I’m not a picky eater (or drinker) by a long shot. But like most of people, I have a small list of things I avoid if I can. In the last few years, my dislike column has dwindled significantly—this week alone I’ve eaten fried pig skin and cow tongue—but there are a few stubborn things I just can’t bring myself to enjoy.
My palate’s final frontier is brown liquor. I don’t know what it is about whiskey, bourbon, scotch, even dark rum that just makes me wince. I’ve even tried the expensive stuff—like Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, and on and on. I sampled Manhattans, struggled down Mint Juleps, and politely sipped Whiskey Sours, but I’ve hated every minute of it.
Most people who claim they “just can’t stand” a certain kind of liquor usually follow their declaration with a story about one epic night where they drank too much of it and got sick. But that’s not the case with brown goods and me. There’s just something about them—the smell, the taste, the sweetness—that makes me want to go running into the open, aromatic arms of gin.
Admittedly (as you could tell by Mom’s recent post on the Ultimate Gin & Tonic), we are a gin family. So, I just haven’t developed a whole library of nostalgic taste memories associated with brown liquor the way I have with Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, and Hendrick’s.
I know I need to get over this thing with brown liquor; it’s keeping me from enjoying a whole delicious array of spirits and cocktails. But this was never so apparent as the other night when I had the pleasure of drinking at Cleveland’s famous Velvet Tango Room. This is, hands down, the best bar I’ve ever been to. They make their own sodas and bitters, use nothing but fresh ingredients—think: real egg whites, loads of citrus, and house-made cocktail cherries—and serve only high-quality liquors.
After perusing the menu, I turned to the bartender for some guidance. (Both my companions had ordered and started happily imbibing their cocktails made with—you guessed it—bourbon.) She and I went back and forth, her suggesting and me waffling for five minutes trying to figure out what I’d like.
Trying to order a cocktail that wasn’t sweet or brown made me feel like a kindergartner asking for the crusts surgically removed from her PB&J. The bartender was completely lovely and non-judgmental and stuck with me until we settled on something that sounded like my style: stiff, not-too-sweet, and made with clear spirits.
She made me a French 75. This is, for sure, my new favorite drink. Gin, a little simple syrup, a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice shaken over ice, then topped off with dry champagne. This drink packs a stiff though refreshing punch; it’s full of aromatic botanical smells and flavors from the gin (she used Hendrick’s), a little sweet-sour from the lemon and syrup, and bubbles from the champers—in short, it’s like a gin and tonic, but without the water! (Who needs that anyway?)
I’m so hooked, I’ve made up my own recipe—very light on the simple syrup and made with lowly sparkling wine (I’m a grad student!). Without the champagne, it probably shouldn’t be called a “French 75,” but the name is sexy so I’m keeping it. (Although I’ve heard it’s named after a giant artillery gun, and, er—well, let’s leave it at that.)