In the May/June 2009 issue of Imbibe magazine, Hannah C. Feldman and Tracy Howard sketched the outlines of a three-stage master course in mixology. I was immediately intrigued.
For years, I've had some pretty decent basic bar knowledge. When I was about ten years old, my babysitter, Edie, taught me how to make a gin and tonic and ensured that I knew how to hold it steady while she drove. In the ensuing years, I've picked up a few more basic recipes. In college, I drank a lot of cocktails, and learned how to make a credible martini and a decent bloody mary. My white Russian is decent, my B-52 isn't an embarrassment, and I know my way around a "nuts and berries." Beyond that, if you hum a few bars, I can generally fake it.
Still, in the years since grad school, I've fallen into the trap of always drinking the same standards: scotch, absinthe, wine or beer. My skills have gotten a little rusty, and my knowledge is sorely lacking. Faced with Feldman and Howard's impressive list of "basic" cocktails, I could no longer hide from my equally impressive ignorance: it was clear that action was called for. Although I already had a drink guide -- the encyclopedic Ultimate A-To-Z Bar Guide by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst -- I decided to begin with the Rosita, the basic "101" cocktail that Imbibe suggested.
My first step was buying the ingredients: reposado tequila, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Campari, and Angostura bitters. I had never had reposado, and Sauza seemed like a good, reasonably-priced choice. For the vermouths, I went with Martini and Rossi, the most expensive choices that my local liquor store had to offer (they cost a buck more than the off-brand). As far as the rest, Campari is Campari is Campari and Angostura bitters, while a little hard to find in the Bronx, showed up in a Whole Foods in Manhattan.
All in all, the ingredients for my first drink ran about 80 bucks. Even by New York standards, this is a little high, but there's a lot to be said for giving my liquor collection a shot in the arm.
The Rosita was a mixed success, at best. Although complex, it had a bitter undertone that left me wary about drinking more. The lemon twist floating in the reddish-chestnut drink was, admittedly, gorgeous, the overall flavor was kind of unpleasant and stale-tasting. My wife, Virginia, completely hated it.
On the bright side, my liquor cabinet was now well-stocked with tequila, Campari, and two types of vermouth. Prepared for more adventures, I recorded my thoughts on the Rosita and looked forward to the next day's drink.
1 1/2 ounce reposado tequila
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce Campari
1 dash Angostura bitters
Cracked and cubed ice
Tools: barspoon, three-piece shaker
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: Lemon Twist
Stir ingredients in a shaker with ice cubes, strain into a glass filled with cracked ice cubes and garnish.