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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Studying the Nuances of Cocktails in DC

Cocktail Cartoon

Cocktail Cartoon by Adam Bernbach.

Most people who order a cocktail just by its name might not realize they’re being pretty vague. “I’ll have a Manhattan,” we’ll say, then go back to our conversation, leaving the nuances of each drink up to the person behind the bar. Bourbon? Rye? Dolin vermouth? Angostura bitters? That’s handing over a lot of decision-making power to the bartender. At the spectacular cocktail spot Proof, in Washington, DC, bar manager Adam Bernbach is helping guests discover exactly how different a drink can be, depending on the answers to these sorts of questions.

“There’s a certain handwriting to cocktails,” Bernbach says. “Your handwriting is slanted in a certain direction, your L’s curl a little more than somebody else’s, your P’s are a little straighter than others. In the same way, when you’re making a daiquiri, maybe you choose to use a South American rum and you might add a touch more lime juice because your preference is for something a little bit more tart.”

This month, Bernbach is exploring this mixology philosophy during his weekly Remastered Editions. For each Sunday (aside from the 20th, because of Inauguration Day insanity) he’s selected a classic cocktail and is presenting it using four different recipes. Last week, he did a study of the Manhattan. The fan favorites that night were the ones made with Eagle Rare bourbon, Cocchi vermouth and Angostura bitters; and another with Templeton rye, Carpano Antica and a combination of Angostura and Regan’s Orange bitters. On Sunday, January 13, daiquiris are in the spotlight. The varying styles of rum—Spanish, English, rhum agricole from the French West Indies—and the vast assortments of sweeteners that can be used in the classic, from Demerara syrup to simple syrup to plain sugar, give Bernbach a lot of flexibility. “I think the sweet, herb, spice quality of the rhum agricole will be very visible to guests. And I think the funkiness of the Jamaican Blackwell rum will be really obvious.”

To drive home this idea of the personalized nature of these cocktails, Bernbach has handwritten each of the menus and even made a little drawing (above) for each week. For the final installment of Remastered Editions, Bernbach will tackle the whiskey sour—including one drink that involves a whole egg yolk and that intriguingly tastes like, in Bernbach’s words, “lemony nut cake.” Perhaps it’s time to book a seat on the Acela, destination: Washington, DC.

Related: 50 Best Bars in America

Drink This Now

The Hottest New Chile Cocktails

Mucho Humo

Courtesy of Florida Cookery at The James Royal Palm

From mild anchos to seriously hot Scotch bonnets, chile peppers add nuanced flavors and, at times, lip-numbing sensations to cocktails. MORE >

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Drink This Now

The Rise of Lighter Cocktails

OAK at fourteenth's Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road © Phoebe Trotta.

While boozy, brown drinks still rule in pre-Prohibition-style bars, bartenders who take inspiration from Europe are now popularizing aperitif-like cocktails that are flavorful and low in alcohol. In F&W's series of cocktail predictions for 2013, Bryan Dayton, owner of OAK at fourteenth in Boulder, Colorado, championed low alcohol drinks as the future of mixology. "European cultures have always promoted light aperitifs," Dayton says. "Whether it's cider in Normandy or Aperol spritzes in Italy." MORE »

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Editor Picks

PDTs Brand-New Mission Chinese Dog

PDT's Mapo Tofu-Topped Mission Chinese Dog.

PDT's Mapo Tofu-Topped Mission Chinese Dog; Photo © Nick Brown.

“Mapo tofu and I have quite a history,” says Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien. “It’s the inspiration behind the whole MCF project.” I consider it the perfect dish; the only thing I’ve wished for is a supersonic cocktail to wash it down with. Lucky me: MCF in Manhattan now has a sparkling new liquor license and a team set on perfecting the most perfect version of Sex on the Beach.

Now there’s more great booze-and-tofu news: the exceptional bar PDT has just put the Mission Chinese Dog on their menu. It’s an all-beef hot dog covered with Bowien’s exhilarating, Szechuan peppercorn-packed tofu, plus onions, cilantro and American cheese sauce. The Mission Chinese Dog is spicy and messy and requires a knife and fork. And, of course, a cocktail. PDT’s Jim Meehan recommends the Alambic Fizz, a mix of Cognac, lemon juice, Landy's 5-Year-Old Bual Madeira and pimento bitters. It’s also got peach lambic. Peach schnapps is key to Sex on the Beach; I expect this drink is as close as I'll get to having the Spring Break staple at PDT.

