Cocktails for Valentine's Day




Drinks are not only about what’s in the glass.

Everything sexy is about sensation. The totality of the feeling.

A voice, a groove, a beat. Something that warms, something that soothes. Lighting and mood and company.

And so it is with cocktails.

Cocktails -- good ones -- are about preparation, thought and care. And here we are practically at Valentine's Day, when it's good to keep those sorts of things in mind in general.

Drinks for certain occasions should come with song pairings, ones to which the same standards apply. Which means no Snoop Dogg and “Gin and Juice.” And certainly no Aerosmith and "Sloe gin fizzy/Do it 'til you're dizzy/Give all you got until you're put out of your misery."

Each drink you serve should have a story. Why it is you decided to make this drink for this person on this night.

In a real way, who is that special someone? Is that coquette of a structural engineer in your life going to be awed by your mastery of dilution in achieving bibulous harmony? Does it just need to be pretty in a pretty glass and taste good? Should there be a little bit of a pucker -- not Pucker, that's disgusting -- in it as an invitation to lick lips?

So. Options. Good decisions begin with options.

Option No. 1: Rum Old Fashioned. Unctuous and rich, as complex as the rum you use, but not heavy or cloying. It's a deceptively simple drink. It calls for older music that will match it for subtlety, evoking candlelight and intimacy even if you forgot the candles like an idiot because of course you did. Pairing: Billie Holiday, "Comes Love."

Recipe: 2 ounces good aged or dark rum, 2 dashes aromatic or cardamom bitters, 1/4 ounce simple syrup. Combine ingredients over ice and stir briskly for 15 seconds and strain over a rock of ice into a double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a wide twist of lemon peel.

Option No. 2: Champagne Cocktail. Classy devil, aren't you. You probably already knew this is the drink Paul Henreid's Victor Laszlo keeps ordering in "Casablanca." It's bubbly and tickly and fun and comes out a delightful color. A pairing inspired by Ingrid Bergman in that same movie: Velvet Underground, "Here She Comes Now."

Recipe: Rinse a coupe glass and stash it in the freezer in advance. Remove it, drop your favorite type of sugar cube in the bottom and add a good three or four dashes of Angostura bitters. Fill the glass with dry Champagne or another sparkling wine. Garnish with a thin lemon twist.

Option No. 3: Last Word. You wanted to shake something. I knew it. And you don't think winter simply must mean brown or bubbling booze. Good for you. This one is tart, light and refreshing -- and thus a little dangerous. In the best possible way. So many of the old bluesmen seemed to enjoy their gin that this pairing, suggesting the sneaky potency of the drink, seems only appropriate here: John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom Boom."

Recipe: Rinse and chill a coupe in the freezer. To one half of a shaker, add ¾ ounce each of gin, green Chartreuse, fresh-squeezed lime juice and Maraschino liqueur. Add enough ice to emerge from the liquid, cap the shaker and give it a vigorous shake until your hands get cold. Get the coupe and double-strain through a fine enough strainer to get all the little ice bits out. Crunchy cocktails are for cheap beach resorts and hippies, but then you know this already. Serve up.

For a funky twist, swap out the gin for Fernet Branca, the Italian bitter liqueur. In that case, your pairing is D'Angelo, "Ain't That Easy."

Option No. 4: Black Diamond Flip. This drink is a smoldering beast. Smoky, refined, untamed and smooth all at the same time. Save this until after dinner when you haven't quite relaxed yet as you contemplate where the night can take you. Pairing: Prince, "Cream." Because it just is.

Recipe: In one half of a shaker, crack one whole egg. Shake hard -- harder than you shook the Last Word -- for at least 10 seconds. Add 1.5 ounces of Islay Scotch and 1½ ounces of the Italian liqueur Cynar, plus 1/4 to 1/2 ounce simple syrup, depending on your taste. Add ice and shake again to chill, and double-strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Grate nutmeg over the top and brace yourself.

Jacob Sanders: jsanders@post-gazette.com. 





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