(Recently, my friend Luke quietly published a book of poetry. It's called Abacus, and you can buy or download it here. I created a signature cocktail for the launch party, and because I sometimes get asked how I go about inventing a new cocktail, I thought you might like to see my thought process for this one. It's a longish story, so I've broken it up into six pieces, each of which will be a separate post and conclude with a recipe. Last week's chapter, "Taking stock - now what have we got?" can be found here.)
Chapter 5: Trusting your gut, even when your gut gives you every reason not to.
If I've learned anything from creative pursuits - cocktails, writing, or otherwise - it's that you have to listen to your instincts. They'll be wrong occasionally (or often, when you're trying something new), and that's OK. That's how you learn.
Best of all, sometimes your gut will tell you something that sounds bizarre but works on some deeper level. No matter how nicely bitter, herbal flavors contrast with pineapple, the Jungle Bird must still have seemed ridiculous the first time it was tried, because what kind of nut puts Campari in a tiki drink?
You miss opportunities like that if you become dismissive of your own ideas. It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when you know other people have been doing something longer than you, or do it better than you. This is why a lot of authors practice spontaneous writing: if you do it right, you're too busy writing to think about all the ways in which the writing is bad, which frees you to actually write. You can edit later, when you actually have something written.
I've been making cocktails for a long time now, and my instincts are, on the whole, pretty good. That's what I reminded myself when I went back to the drawing board with the following two thoughts:
- Given how poorly this has gone so far, it's weird that I thought it would work at all, let alone through so much tinkering. Maybe I should can the whole thing and look to a different poem for inspiration.
- Wait this drink might actually work with Cognac.
In retrospect, I can tell you exactly why the Cognac worked. The subtle wood and strong fruit flavor (raisin, in this case) complement the plantiness and the cherry of the kirschwasser. There are no distracting savory or evergreen notes. It doesn't have the oiliness of gin, which was causing textural problems I didn't even get into before. And the warm, rich lactones of an aged spirit base gave the cocktail a depth that could support everything else.
But that wasn't a conscious thought process at the time. "Cognac!" popped into my head, and I went with it. I knew that even if my judgment was compromised that day, at least this would turn out badly in a different way, which was enough for me to give my mind's palate the benefit of the doubt.
I want to save the big reveal for next week, but I did promise you a recipe. Since this week brought us back around to Cognac, and we'll spend some of next week on the importance of simple syrup, I'll leave you today with a cocktail that uses both extremely well: Joaquín Simó's Sidecar.
2 oz. Cognac
3/4 oz. Curaçao
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. 2:1 Demerara Simple Syrup
Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel (or not at all).
Stay tuned for next week's post, "Chapter 6: Reaching a recipe by technique and tinkering."