Related: Cocktail Party Tips from Jim Meehan
Best Hot Dog Recipes
22 Classic Cocktails

Wine Wednesday

Brunch Drinks

© Tina Rupp

Try pairing the three drinks below with a fantastic brunch recipe, like this Smoked-Salmon Scramble with Dill Griddle Biscuits. // © Tina Rupp

Ah, brunch. People go bonkers for brunch. Say the word “brunch,” and your friends will say things like, “Yeah! Great! Let’s do it!” Unless they have kids, in which case they’ll look sort of morose, because instead of going to brunch with you they’re going to be at a birthday party for five-year-olds. But that’s the human condition: Sunday-morning cocktails, then offspring, and finally death.

Be that as it may, in terms of drink options, folks tend to default to one of three things: a mimosa, usually made with some Minute Maid and a bottle of random sparkling wine that someone brought over six months ago; a Bloody Mary (which I’m not knocking at all); or Champagne. Yet because life is short and the human condition is dire, why not experiment while you still have a chance? 3 Fantastic Brunch Drinks. »

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Drink This Now

The Newest Holiday Punches

New Holiday Punches: Passed Bright Milk Punch

Passed Bright Milk Punch © Nathan Rawlinson.

Long before there were martinis and daiquiris, Manhattans and mai tais, there was punch. Punch dates to the early 17th century, when it was imported to England by officers of the East India Company, according to writer John Ayto, who just published a new edition of The Diner’s Dictionary: Word Origins of Food & Drink.

Made in batches and perfect for holiday entertaining, punches are especially popular this time of year among bartenders looking to put their own spins on festive cocktails. Brooklyn’s buzzed-about Scandinavian restaurant Aska—from chef Fredrik Berselius (Aquavit, Per Se) and partner Eamon Rockey, formerly of Atera—is now serving three innovative punches. “Punch is about community and about enjoying something together,” says Rockey. MORE »

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Drink This Now

Innovative Alpine Mai Tais, Chestnut Old-Fashioneds and More Holiday Cocktails

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Innovative Holiday Cocktails: The Alpine Mai Tai

The Alpine Mai Tai Courtesy of The Beehive

Often sugary or creamy, holiday drinks frequently taste more like liquid dessert than balanced cocktails. “The temptation is to do peppermint this and gingerbread that,” says Nate Hayden, bartender at The Beehive, a jazz club, bar and restaurant in Boston’s South End. “But we wanted to create something fun and slightly sweet, but also with real complexity to it as well.” Inspired by the nostalgic scent of pine trees, Hayden came up with the Alpine Mai Tai.

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Drink This Now

The New Old Fashioned

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The New Old Fashioned: No. 10

Whitehall's No. 10 Courtesy of Whitehall

When it comes to cocktails, it doesn’t get much simpler than the old fashioned: spirit (typically rye or bourbon), bitters, sweetener and citrus. The uncomplicated nature of the drink makes it a fantastic blank canvas for bartenders. “The old fashioned is arguably one of the oldest cocktails,” says John McCarthy, the beverage director of New York City’s Scotch-centric Highlands and gin-focused Whitehall. “What’s great is that you can change all the elements and just mix and match.” McCarthy created three riffs on the old fashioned for his fall menus. »

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Drink This Now

How to Taste 50 Gins

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American Gin

© Antonis Achilleos

Tasting 30 or 40 wines in the course of an afternoon is no big deal for me anymore, but when faced with tasting 50 gins (for “An American Gin Renaissance” in the November issue), I had to take my time. I found that at most, I could taste about six different gins in one sitting—the alcohol was too strong, the juniper too palate-walloping. Read more >

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Drink This Now

Perfect Fall Pairing: Apples and Booze

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Apple Cocktails: The Hudson

The Hudson cocktail. Courtesy of Northeast Kingdom.

In fall, when overzealous apple-picking excursions and trips to the farmers’ market end with piles of the crunchy fruit overflowing from kitchen bowls, most people make pies, slice them for salads and do lots of fiber-rich snacking. Here’s a tip: Use fresh apples to create fantastic of-the-moment cocktails. More >

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