Beginnings and Endings.

 Time travel is a weird thing. I haven't looked at the blog in years, much less written anything. Recently, events in my life has maneuvered me into having a bit of extra time and a bit of extra energy, so I thought I would travel nostalgia's road back to the cocktailquest blog. I found among several other unpublished drafts my "about me" post.  The opening reads, "Disclaimer One: I am not a bartender." And while that was certainly true when I wrote those words--it is so far from the truth now. I am a bartender. 

    Anything I write on these pages now is the result of a long, winding journey from barback to beverage director in six years. But ten years ago, I was sitting at a desk, working the proverbial 9 to 5, miserable and stagnating. My now-wife--who I had only been dating for a few months at the time--didn't think I was the kind of person who was willing to settle for miserable. She challenged me to be brave and take risks to follow a hint of a dream. Where it took me was anywhere close to dreamlike. Transitioning careers and trying to build a new one from scratch was hard--the hardest thing I have done in my life so far. Perhaps that means life has been easier on me, but experience has taught me that life is never really easy on anyone. Just harder on some, if that possibly makes any sense. 

    So there I was, waiting to hear of any opening that could allow me to escape the doldrums of a day job. After a few months, it came. But it is hard to convince a restaurant manager that hiring a 35-year-old legal editor, who has never seen the inner workings of a restaurant, for a barback position is a risk that will pay off. Entry level positions are usually reserved for those who are entry-level aged. I knew I had little chance of getting my shot. The results were as expected. But I didn't know how quickly time passes in the restaurant world.  

    I'm not trying to say that there wasn't a bit of luck present early on. Sometimes being at the right place at the right time is the foundation for opportunity. As this blog has shown, I spent a lot of my time in craft cocktail bars. During those years, a lot of cocktail enthusiasts could be found lingering at various cocktail watering holes in Seattle--Rob Roy, Zig Zag Cafe, Vessel, to name a few. One night I met a man who had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of classic cocktails. We struck up an easy friendship, bonding over our esoteric hobby and of course drinks themselves. And as luck would have it, bad luck that is, he found himself transitioning to working behind a bar soon enough. It was this friend who finagled me an interview that was not a success. But it was also this friend, who was promoted to bar manager when the previous bar manager moved on just two months later, who would hire me for my first restaurant job. If I had simply walked into a different spot on a different day--or sat in a different seat, for that matter--history might have been written differently. But the real story started here.


Back to Charles Baker: A Toast to the Cuba LIbre

And with a year a half sojourn from writing, back to Mr. Charles Baker. Let's ease back in with a tried and true quaff. The Cuba Libre is a nice easy little number when made right. But the wheels can easily fall off, if not paying attention. First off, what is the difference between and a rum and coke and a Cuba Libre. Well, to some there is no differentiation. For me personally, I make a rum and coke with a lime wedge, automatically, and no lime juice. But when I am making a Cuba Libre, I add lime juice to the drink, and include the lime wedge as a garnish. As a rum and coke is a high ball, it should be a harmonious creation shared between the two elements. Unfortunately in modern times as few restaurants, bars or homes boast proper high ball glasses, a rum and coke consists of more coke, with the rum in the background, if it can be tasted at all. A Cuba Libre should be balanced between more elements, as the lime becomes an important player. Making sure the drink is ice cold is just as important as the lime juice to keep the sweetness at bay. Thus, crushed ice works. The rum should be strong enough to really stand out and a dark rum does this better than a light one.

Cuba Libre (adapted from Charles Baker)

1 large jigger Bacardi d'oro (2 ounces Havana Club rum)
juice of a small lime (3/4 ounce lime juice, or to taste)
spent lime shell
Coke to fill (Mexican Coke)

Muddle lime shell, rum, and lime juice in a Collins glass (to get the oils from the peel)
Add crushed or cracked ice, top with coke.

I had never thought to actually keep the lime wedge in to help add space, thus naturally minimizing the amount of soda. And it creates a stunning look as well. All in all, using Baker's recipe helped me to rediscover the joys of the Cuba Libre--all molasses, but bright with lime juice.

Since the next drink in Baker's compendium is linked to the Cuba Libre, why not handle two birds with one post. In Baker's drink, the main difference involves swapping out rum for sloe gin. I was skeptical at first, not only by pairing sloe gin and coke, but also by the proportions. Baker calls for a whopping three ounces of sloe gin. While he states clearly that an imported sloe gin is pivotal, who knows what that meant in the 1940s. And while we are lucky enough today to have dry sloe gins, countless sweet ones have dominated the market for years.

Cuba Reforme (adapted from Charles Baker)

2 jiggers sloe gin (3 ounces Plymouth sloe gin)
juice and spiral peel of a lime (1 ounce lime juice plus spent lime shell)
Coke to fill (Mexican Coke)

Combine lime juice spiral and sloe gin in a goblet (Muddle lime shell, sloe gin and lime juice in a large Collins or water glass)
Add crushed or cracked ice, top with coke.

In Baker's original he calls for a large goblet instead of a Collins. It makes sense--more ice means a colder drink and this one needs to be ice cold to stay balanced. It is surprisingly delicious--the way the tart sloe gin works with the sweetness of the coke, and the lime chills any lingering doubts about this being a sweet affair at all. Refreshing, with a subtle berry tartness, and yet the molasses comes still through. On a hot day, this would be a very refreshing bracer that is easy to make but different enough to stay interesting.