The Atlantic writes about an effort to take back the mai tai, a beverage that must surely rank among the most debased drinks in modern bartending. Typically a syrupy-sweet fruit bomb, it can—and should—have a more mature flavor. Julie Reiner, a New York mixologist, makes a mai tai “with aged rum, fresh lime, and almond syrup, with a little Corduba rum floated on top (so the last few sips aren’t diluted by melted ice).”
Not long ago, I edited a story by Nick Kosevich, a bartender whose attention to detail and interest in reviving now-too-sweet drinks (such as daiquiris) run parallel to Ms. Reiner’s; his meditation on the Old Fashioned ran for a few pages and included the following comparison of old school versus new school:
“Much of the modern-day Old Fashioned-related controversy can be blamed upon Wisconsinites. A Wisconsin Old Fashioned consists of 1 tsp of granulated sugar (usually a little white packet), 2 dashes of Angostura bitters, 1 1/2 oz of brandy, and a splash of 7Up. The sugar and bitters are added first with a splash of 7Up to dissolve the sugar, then the brandy is added, and topped with ice and 7Up to finish the drink. This version is then garnished with a flag (a bar term for an orange slice wrapped around a cherry) ...
“The classic recipe for the drink is 1 sugar cube, 3 dashes of bitters, and 3 oz of bourbon or rye whiskey, not brandy, served in an old fashioned glass on the rocks with a lemon twist.”
The explosion of boutique liquors and bitters available for sale, and the press received by mixologists, may suggest that Americans are getting more sophisticated about their cocktails. But the menu at any given faux-neighborhood midrange chain restaurant is a good reminder that we still have a long way to go. Once the real mai tai has made it to T.G.I. Friday’s, we might be getting somewhere.