Yet there are proper drinks to be made with proper alcohol. Good whiskey is a pleasure in and of itself but it can be made sublime with the right ingredients allied with careful and judicious mixing of other ingredients. Finding a bartender with the knowledge of these concoctions and a deft skill at making them is a true revelation and a boon to be treasured.
To begin our discussion of this proud and wonderful tradition I will espouse upon one of my favorites - the Old Fashioned. (Much of this is culled from my cooking website, kleph's kitchen .)
The Old Fashioned is most venerable and stately of the pre-dinner drinks. It is a slightly sweet but smooth repast which warms the soul, cheers the demeanor and starts a refined evening off in the proper manner befitting civilized folk.
There are two keys to making a proper Old Fashioned. The first is to use rye whiskey and not bourbon. The sweetness of Bourbon - which is its strength in a drink like a Mint Juliep - can overpower the Old Fashioned. Using Rye creates a smoother more stately drink that prepares the palette for a good meal.
The second is to muddle. Don't just toss the fruit in and add the rest of the ingredients on top - muddle them, preferably with a proper muddler (the end of a wooden spatula will do in a pinch). This means mash the sugar and fruit until they are almost a paste. If you can recognize the fruit when you serve the drink - you have failed.
Although it is not traditional, I like to put a twist of lemon peel in the drink at the very end as well. It creates a nice citrus punch as you first taste the drink that is carried through when you finish it.
- 2 oz rye whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 splash water
1 tsp sugar
1 maraschino cherry
1 orange wedge
Mix sugar, water and angostura bitters in an old-fashioned glass. Drop in a cherry and an orange wedge. Muddle into a paste using a muddler or the back end of a spoon. Pour in rye, fill with ice cubes, and stir.