The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
Mixology! It’s not your parent’s highball!
Cocktail parties of the 1960s and 70s were intimate, invitation events. Couples arrived at the door, decked out in the latest fashions. Women appeared in their short cocktail dresses, little black dresses as we call them today. Ladies’ hairstyles consisted of teased-flips or stacked bouffants. Husbands wore sport’s jackets with skinny ties. Most men had long hair and sideburns. After introductions, my parents would offer this standard inquiry to guests, “Would you like a highball?” A highball was a simple beverage of whiskey or bourbon on the rocks, filled with soda, Seven or water. Martinis or highballs were the only beverages served before dinner. As kids, we would slither down the stairs in our pajamas, quietly relishing the ambience and adult conversation. Those were the simple days.
Then, mixing adult beverages became more complicated. In the 80s, I was employed as a bartender. I worked hard to master the art of mixing Brandy Alexanders, Pink Squirrels and Tom Collins. Eventually, that job came to an end in favor of a different career. With time, the popularity of mixed drinks appeared to turn bold and mysterious. My friendly-named cocktails lost favor. Cocktails seemed to take on a darker, more risqué side with names like B5-2s, Jӓeger-Bombs, Between the Sheets and The Woo Woo. Now, I see that each generation favors its own elixirs. Today, the thought of offering a highball would be absurd. And, unless you are hosting a very special occasion, expect your guests to arrive in jeans or shorts.
I’ve learned the hard way, don’t try to assume the role of Mixologist at home by offering too much. Most homes are not stocked to meet the whims of discerning guests. I rarely have everything on hand from tonic water to cranberry juice. Invariably, someone will ask for his drink with diet pop, then someone else will wonder why you don’t have Margarita mix or ask if you would make a Vodka Gimlet. I used to spend a fortune providing all these mixers, but eventually, I put an end to this madness!
As a Mixologist at home, here are five ideas to keep your party memorable:
1. Be Original!
I find that it is fun to plan, investigate and prepare one, special signature drink for a party. I’ve learned to simplify my drink menu, thereby simplifying my guest’s cocktail choices. I literally pour over drink recipes. A great article for reference is from "Restaurant Hospitality Magazine," because it offers a yearly review on the Best Cocktails in America. The photos are fabulous. It is sure to inspire you to create your own masterpiece in a glass. And if you're looking for more ideas, try Difford’s Guide for Discerning Drinkers, which offers the best online recipes.
2. Holy Toledo! Don’t forget the soft drinks!
Yes, some people do not drink alcohol, and I am always sensitive to friends who are cutting back on calories. I like to be prepared to make a signature mocktail. Sometimes, just a simple juice accompanied by a skewer of fresh fruit or sprigs of aromatic herbs is satisfying. On a tour of Brooklyn, I discovered the joy of fresh lemonade infused with freshly ground ginger. It was so refreshing, a real thirst quencher! An interesting novelty for your out of town guests is Vernors. It is a regional “pop,” something like ginger ale, only bubblier and more robust in flavor.
3. A Great Ice-Breaker
Have you ever tried to rein in a super-star guest who wants to play bartender? It is a cue to bring out the blender or Bullet. Among strangers and friends, let your Diva guide the crowd with his pulverizing, blending talents! I’ve always believed that a frozen cocktail allows us big kids to indulge in childhood memories of the 7-Eleven Slurpee. I know my guests are having a good time when they get to the bottom of their glasses and you hear air “slurping” through their straws. And don’t forget the fancy glass. I like stemware made by Toledo’s own Libbey Glass Company. One of their best drink glass styles is the big, wide Margarita glass. I love the brand names like Yucatan, Cancun and Cozumel. Any big glass is perfect for serving large, snow cone cocktails.
4. Scream for Ice Cream Smoothie Dessert
So, you keep things uncomplicated by serving a nice bottle of wine, maybe a few beers? Here’s a chance to save the best for last! Make an ice cream cocktail dessert with simple, ice cream squares. My favorite smoothie is made from coffee liqueur, vodka, and vanilla ice cream, with crumbled Oreos on top. Try crispy chocolate chip cookies on the side. It’s a twist on a White Russian. I think that a minty Grasshopper version with green Crème de Menthe also serves as a nice “digestif” to settle a full stomach. My signature drink is a Brandy Alexander made with two-parts brandy, one-part white Crème de Cocoa, blended with vanilla ice cream. Crushed ice is optional.
Another great (ice) cream drink is an after-dinner drink, or digestif, something sweet to settle the meal:
Take a cordial glass or fancy shot glass, Fill ¾ with Licor 43 (Golden Spanish Liqueur).
Layer it with heavy cream.
It looks like a mini beer but tastes like a cream soda!
5. Finally, presentation is everything!
Before the guests even have a chance to take a sip, I believe that a beautifully garnished drink will delight the senses and intrigue the taste buds. In New Orleans, a Bloody Mary is commonly garnished with a hot-peppered, pickled green bean. Some establishments add a few jumbo shrimp to the sides of their Clam Diggers or BM drinks. A fruit based drink shall be garnished with a piece of melon on a skewer, accompanied by a cheese cube wrapped in prosciutto.
For the innovative Mixologist, here’s a crazy brunch idea. Prepare a drink that is almost an appetizer! I am dubbing it a Drink-a-tizer. I received a first-hand report of this sensational cocktail from a Toledo tavern. I did some digging and I am delighted to announce that this drink phenomenon is already an existing national trend!
It takes some kitchen savvy, but probably worth the effort. First, place a beef slider sandwich on a skewer. Position it popping “high” out of a classic Bloody Mary. Add more appetizers. Essentially, the drink becomes Bloody Mary garnished high with sliders, fried onion rings, cubes of cheese, a meatball, shrimp on the edge, gourmet olives, and a beef stick. All of this emerges from a 20-ounce glass. There you have it! A perfect drink and appetizer….not so simple, but certainly a conversation piece. Don’t you think your guests will find this memorable?
If all this seems too complicated, ask if anyone would like a highball? Your guests will have no idea what you are talking about and probably nod affirmatively. Don’t forget to add a maraschino cherry. Cheers!
Library Resources for Mixology and Home Entertainment
Best Cocktails in America by Lisa Jennings, Bret Thorn and Marcella Veneziale
Restaurant Hospitality, Nov. 2017, Vol. 101 Issue 11, p 34-41.
The article evaluates several cocktails that are best in America.
Dip-licious! by Dawn Yanagihara
Kiwi, Dec.2015/Jan.2016, p 52-58.
Several recipes for appetizers for the holiday season are presented including sweet potato hummus, warm charred brussels sprouts dip, and curried cauliflower dip.
Online Ideas for Entertaining
How to Make Cocktails at Home - Serious Eats
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