Rosie Schaap, writer of the monthly "Drink" column in "The New York Times Magazine," and author of the memoir, "Drinking with Men," shares thoughts on refreshing summertime drinks, bartending at home, and why women should go to bars alone.
CC: I had something really lovely with gin and gooseberries a couple of weeks ago. So let’s talk through the basics of how you create a balanced flavor profile. What are the components that you’re juggling in a cocktail that need to play together and not overwhelm one another?
RS: Well, I think the most important thing with drink and with food--I think people should probably trust their palates a little more than they often do. Always taste something. You’ve probably seen bartenders, before they serve a cocktail, dip a stirrer or a straw into it and take a little taste (and then, of course, throw that stirrer away.) If it tastes good--I paraphrase Duke Ellington a lot-- if it tastes good, it is good.
But there are certain things that you need to use a really particularly light touch with. Amari are wonderful--I love bitter flavors--but very often, I’ve had an amaro-based drink that winds up tasting like cough medicine. A little bit of that goes a long way. Or other very strong, heavily herbal liquors. I’m a big fan of chartreuse, and another drink I love to make in the summer is basically a simple gin and soda, or gin and tonic, but with just a very light green chartreuse rinse in the glass. People can’t believe that just a couple drops of chartreuse, or even something like absinthe--just the tiniest bit of it--goes a very long way, and imparts something a little different and a little mysterious, without overwhelming a drink.
So if you’re using ingredients that tend to have really strong flavors, start very very light at first--with a rinse in a glass, maybe just a bar spoonful of something. Don’t go crazy and pull out a two-ounce jigger and think that’s going to work right away, because it will probably be overwhelming.
CC: Fair enough. What are some cocktail trends you’ve been seeing that you are really sick of?
RS: I’m sick of most cocktail trends. I’d rather people not think about drinking in terms of trends, and think about drinking only in terms of the thing that makes it matter most of all--which is pleasure.
It was a few years back when I think really classic cocktails started to impose themselves on us in a big way again. And I love a martini, and I love a good Manhattan, but I love them when I want them, you know--when I’m in the mood for that kind of thing, that’s what I’m going to have.
One thing that I do like seeing--I’m seeing people embrace things that I think are sometimes regarded as a little campy. It wasn’t so long ago that there was probably a little shame attached to having a big, fruity "girl drink." I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that great "Kids in the Hall" sketch, “Girl Drink Drunk," where he’s hiding in the closet, drinking his big fruity drinks. If that’s what you enjoy, have it.!
There shouldn’t be any snobbery attached to drinking. There shouldn’t be any real allegiance to any kind of trends. Drink what’s going to make you happy. For me, in the dead of summer, that’s often a bottle of High Life--and there’s nothing wrong with that.