It was inevitable. The same urge that left consumers unsatisfied with their bedding if it wasn’t 200 thread count or better, and that gave us molecular cuisine—little bits of food that look like Styrofoam and seaweed—has wormed its way into the national entertaining lexicon under the rubric of “mixology.”
It started benignly at first, with Cosmos and Appletinis. Wanting desperately to emulate the vulgarity and licentiousness of the Sex and the City characters, “sophisticated” women everywhere began demanding more colorful and creatively presented alcoholic beverages. (Now those same consumers are aping the behavior of that brothel family run by the Kardashians.)
This was a terrible burden for us regular drinkers lined up at the bar for a vodka on the rocks or a glass of wine, now stuck behind some lady who wants a Gin Rickey. The bartenders stop everything to deal with the shaken libation and its attendant serving ritual. Out come the martini glasses, perhaps the most idiotic—certainly the most impractical—shape of stemware design in the modern age. It is the rare imbiber who can handle the vessel correctly, that is, without hunching over and slurping out the first half inch to minimize the inevitable sloshing and spillage.
When the trend reached even the lowliest pub in my neighborhood, I was sure it would fade away. But I was wrong, oh so wrong. Then came a more frightening new trend: the glamorization of alcohol-related mishaps, courtesy of Mad Men and its fresh crop of imitators. “So you wrecked the car and your sister got maimed in the process? At least you looked great doing it! Let’s pour a few to commemorate this exciting evening.”
The Age of Mixology was now firmly established.
All of a sudden there were bartender contests and creative drink competitions. Every establishment had a “specialty drinks” menu, and the “inventors” of these drinks got their pictures in magazines and newspapers. I thought, Didn’t they try the bartender-as-celebrity thing once before, with that ridiculous Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, where their muscular shaking and graceful spinning and pouring moves were the driving force behind a wildly popular and completely fictional Upper East Side bar? (Did you know it was really a T.G.I. Friday’s?)
No longer was the beverage service provider content to remain in the background. Like fashion designers and chefs before them, mixologists saw another realm to be conquered, another whole category of celebrity to climb onto and cling tight.
And this time, they won’t go away.
On The Rachel Maddow Show, the host occasionally closes an episode with a demonstration of how to make a favorite cocktail. The one I saw involved a little strainer and a sugar cube, the vampire-unfriendly absinthe, some sort of macerating device, and, if memory serves, you needed a whole countertop of containers and swizzle sticks to yield two ounces of her precious elixir. I was praying that Anderson Cooper wouldn’t hear about this, lest we be subjected to watching him prepare a favorite libation that might involve spray tanning, open flames, and/or Kathy Griffin.
A friend told me about a party went to recently where an otherwise accomplished film producer and respected host had fallen under the mixology spell. He gathered his friends for Sidecar Nite, forcing them to not only taste the largely undrinkable blend of cognac and Cointreau, but also to polish off a whole pitcher of the syrupy poison.
Fueling this firestorm is the liquor industry. They are just thrilled with the return of inventive drinking. It came along just when they were running out of new flavors for vodka, having just launched their chili ’n’ chocolate derivation. Now when I go to the liquor store, I have to rigorously control my line of vision, lest I be tempted by some new concoction dreamed up in the lab. I mean, you guys read about Skinny-girl Margaritas, peddled by former Real Housewives of New York cast member Bethenny Frankel, right? Apparently, where she grew up, the term “all natural” was elastic enough to include a preservative that has a known carcinogen as a byproduct. Whole Foods pulled the brand from their floors.
The mixology generation is also a boon to every bar owner, allowing them to charge exorbitant fees for what remains essentially some corn or grain boiled in a metal vat with water.
The part I do like of the mixology culture is the accessories. I enjoy going through Williams & Sonoma and holding up the unusually shaped bar tools and wondering what I would do with them in the privacy of my home. I bought an ice crusher about a year ago and can’t wait to take it out of its packaging when my friends come over for some crushed ice cocktails. And I’ve been thinking about getting a shot steward, which is a metal caddy that holds bottles of liquor upside down and has little handles you press to release a premeasured dose of your favorite hooch. Gravity does all the work!
Since the old adage about joining ’em when you can’t beat ’em seems apt here, I thought I’d share a couple of drink recipes that I came up with on my own. Just don’t steal my ideas; I’m going to send them to Entertainment Tonight.
(Inspired by Paula Abdul)
• Four ounces expensive champagne
• Any four pills you have in your purse, crushed
Drop pills in one ounce of warm water to create a slurry. Pour the slurry into the champagne. Staring intently, using a swizzle stick to stir until all the grains have dissolved so no one can see them. Drink slowly until speech is noticeably impaired.
(For the person with the annoying cough in your group)
• One ounce vodka
• One ounce crème de menthe
• Three ounces the strongest O.T.C. cough medication you can find