Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | March 10, 2009

MxMo: The First Time


I’ve been meaning to start doing Mixology Monday posts pretty much since I started this blog, but have never gotten around to it. I’m giving it a shot now, but naturally because my schedule was so crazy yesterday and this past weekend, I wasn’t able to write the post for, you know, Monday. Oh well.

The subject of this Mixology Monday is “The First Time.” The Pink Lady of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails – Boston suggested the topic:

Our party’s theme is “First Time”.

This event was inspired by a chance encounter I had with an almost-famous Christian rock musician who, at age 32, had never had a cocktail. “I’d like to try one sometime,” he said, “What do you think I should have?”

It’s an excellent question, and one I though best vetted by wide audience of experts: What drink do you suggest for the delicate palate of the cocktail neophyte? Something boozy and balanced, sure – but one wrong suggestion could relegate the newbie to a beer-drinker’s life. To which go-to cocktails do you turn to when faced with the challenge?

This is a really great question and one that I find myself trying to answer somewhat frequently with friends who are cocktail neophytes. For instance, I have a number of friends who are big fans of bourbon or Irish whiskey, but don’t really drink mixed drinks. For them it’s easy to make the jump to something like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. In fact, if a friend likes whiskey, I don’t try to lead them towards something with a low barrier to entry, I suggest something they closer to what they already like.

But that’s a bit of a cop out for an answer, since I think you could make the case that whiskey and ice — which quickly becomes a cocktail of base spirit and water (they don’t call it Bourbon & Branch for nothing…).

The question of picking a single cocktail for the general cocktail novice is hard. If I had to pick it, it would more likely be a sour cocktail than an aromatic cocktail. Something that’s a bit sweet, with some citrus tones, and a healthy booze presence could do the trick, especially if it has real depth. Odd as it sounds, the thing that keeps coming to mind is a Mai Tai. Or rather, a Trader Vic’s Mai Tai:

Mai Tai

2 oz Wray & Nephew 17 Year Old Rum
.5 oz orgeat
.5 oz orange curacao
.25 oz simple syrup
Juice of one lime (approx. .75 oz lime juice)

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lime shell and a sprig of mint.

Now since most people (read: all people) don’t have a bottle of Wray & Nephew 17 year old lying around, a more realistic recipe would be:

TRADER VIC`s SANCTIONED RECIPE from Intoxica (slightly edited):

1 oz dark Jamaican rum
1 oz Martinique rum
.75 oz fresh lime juice (one lime)
0.5 oz curacao
0.25 oz  of orgeat
0.25 oz of simple syrup

Mix all ingredients and shake with ice.  Strain into a glass over crushed ice. Garnish with lime shell and a sprig of mint.

The Mai Tai is a complex drink, with real booze flavors that don’t hide behind the sweet, almond, and lime. The rums play off each other and the curacao adds even more depth. It’s refreshing, thanks to the tempered sweetness, sour, and mint sprig. What I love most about the Mai Tai is that while it’s the quintessential Tiki drink, it’s actually also as complex and balanced as a  good aromatic cocktail (which readers of this blog know I strongly favor).

The other thing that makes a Mai Tai like this a good starter is that most people have heard of this drink (or maybe even tasted it at some crappy resort bar) and think of it as a sugary, pineapple hangover waiting to happen. It’s a drink that is likely to be dismissed at mere mention by non-cocktail drinkers. Yet when they have it, it’s likely to leave novices with the task of cleaning up the mess left by their blown minds.

You see, getting people to like cocktails isn’t merely about finding something that will suit their palet as non-cocktail drinkers. That’s not so hard, in my view. What really will make a non-cocktailian into an aspiring cocktail snob is giving them something that they already think they won’t like or would never want to drink on their own. Expanding taste horizons, in my view, is more likely to create converts than hewing close to where people already are. And frankly, there are few drinks that I think can do this as well as a well made Mai Tai.

If you’re in DC, my favorite Mai Tai is done by Derek Brown at The Gibson. They have homemade orgeat syrup, which is so thick and creamy that it’s actually a bit closer to a paste. Next time you’re with someone who wants to be converted, swing by The Gibson and give the Mai Tai a shot. I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.



  1. […] A Jigger of Blog, Matt suggests challenging the cocktail newbie to think outside the box: “What really will […]

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