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Cocktail hour

A resurgence of interest in cocktails can be a boon to sales. But if the waitstaff can’t tell a mezcal from a Manhattan, then you’ve got problems. Here’s everything your staffers need to know.

The Terms

Neat: Something served neat is poured right from the bottle into the glass and presented at room temperature, with nothing added to it. Some spirits that might be served this way are many whiskeys (usually in a rocks or old-fashioned glass) and anything that is an unmixed shot drink. Beverages served this way are served in a liqueur or pony glass.

Up, straight up: The spirit or mixed drink is served chilled, without ice. Some cocktails are traditionally served up (the Cosmopolitan), while with others it is an alternative to the drink being served on the rocks (Martinis and Manhattans). Chill the drink by stirring it with ice cubes and then strain into a stemmed glass, leaving the ice behind.

Rocks: Served over ice, usually in an Old-Fashioned glass, sometimes referred to as a rocks glass. Ice is usually placed in the glass first, and then the spirit or drink poured over it.

Tall, short: For cocktails using a spirit plus a mixer, a tall drink is served in a highball glass, sometimes referred to as a Collins glass. A short drink is served in a rocks glass. In either case, the pour (portion) of liquor is the same; the difference is the amount of mixer added. With drinks such as Gin and Tonic, the default is to serve it tall. Some Scotch drinkers, however, prefer their Scotch and water on the short side, with less dilution from the mixer.

The Spirits

Vodka: The most popular distilled spirit in the United States, the many varieties of vodka offer subtle distinctions. Vodka distilled from grain is considered superior because of its clean flavor, while potato vodkas are prized for their smooth body. Flavored vodkas are often used in cocktails (the Cosmopolitan).

Cocktails made with vodka: Vodka Martini, Screwdriver, Bloody Mary, Salty Dog, Gimlet, Greyhound, Cape Codder, Bay Breeze, Sea Breeze, Madras.

Gin: This grain-based spirit is flavored with juniper berries. London dry gin is relatively light and crisp and is ideal for Martinis. American dry gin is of a somewhat less impressive pedigree, although there are some sound examples. It is at its best when mixed. Holland or genever gin has more flavor and body than London dry gin and is more often imbibed chilled and straight.

Cocktails made with gin: Martini, Bronx, Gimlet, Gin and Tonic, Gin and It, Negroni, Gibson, Singapore Sling, Fitzgerald, Tom Collins.

Rum: Rum is a distillate of sugarcane, sugar beets, molasses or other sugar byproducts. Puerto Rico is the largest producer. Color in rum comes in part from the type of container in which it is aged, but in addition many rums have caramel coloring added. Light rums have a little molasses flavor, though some approach the neutrality of vodka. Amber rum is a bit darker and more flavorful. Añejo (aged) is usually a premium bottling and is smoother and more complex. Dark rum, fermented longer before distillation, is the most aromatic, with a richer flavor.

Cocktails made with rum: Bacardi Cocktail, Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Planter’s punch, Piña Colada, Rum and Tonic, Mai Tai, Jamaican Rum Punch.

Tequila: High-quality tequila (which, by the way, comes only from the area of Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco; the same spirit from other parts of the country is called mezcal) is sometimes served in a shot glass as a sipping spirit. All tequila is produced from the agave plant, with blue agave often considered the best; some
premium bottles are labeled “100 percent blue agave.” Silver or plata tequila is not aged and is usually best for mixing; reposado is aged for at least one year in oak; añejo is aged for at least two. Aged tequilas tend to be smoother and are most often served neat.

Cocktails made with tequila: Margarita and Tequila Sunrise.

Whiskey: Whiskeys are produced from a grain mash that has been fermented, distilled, then aged in a wood barrel. It is the barrel aging that gives whiskeys their color and characteristic flavor, which differentiate them from clear grain spirits. The distinctions between whiskeys result from the base grain used and the production methods. Bourbon is the most famous American whiskey. Made predominantly from corn, with wheat and barley sometimes included, it tends to be full-bodied.

Cocktails made with bourbon: Bourbon Manhattan and Bourbon Sour. But most are consumed neat, on the rocks, or with water or soda.

Canadian whiskey is generally of high quality; the use of rye as one of the grains from which it is distilled gives this whiskey its nickname, rye whiskey. Because of its relative delicacy, it is very popular for mixed drinks and cocktails.

Cocktails made with Canadian whiskey: Manhattan, Dry Manhattan, Perfect Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, 7 and 7, Old Fashioned.

Irish whiskey can be made from barley, corn, rye, oats or wheat, although barley usually predominates. It is on the light and delicate side, and is usually served neat or on the rocks.

The only mixed drink usually made with Irish whiskey is Irish Coffee.

Scotch whiskey has a distinctive smoky flavor that derives from the use of peat-fueled fires to dry the grain during production. Because of that smokiness, Scotch tends to be more of an acquired taste than the others and isn’t as adaptable to cocktail recipes as, say, bourbon and Canadian whiskeys. Single-malt Scotch whiskey is the product of a single distillery, with differences in flavor coming from the grain and water used, even from the type of peat. Regional commonalities can help you to group the whiskeys by flavor characteristics. The regions are the Highlands, Campbeltown, Speyside, Islay and the Lowlands. Blended Scotch whiskeys are available at many price points and quality levels, their strongest suit being consistency and relative simplicity.

Cocktails made with Scotch whiskey: Scotch on the Rocks, Scotch and Water, Scotch and Soda, Scotch Sour, Blood and Sand, Rob Roy.

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