eat Tide Pods?” I responded.

I, of course, promptly ordered one. It was my old friend, the AMF. If you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky. For those of you who have gone to college or drank at a dive bar in the last 20 years, you’ve probably seen it. It’s sweet and sour—and strong enough to make you think you can compete in a video-game tournament at 40. It’s also blue … like really blue, the color blue that only kids younger than 12 consider a good color for things that go into one’s mouth. Oh, and the name … well, let’s say it stands for “adios my friend,” but only the “adios” part is true. It’s basically a variation on a Long Island iced tea, and as I drank, I thought about how little written cocktail history is dedicated to these drinks—the maligned, the infamous, and, dare I say, the occasionally fun cocktails that were ubiquitous during the cocktail “dark ages,” and still have a following today.

The Long Island iced tea … is there a more infamous cocktail? I worked for years doing volume bartending, at night clubs and patio bars especially, and my LIIT game was on point, I must say. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but when your line (mob) at the college bar is significantly longer than the lines at other wells, you know something is up. I mean, despite its hangover-inducing reputation, it’s still a cocktail. There is a right way to make it—and many wrong ways.

Let’s break it down: The standard recipe is equal parts vodka, gin, white rum, tequila blanco and triple sec; as to the amount of each … well, as they say with Ti’ Punch, “chacun prépare sa propre mort.” Each prepares their own death.

The balance, theoretically, comes from the varying flavors of the alcohols and the addition of an ounce or two of sour mix (or an ounce of lemon and 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup, if you’re fancy). Shake that whole mess; strain into a tall glass with ice; add a good splash of cola—and you’re in business.

Other variations, gathered personally over the years, include:

• Long Beach iced tea: Substitute the cola with cranberry.

• AMF: Add blue curaçao instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.

• Grateful Dead: Add lemon-lime soda instead of cola; leave out the triple sec, and drizzle blue curaçao and framboise/raspberry liqueur down the sides of the glass (or, preferably, the fish bowl) to create a tie-dyed effect.

• Boston iced tea: Use Kahlua instead of triple sec.

• Tokyo airport: Add Midori instead of triple sec, and lemon-lime soda instead of cola.

This list could go on and on, actually; to avoid diminishing the classiness of this column, I stopped before the “Irish trash can.” (Email me if you actually want that one.) I think you get the point: Not only has the Long Island iced tea become universal; it has become a template on which bored bartenders at questionable establishments still experiment. So who was the genius behind this modern-day classic?

It turns out that is a matter of controversy. Many of the articles online mention the same controversy, between Kingsport, Tenn. (on its own long island) and Long Island, N.Y. A piece from Atlas Obscura sums up the Tennessee story thusly: A bootlegger named Charlie “Old Man” Bishop had a bunch of prohibited hooch lying around and mixed it all together with a little maple syrup. Later, in the 1940s, Ranson Bishop, his son, added the cola and lemon. It’s a cute story; I have no doubt that this bootlegger mixed together his stock with some maple syrup to sweeten and take the edge off of his Prohibition fire water. I don’t even doubt that his son added lemon and cola to his pop’s cocktail. However, there is no way on Earth Old Man Bishop had tequila or vodka, much less triple sec, on his island in Tennessee during Prohibition. So … his maple-syrup cocktail was likely more of an old fashioned, really, and not the drink we know. I am calling this one a myth, albeit a plausible one. Let’s move a few decades ahead …

The story I had been familiar with is the one crediting Bob “Rosebud” Butt for whipping it together for a cocktail contest in 1972, while working at the Oak Beach Inn in Long Island, N.Y. I found this quote on the certainly-not-biased “Long Island Grub” blog:

My concoction was an immediate hit and quickly became the house drink at the Oak Beach Inn. By the mid-1970s, every bar on Long Island was serving up this innocent-looking cocktail, and by the ’80s, it was known the world over.

Who wouldn’t trust a guy from Long Island with the nickname “Rosebud”? Mystery solved!

But … not so fast. Further digging led me to an article on Thrillist in which the author claims the drink showed up in 1961 in Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book and in 1966 in American Home All-Purpose Cookbook by Virginia Habeeb. I spent a lot of time looking for an online or PDF version of either, without luck. The author didn’t mention how he came across that information (leaving a link to Betty Crocker’s website and a modern recipe does not help), and I hit a dead end. These books are available but rather pricey on eBay. If you have a copy of either in your mid-century kitchen and would email me a picture of said recipe, you would be helping with cocktail history, and I will definitely give you a shout-out out in a future column. To be fair, even Butt admits others might have made similar drinks before him, but that his was the one that really took off, and therefore should be considered the original.

