Curious about that cool-looking bottle on the back bar? Want to know what’s in it? Well, go ahead, and try it!
“I don’t drink a lot. I ‘taste’ a lot.” —Bobby Gleason, Jim Beam’s Master Mixologist
Many of the world’s trendiest cocktail bars look like half-chemistry lab and half-apothecary with a mad scientist concocting mysterious potions behind the bar. The sheer number of spirits, bitters and bottles lining the walls is simply dizzying. Do not panic. The experience can quickly overwhelm even the most seasoned of drinkers, who opt to stick with their standard safety spirit rather than try something unknown. But remember the person behind the bar works there because they are passionate about at least two things: people and drinking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in finding a new drink to enjoy, as any bartender worth their salt will be happy to act as a spirits sherpa in your next drinking expedition. You might possibly end up with a new favorite spirit, or two, or three…
Britt Henze, a bartender at Denver’s Trillium, is an experimenter by nature, who is more than willing to guide her patrons through the sampling of new spirits without pretension or judgment. “I see my role as an ambassador for new taste experiences, and sharing the passion for new spirits is one of the best parts of my job,” says Henze. She is happy to help drinkers dissect a cocktail to learn more about which flavors they enjoy, as well as which they don’t. “When people order a cocktail, I also let them try the base spirits so they can deconstruct what ingredients they enjoy. This can also provide a new appreciation of the balance and layering of flavors in combinations they may have not previously tried.” proclaims Henze.
Trying spirits on their own rather than in a cocktail can help you identify recognizable flavors, such as the licorice in absinthe or aquavit, so you know which flavors to explore and which to steer clear of. “You wouldn’t add paprika to a stew before knowing what it tasted like or whether or not you even liked the flavor, and the same logic applies to mixing cocktails.” says Henze.
If unpronounceable and unrecognizable spirits are too much of a stretch, start with a spin on a familiar cocktail. “Many drinkers are willing to experiment, but they only order the same thing because it’s familiar,” says Henze. She gave The Hooch Life two great recipes that exemplify this philosophy: the Black Manhattan and the Strega Mojito (see the recipes below).
If you are ready to dive right into some new flavors, “Strega, Amaro Nonino and Chartreuse are really fun and complex spirits which, balanced with a bit of citrus, can really spruce up any basic gin or whiskey cocktail,” Henze recommends. Drinking should be fun, not frightening, so sip, mix, and let your palette and your trusted mixologist be your guide in exploring a new frontier of tastes.
2 ounces Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Whiskey
1 ounce Averna Amaro
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
Add all ingredients into cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with lemon twist.
This cocktail is “an herbal twist on the Mojito where the Strega, an herbal Italian liqueur amplifies the mint in place of the traditionally used simple syrup,” says Henze.
1-1/2 ounces White Rum (Britt recommends Banks White Rum)
1 ounce Strega
1/2 ounce Lime Juice
2 Fresh Spearmint Sprigs
1 teaspoon Sugar
2 ounces Soda Water
Add Strega, mint, and sugar into cocktail mixing glass and gently muddle. Add rum and lime juice. Strain into chilled highball glass filled with crushed ice, and top with soda water. Garnish with small mint sprig.