In my long career, in the restaurant world, I’ve held most every position there is, from dishwasher and busboy to chef and manager and pretty much every job in between. While I have enjoyed cooking the most, my second favorite job has always been bartender. I love the interaction with the patrons and enjoyed the showy aspect of creating a good cocktail. I took pride in the drinks I poured and would handcraft each one.
While this country may be experiencing a “cocktail revolution” or “re-awakening” I still am disappointed by the number of bartenders that really have no clue about how to make a proper cocktail. To them, it’s just a matter of throwing some booze in a glass, adding a premade mixer, stirring it up and maybe adding some soda. There’s no thought behind how the drink is made and the general mindset seems to be “the stronger the better.” While this attitude seems to be changing, at least in the cities and at higher end places, it’s still business as usual at the vast majority of bars. That’s why I mostly drink beer. It’s pretty hard for a bartender to screw that up, but ask for something as simple as a Manhattan or Old Fashioned and all bets are off. And forget about any of the more complex drinks that require precision in measuring and a little technique. To most of today’s bartenders, the word jigger is a bad word and most would rather be dead than caught using the measuring device. Unfortunately though, well made cocktails need to be measured out. Without measuring there is virtually no way to get the proper balance a drink needs.
But even measuring doesn’t do much good when you add crappy ingredients to a cocktail. Bottled sour mix, OJ from frozen concentrate, and a whole host of packaged bar mixes might help to speed things along at busy bars, but they certainly have no place in the making of a good cocktail. It saddens me when I see someone order a margarita with a premium tequila only to watch the bartender ruin it by using a bottled mix instead of fresh juice.
That said, today I was playing around with cocktails at home. I had this crazy idea that I wanted to come up with a way to combine gin and fresh tarragon, one of the first herbs to come up in my herb garden. There wasn’t much out there, on the web or in any of my cocktail books to guide me in combining these two items so I was on my own. Grapefruit seemed like a natural way to bridge the gap as grapefruit pairs well with tarragon and all citrus fruits pair well with gin. I then needed a sweetener. Grenadine would work perfectly in this aspect, providing sweetness, flavor, and a little color to the cocktail, but I refused to use the store bought stuff as it tastes nasty and has no resemblance to pomegranate, which is what grenadine was originally made from. So I decided to make my own.
12oz POM pomegranate juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a large container with a tight fitting lid. Shake the mixture until your arms feel like they are going to fall off. Allow to settle for about 30 minutes and if there is undissolved sugar settling on the bottom, repeat the shaking process. Continue until all sugar is dissolved. Store, tightly covered in the refrigerator. Will last for about 3-4 weeks.
Once that was solved I decided I wanted to give my cocktail an old fashioned look and texture to it. I wanted a nice foam to top the cocktail and I wanted it to have a nice velvety texture to it. There is only one way to achieve the look and feel I wanted-raw egg white. Okay, I know what you are thinking, “Gross!!!” but egg whites have been used for years in cocktails, and trust me, by the time the cocktail has been properly shaken you won’t even know it is there.Many drinks relied on egg whites, the most familiar being the Ramos Gin Fizz and the whole family of Sours (Pisco Sour, Whiskey Sour, etc.). Nowadays, bottled sour mixes achieve that foaming action through the used of chemicals and additives. I think I’d rather take my chances with the raw egg white. If you are worried about food poisoning you can always use pasteurized egg whites but let’s look at the reality. Statistics say that about 1 in 20,000 eggs is infected with salmonella. That means you have a 20 times greater chance of dying by drowning, 4 times better chance of dying by choking on your food, and a 3 times better chance of dying from a slip and fall, than you do from contracting salmonella. Even then, if you are a healthy adult the chances of actually contracting the illness is even much slimmer. But again, I urge you to try this cocktail using the egg white, even if it is pasteurized. It is just not the same without it.
I have titled this drink “The Dragon’s Tongue Cocktail” as an old name for tarragon is Dragon’s Wort. Make sure you go lightly on the tarragon. It is an assertive herb and can easily overpower the other flavors in this drink.
Dragon’s Tongue Cocktail
2 oz. Gin (I used Tanqueray)
4 oz. grapefruit juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 oz. homemade grenadine
1 small sprig tarragon (3-4 leaves)
1 egg white
Place egg white into a shaker and shake for a about 20 seconds. Add ice and the remaining ingredients and shake for at least 1 minute. Don’t skimp on the shaking as it is this shaking that will create the lovely foam that sits on top of the drink. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.