Well, it’s high festival season as I write this. If the swarms of young women taking selfies dressed like Billy the Kid are driving you to drink something unwise, the Long Island iced tea is certainly a good option. Stay away from the Grateful Dead, though; it’s guaranteed to make you feel like you went to three days of outdoor concerts the next day.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

22 Mar 2019
by  - 

Four is a magic number …

OK, I know that isn’t how the song goes, but when it comes to cocktails, some of the most popular drinks use equal parts of four ingredients. When using the right ingredients, the resulting drink can be well-balanced like a properly made table, while using the wrong ones will give you a figurative pile of lumber.

It’s important to have a few of these in your cocktail portfolio, to experiment with and maybe even make into your own modern classic! So just in time for the fourth month of the year, here are some of the most popular classics and modern classics using four ingredients in equal measure.

While its name suggests I should end with it, I will start with the Last Word, since in the early days of my discovering well-made cocktails, it was a favorite. It’s a bit of a tell that someone is sticking their toes in the world of craft for the first time, so to speak, if they order a Last Word. This isn’t to suggest it’s a beginners’ cocktail, though. The unlikely combination of gin, green Chartreuse, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and lime juice is a bold and funky mix of aggressive flavors. According to David Wondrich in Imbibe!, the recipe shows up in 1915 on the menu of the Detroit Athletic Club, and is attributed to monologist and vaudevillian Frank Farrell. This blast from the past is a pricey home cocktail to make, though; expect the ingredients to run just less than $150 total—and your guests will certainly drink you out of them once they get a taste!

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, green
  • 1 ounce of Luxardo maraschino
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass; garnish with a cherry if desired.

Another classic that uses four equal parts of ingredients (plus a dash of absinthe, but who’s counting?) is the ever-popular Corpse Reviver No. 2 from The Savoy Cocktail Book. Inventor Harry Craddock states that “four of these in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again!” True. Bear in mind the Kina Lillet in the recipe would have been more bitter than Lillet Blanc that most people now use in it, so you can use Kina L’Aero D’Or or Cocchi Americano instead for a more accurate reproduction. Feel free to use Curacao instead of the triple sec for a richer drink.

  • 1 ounce of dry gin
  • 1 ounce of triple sec (Craddock used Cointreau)
  • 1 ounce of Kina Lillet (see above)
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake; strain into a cocktail glass that has been rinsed or spritzed with absinthe, lightly. No garnish needed, but some people like a cherry or lemon zest.

Another cocktail with which I was enamored in my early days of drinking, and which has undergone many strange and complicated iterations over the years, is the Singapore Sling. While the Raffles Hotel in Singapore gets the attention for this one, Wondrich points out in Imbibe! that the drink was ubiquitous in Singapore years before the hotel claims it was created there. Ignore all the other recipes you see in cocktail books; the real McCoy is equal parts of the four ingredients. Feel free to adjust the proportions to your preferences as you go, of course.

  • 1 ounce of gin
  • 1 ounce of Cherry Heering
  • 1 ounce of Benedictine
  • 1 ounce of lime juice

Build this one in a tall glass; add soda or mineral water, and stir gently.

Being a sling, it’s going to need some bitters as well; I like four to six dashes of Angostura. No garnish needed, but a cherry flag is fun, and traditionalists like a spiral cut lime zest.

Now onto a couple of “modern classics” that I frequently make behind the bar, starting with the Paper Plane. Sam Ross invented this one just more than 10 years ago in New York, and it quickly became a “must-know” drink if your establishment attracts cocktail nerds.

  • 1 ounce of bourbon
  • 1 ounce of Amaro Nonino
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lemon juice

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass; no garnish is necessary, but I usually use an orange zest. Don’t skimp on the expensive Nonino! Although this drink can be made with, say, Averna, it won’t be the same.

You can see the pattern developing here: one part of a strong spirit, two parts of liqueur, and one part of citrus. This becomes a template for creative substitution, or in bartender parlance, “Mr. Potato Head” cocktails.

Next up is the Naked and Famous. Joaquin Simó, who came up with this one while at New York’s Death and Co., calls it “the bastard child of a classic Last Word and a Paper Plane, conceived in the mountains of Oaxaca,” according to a feature online in Imbibe magazine.

  • 1 ounce of mezcal
  • 1 ounce of Chartreuse, yellow
  • 1 ounce of Aperol
  • 1 ounce of lime

This one can also be made as a mezcal Paper Plane just by subbing the spirits, but the lime and yellow Chartreuse pair better with mezcal, so it’s worth doing it this way. Although Simó made it with Del Maguey Single Village Chichicapa mezcal, that’s a pricey ingredient that’s better enjoyed neat, in my opinion. Any decent mezcal will do.

This little list is by no means exhaustive, and I know I am leaving some people’s favorites out (looking at you, Blood and Sand!), but I chose these ones specifically for their particular balance and widespread appeal. They are also the drinks that people like the most at cocktail parties in my experience, especially the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Paper Plane. As a bonus, the recipes are easy to remember and measure. You don’t even need a jigger, really—just a small shot glass or anything like it will do in a pinch!

So, yes, four is a magic number—when it comes to cocktails, at least.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Page 1 of 6