Spiritual dogma


These days any bartender in any bar who can put some ice in a glass and throw in a mixer with abandon gets to call themselves a maker of cocktails. Pity the customer who seeks a quality drink. How is one to distinguish between a proper bartender and a common slinger of sludge? Even in some of the finest eating establishments — locations where only the finest chef’s will do – a proprietor will simply shove a cocktail shaker into the hands of any charlatan and call them a bartender. Something has to change.

In bygone days, a cocktail was more than just a drink: it was an institution. A cocktail would be taken prior to dinner. The ambience would be calming — perhaps a pianist in the corner offering variations on a theme of some Cole Porter song –- and the drink was as idyllic as the light of the sun, setting beyond the bar’s windows. Customers could decompress the day and let go of the stresses and tensions that will have preceded this most auspicious of hours.

Cometh the hour, cometh the bartender, whose job is to ensure that the cocktail is neither a distraction from, nor the point of the proceedings. A barman will have a detailed knowledge of every cocktail a customer might enquire about.

Cometh the Spiritualist!

We propose a cocktail dogma called the Creed of Cocktail Spiritualists (C.O.C.S) that produces a standard against which all proper bartenders (hereafter called “Spiritualists”) should be measured. Only if all the tenants of this standard are met, should any barman earn the right to the title Spiritualist.

We publish this below. It is a process and we invite any of you to participate in it. When it has been subjected to the rigors of debate and over the course of some months, we will take it to the highest authorities in a bid to get it passed into drinking law. Wish us luck!

The Creed of Cocktail Spiritualists

A Spiritualist must always:

  1. sample a cocktail before serving it to a customer;

  2. have knowledge of all cocktails, including measures;

  3. use precise measures unless instructed to vary them by the customer;

  4. use fresh fruit and olives when called upon;

  5. never use prefabricated cocktail mixers;

  6. never use prefabricated “sweet and sour” mix;

  7. never put fizzy apple cordial (or other non-essential cordial) into a drink and then call it a “martini”;

  8. never serve a drink that ends in the letters T I N I when not preceded by the letters M A R (except under exceptional circumstances);

  9. keep music ambient rather than deafening;

  10. ensure all televisions remain off except in the event of historic broadcast occasions.

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Why is it that the best cocktails are made in the homes and rarely in a bar. Now is the time to rise up and rescue ourselves from the tyranny of the terrible cocktail.

I think one of the tenants should be:

  1. The spiritualist mixes to the tastes of the customer.

After all some like it sweet and some like it dry. A proper spiritualist should be happy, willing and able to mix to the desires of the clientèle.

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This is a good point. But there has to be a starting point. The Spiritualist needs to justify why they make the drink the way they do, while making it clear that the customer can alter the measures to taste.

Perhaps we should also add:

  • a Spiritualist needs to be articulate and happy to engage in conversation if invited to do so by the customer.
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Can we add to that last point:

  • … provided the Spiritualist never talks about the weather!
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Please serve cocktail, when called for, in a chilled glass!

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Should there be a rule about quantity of ice in, say, a Vodka and tonic? I don’t like a tall glass filled to the brim with ice (which means less fluid and a quickly watered-down drink).

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Excellent idea— this, or a version of it, should be posted behind the bar (and viewable only to the bartender, not the customers) at every bar in town. I’m not positive that bartenders want to be called COCS, although many of them may be called that already when they ignore you at the end of the bar, desperately giving them the pleading eyes which say “I have a very hot girl waiting for her -tini and you’d better get down here quick before she thinks I’m a total loser”.

In any case, you’re proposing they be called Spiritualists which is def. something I can get behind, as long as they don’t start holding seances at the bar. Unless of course it’s the bar at the Magic Castle.

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What is this cocktail discussion about?

I struggle to understand the cocktail at all. If a spirit is worth drinking because of its taste, quality or purity why the change it by adding a juice, tonic or other mixer. If it is not worth drinking without additives, why bother with it in the first place?

So with this in mind, Whisky Boy joins the debate.

The finest malt whisky will make the finest “cocktail” - just add a splash of water to unlock the full flavour of the liquor, chill with ice, or lengthen with more water. Why anything else?

A suggestion.

