Jeffrey Morgenthaler is Food Republic’s contributing cocktail editor and the author of the column Easy Drinking. He currently manages the bars Clyde Common and Pépé Le Moko in Portland, Oregon, and is the author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
Sometimes a little knowledge can be a bad thing. Just in the past decade, we’ve gone from living in a world where our guests (rightfully) didn’t trust the bar enough to try a cocktail before dinner and would simply drink wine all night, to a world where cocktails and spirits have never been more popular. But while we’re all running around patting each other on the back, I would offer that somewhere in this process, we’ve lost touch with the refined drinking experience we originally intended.
Knowing what to drink, and when, requires every bit as much sophistication as knowing which single estate mezcals you prefer. Do you know how many times a night bartenders are held hostage behind the bar by a group of finance bros who want to lecture us on which overpriced whiskey is the best in an old-fashioned and then proceed to drink, like, six of them?
“You’re really going to spend all of your free time learning about Italian amari just so you can drink five Black Manhattans with dinner?”
An old-fashioned after dinner is delightful. That touch of sweetness juxtaposed with a fiery bourbon and a splash of spicy bitters helps round off a meal. It’s an easy-drinking alternative to straight whiskey, which I also love. Drinking six old-fashioneds in a row probably means you’re just looking to get drunk on sweetened bourbon.
I like to think of drinking as a holistic experience. You’re really going to spend all of your free time learning about Italian amari just so you can drink five Black Manhattans with dinner? You seriously cleared out the contents of your freezer in order to accommodate a fucking Igloo cooler, just so you can spend three days making clear ice, and then you’re going to slam margaritas on a large cube, all the while loudly pontificating about how clear ice melts more slowly?
Let me spell it out for you: You have a couple of cocktails before dinner, maybe a drink with your appetizer, and then you switch to wine with your food. Maybe a closing cocktail or two after dinner, but that’s it. You don’t just sit there and pound egg white drinks all night.
Does it seem weird to you, the idea of drinking a hot coffee cocktail on the Fourth of July? Yeah, maybe it should. Seasonality goes beyond what you can scrounge up at the farmers’ market — the changing of the seasons should also be a signal to put some drinks away while unpacking old favorites.
Drinks are like clothing in that regard. Is it appropriate to drink a piña colada in November? Well, yeah, sometimes. About as often as you’d wear a Hawaiian shirt and white shorts in November. Should it be your go-to drink every Saturday during football season? Well, maybe you should think about that one.
Bars should be treating the time of year with just as much care as the kitchen does, but sadly, bars are more guilty than guests of getting this wrong. And I’m not talking about the craft-cocktail speakeasy in your city; this is usually a thing those guys get right.
No, I mean those places where it’s the same year round. Hey, Chili’s, when you have a strawberry margarita on your permanent menu, you’re just encouraging people to give up on rational thought. You know that, right? I realize you want every day to be Cinco de Mayo at your shitty restaurant, but you do know that’s kind of a stupid fucking idea, right?
Nobody is saying that listening to old-school Metallica in the morning is never allowed. It’s just that maybe Metallica isn’t morning music, per se. Is “Creeping Death” a great way to start an early-morning spring break road trip playlist to get the jams started? Fuck yeah. Do we want to sit on the porch in the rain every morning with a cup of coffee and crank Master of Puppets? Maybe not so much.
Here’s a crazy thought: Now that we all know everything there is to know about every arcane spirit and cocktail ever created, how about we start talking about whether or not it makes sense to drink Fernet Branca at brunch. Because from where I’m standing, there are a lot of people holding some very sophisticated tools that they have no idea how to use.