Just muddling along
Reading regular contributor Katrina Lobley’s piece this week on Aspen (Page 6), I was intrigued by the notion of a $US47 ($62) margarita crowned with a twist of silver leaf. “The price includes a tableside cocktail-cart performance complete with dramatic liquid-nitrogen fog,” Katrina tells us. Oh, my.
I’ve travelled quite a bit this year and everywhere I venture there is a buzz about cocktail craftsmen, alcohol alchemists and mixologists and ever more inventive tipples containing the likes of, say, particles of gold leaf, wild elderflowers plucked by organic elves in deepest Devon or sugar snap peas muddled with tarragon. To muddle is all the go, actually, and means to smash or stir the ingredients as well as, ironically, to confuse or cause disorder.
If you search online for unusual cocktail ingredients you’ll find the (unlikely) likes of foie gras. If you add frozen flake of foie gras to a bourbon cocktail, you have a concoction known as Foie the Hell of It. There are hundreds more, I’m afraid. Infused syrups are all the go, too, from lavender to lychee. No plain old martini is safe. Watch out, here comes smashed avocado and a crush of bell peppers.
I have just been reading in a US magazine that bar carts are back. We would know these as drinks trolleys or traymobiles and these retro wagons on wheels are now pushed about by so-called cartenders who will “compose” your drinks or “curate” your coasters or “advocate” your olives or whatever other artisan-led nonsense you should require. I hope they have supplies of soft lollies as the gummy bear martini I had in 2014 at RIMBA in Bali sticks with me still. The other big thing is flair bartending which leaves the likes of Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown in the 1988 movie Cocktail well in the shade.
Flair bartending has been described as “the manipulation of bar tools”, which sounds uncomfortable. It involves juggling cocktail shakers and bottles and often setting fire to things (drinks, mostly) and can be referred to as “extreme bartending”. I have not seen this in action but presume it’s a bit like Japanese chefs at teppanyaki bars who twirl about their knives and giant pepper bills and crack eggs from on high. I observed one such chap on the Pride of America cruise ship off Hawaii last year and he had his work cut out in much the same way as at-sea circus performers and jugglers. A highwire act on the high seas? You’d have to be bonkers.
Some flair bartenders also perform close-up tricks, known as bar magic. I presume they make that maraschino cherry disappear up your nose or produce a mermaid swizzle stick from behind your ear.
Speaking of adornments, we had a fabulous Christmas soiree last year in which I decorated all the drinks with little parasols and other things on toothpicks, such as paper pineapples that ballooned out and bobbed about, until they gave up and sank. My retro swizzle stick collection got quite an airing, including the dolphin-shaped ones from Hawaii inscribed with the merry message: Here Today. Gone to Maui. I didn’t set fire to anything, except the Christmas pudding, which flared with flair.