For those of you that have read my work previously will know that a Macallan 12 year old is one of my favourites (or indeed any other Speyside malt) characterised by its rich colour, aroma and flavour with hints of dried fruits, spice and chocolate orange, making it almost a “cocktail” on its own. Place a single shot in a tall glass and nose, once, twice, thrice. See what you can detect. I like to test my nose to find the fig.

Next the tiniest of taste. Only enough to wet the tongue. Allow it to stay in your mouth for ten seconds before swallowing. What flavour do you detect. Perhaps a bit of ginger or even some pepper.

Add less than a teaspoon of water, mineral or filtered - fluorides in tap water spoil the whisky. This should unlock more flavours, perhaps at first a bit of cinnamon, then after you swallow, see if you can taste the chocolaty finish.

If you found any of that difficult for your taste buds, lengthen with ice or water and try again. The experience will be more comfortable, but equally enjoyable.

If still in doubt try again - change the whisky and see what happens. For beginners maybe a Glenlivet 12, you will find this whisky less spicy and more floral - try to detect the honeysuckle.

There are nearly 100 distilleries in Scotland alone, each with many fine malts to try. This should keep your search for the ultimate cocktail going for quite some time.

So, who needs a bar industry created cocktail? Certainly not me!

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Whisky Boy-

Your comments regarding whisky are sound (though I would match your Mac 12 to a peaty Caol Ila any day of the week), but alas you are misguided when it comes to the spiritual cocktail.

You see a fine whisky is the compliment to an evening, not the starter. The whole purpose of the cocktail is to bridge that twilight gap between the busy day and the evening meal. The cocktail is the golden light of dusk that resets the senses and should be enjoyed as such. Whisky is that end evening digestif that is linked to the primeval emotional pull of the moon. Perhaps the peat Caol Ila is best suited for a full moon while your Mac compliments that sliver ghost of the waxing crescent. But regardless of your choice in whisky, it is best reserved as the end of the evening compliment to the meal

The structure of my perfect evening begins with a moment of contemplation. Choosing the right cocktail to suit mood, season, dinner menu and company is an art unto itself. Hence the critical importance of a proper bartender so as not to have your meal ruined by incompetence before it even begins. There is nothing like a sassy margarita to compliment the cooling breeze that wipes away a hot summer day. The sophisticated taste of juniper makes the gin and tonic a more refined alternative for a hot summer eve. Meanwhile, a martini takes the chill out of a wet winter San Francisco night and whets my appetite for a prime rib dinner.

The carefully chosen cocktail sets the tone for the meal which I prefer to enjoy with a glass or two of wine or beer (again chosen to compliment the menu). And following that treasured time at the table with friends and family there is nothing I enjoy more than ending the evening with a sip or two of a treasured digestif — whiskey.

To skip the apéritif and bumble straight to the conclusion is a sin no greater than skipping the seduction to rush to the climax. The authors’ ambition to raise the cocktail to spiritual heights is one that should be applauded, not diluted.

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These are passionate words, Al Dente. Makes me thirsty for something long and cold (no umbrellas please).

The “Spiritualist” should of course have room in his bar for both you, Al Dente and you, Whisky Boy. He should know not to bring his 12 year-old malt to the table with a glass full of ice, just as he should know not to bring an umbrella in a margarita (unless specifically asked for in either case).

And Whisky Boy, you need to be able to enjoy your Scotch alongside Al Dente’s G and T without so much as a hint of contempt. This debate is not about the drinker’s taste, but more about the drinker’s taste being satisfied (and respected) at the bar.

Having said that, don’t expect me to respect you in the morning if you put orange juice your my whisky!

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Of course I respect anyone’s choice of drink - even a G&T, although this would not satisfy me. My entry to the debate was to offer an alternative perspective to the cocktail.

If you see my entry of 26 March last year entitled “Whisky & Food” you will see that I do take a malt with me to the table and it becomes quite a game in itself to find the right malt with each meal. Indeed, I wonder what meal Al Dente would eat with his peaty Caol Ila? Some whiskies are a greater challenge than others.

As a serious comment, however, I think the whisky should be more than a complement to an evening or a meal; it is (for me) an integral part of it.

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I love #8 hahaha. I’ll be laugjing all day… and well into the bar.

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I love #8 too.

Of course, this rule applies to buying drinks as well.

But what is the protocol, I wonder, when you are getting a round in, and a friend asks for a chestnutini with a Santa straw and a cherry attached to a Rudolf-umbrella?

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I think the response has to be: “You ain’t no friend of mine.”