April 6, 2009

"We shouldn’t have muddled! We shouldn't have muddled!"

One little secret that I can share with you from my time working as a bar-back: if you want your bartender to really hate you, you should order a mojito during the evening rush in the middle of the summer. At this point, I expect some of you are looking agog at your monitor and going "But why?! Why would that make them hate me?" Let me answer that with a little walk-through...You're the bartender, and you've been pouring beer and slinging G&Ts, serving up whiskey and Cokes, and even the occasional *shudder* Cosmo. Suddenly someone orders a mojito. The bar goes silent. A tumbleweed blows through the room. Somewhere, a lone crow caws. You turn around, open the bar fridge, pull out a bag of mint leaves, pluck off six or eight good ones, discarding half as many lousy-looking ones, drop them into a Collins glass, pour in some bar sugar and squeeze in a few lime wedges, and proceed to muddle them for the next two minutes, while the other drink orders pile up. Then you add the rum or cachaça and club soda, the spent lime bits, and hand it off to the person who ordered it. Then you turn back to see the scrum of other patrons who had to wait to put in their orders, and you spend the next ten minutes playing catch-up.

Okay, I may have ventured into hyperbole a little bit there, but my point stands...

The muddler, looking like nothing so much as a small baseball bat, is perhaps one of the most maligned pieces of equipment in the bar, thanks in no small part to the mojito. Even the Midwestern propensity to make Old Fashioneds with muddled up orange slices and cherries (and occasionally, blasphemy of blasphemies, brandy) does not provoke the ire of the bartender as much as a request for a mojito can, though perhaps that's because the Collins glass gives you less room to maneuver the muddler in, compared to the DOF glass. Now, not all bartenders will start twitching when you ask for one of these, though pretty much all those that I've worked with hated the process. Perhaps some like venting their aggression on the mint and sugar and lime. So it was with some trepidation that I approached tonight's cocktail, a drink calling itself "The Country Bumpkin" (hey, I don't name 'em folks, I just drink 'em), a drink which, like the mojito, requires the use of a muddler. However, this one, like the Old Fashioned, is made in the smaller, wider Double Old Fashioned glass, so it wasn't too terrible. Also helpful is the fact that you're not trying to grind up mint leaves with the action of bar sugar, but rather just crushing a soft fruit into a messy pulp. All in all, I doubt many bartenders would froth at the mouth were one of these ordered, though they may snicker at the name.

The Country Bumpkin is made as follows: Muddle four fresh blackberries and half a lime in the bottom of a Double Old Fashioned glass until unrecognizable. Add ice, a half-shot (3/4 oz) of sugar syrup (I actually went with homemade grenadine, figuring it'd complement the blackberries), a dash of Peychaud's bitters, and two shots (3 oz) of gin. Churn with a bar spoon and garnish, if desired, with a few skewered blackberries and raspberries. I also topped mine with just a little bit of club soda, just enough to bring the liquid close to the top of the glass, so maybe 3/4 oz or so.

This is an awesome drink. It's sweet (but not too sweet), it's woodsy, it's bright, it's nuanced, and it's pleasantly dark. The lush flavor of the blackberries contrast with the not-quite-bitter notes from the gin, with the sour of the lime juice balancing everything out. The Peychaud's bitters, which play so nicely with fruit-based drinks, take a backseat but still make themselves known, and the use of grenadine rather than just simple syrup adds another dark-fruit note that gets along very nicely with the blackberries. This is a complex but very nice drink.

If you wanted to add a little variety, you could use vodka in lieu of gin, maybe some 44 North, as it's infused with huckleberries. Or I could see using 2 oz vodka and an ounce of Chambord, though that would probably veer enough toward the sweet side that you'd want to add a little more lime. I could also see a version made with bourbon and some Cherry Heering (cherry brandy) as sort of a variant on the aforementioned Old Fashioned. And finally, you could just make a booze-free version of this by muddling the lime and berries together, omitting the grenadine/simple syrup, and just topping it up with 7up or Sprite or some similar lemon-lime soda. At any rate, this is definitely one to add to your summer drink repertoire. Now, if we could just do something about that name...


  1. If I ever win the lottery, I would like to hire you as my own personal bartender/mixologist/maker of happiness. Usually when I want or need a drink, anything more that ice + liquor is more effort than I am willing to put in. I have, however, recently discovered my love of Rob Roys made with a bottle of Scotch that has been sitting, unloved, behind all the other Scotch bottles.

    Still, I love reading about all of these wonderful sounding drinks. Keep 'em coming and please move closer to K-town. ;)

  2. If you ever win the lottery, I'd be happy to be your booze monkey!