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Ask A Bartender: Can You Own A Cocktail?

Friday, June 12, 2015


Once your drink has been downed, that’s it. It no longer exists. At least not the way you remember it. Not as yours.

Choosing to make drinks, either for a living or as a hobby is joining an ongoing conversation in which there is an encyclopedic amount of information available to keep yourself abreast. Very rarely, will you say anything or contribute anything profound. If you want to be seen as an iconoclast, it’s simply the wrong career. You’ll spend most of your time following recipes and trying to walk the fine line between being sufficiently entertaining to guests without overtly offending them. 

If the cocktails you do create are good enough, other people will want to chime in too. Give their two cents. That’s just a fact and some people may find it unsettling (again, career check). Sometimes this results in just mediocre versions of the template. The question then becomes: why contribute in the first place? I will be the first to make small of somebody that arbitrarily switches out one or two ingredients for one or two very similar ingredients, slaps his name on it and calls himself a rock star. But we should all contribute to the conversation if we genuinely feel that we have something to contribute. There is no original thought. Everything builds off of each other. Try to come up with an original recipe: chances are it will be similar to something else and, at this point if it’s not, it’s probably not much of a cocktail. 

If you still have a problem with this concept think about Jerry Thomas, the original. Known in his day primarily for his personality, he also archived the recipes for many of the cocktails we make today. It’s up to debate what he actually created but he did write down the recipes. One of the recipes he wrote down was for the Manhattan.

If we are to follow Jerry Thomas’s formula without deviation, all of our manhattans would be vermouth-forward affairs made with rye whiskey, orange curacao, bitters, shaken, (It’s also up to debate whether or not the part about it being shaken was an editor’s error as opposed to Thomas’ real recommendation. In either case, a Manhattan shaken may not be the best, but it’ll do just fine for diehard revivalists) and garnished with a twist. 

If Jerry Thomas were with us today would he be proud of all of the present incarnations alive and well- some superior to his own recipe- or would he throw a fit and insist that the Manhattan was his creation and should not be tinkered with? I would think that no matter how big his ego was, he was wise enough to understand that once a cocktail is let into the public’s consciousness there is no getting it back. It has already crossed the red line in the sand. If it’s good enough, the cocktail is no longer his. It’s nobody’s and everybody’s at the same time. Attaching your name to a drink is one of the most futile protests of this unwritten law. 

This rings especially true today, when there are enough cocktails in the world that regardless of what you “create” chances are there is something just like it. But results aside, even if you did create something totally unique and great, what aim is there in letting anybody else know it was you? Once the cocktail is out there and widely regarded by the public as a legitimate cocktail, it will get tinkered with. This is when we have to analyze our own motives. What is the point in taking credit for a conversation or a drink when everything has already been talked about and drunken? 

There might be a slight variation but the question should always be: how can I do it better, rather than how can I make it unique? Uniqueness is not a virtue. It’s just something that happens naturally and when it does it’s a nice surprise.  

Taking credit for a cocktail is almost as silly (though in no way as horrific) as taking credit for the development of another human being. Bartending is a conversation that has been going on before we existed and will continue on (one can hope) till long after we’re dead. We enter it midstream. We don’t know where our ideas come from but chances are every little deviation of a classic has already been thought of. So don’t try to be clever. When making a drink, you adjust the drink to fit you, or your costumers, correctly. Once the drink has been downed, that’s it. It no longer exists, at least not the way you remember it. Not as yours. It has moved on and so should you.  


Related Slideshow: 6 Hangover Cures from Top Portland Bartenders

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Hair O' the Dog.

Jeff Seymour, Interurban (4057 N Mississippi):

"[W]hen the day after can be wasted ... the only cure is to jump back on the train and deal with my hangover the next day. If it's a weekend, I'll head to Radar for a killer brunch and 2 or 3 mimosas and an Irish coffee for dessert. Then it's time to find all the rosé. It can be still or sparkling, I really don't discriminate. A few bottles later I'm right as rain."

You might be prolonging--and amplifying--the inevitable, but Jeff's words offer a tempting solution to a New Year's Day downer. Along with some savory eats, alcohol's beautiful, empty calories level out our post-binge blood sugar crash. Still, you can run but you can't hide--you'll do well to plan for a more permanent salve.

And remember, the folks serving you on a national holiday might well be feeling the hurt themselves. Whether or not the mimosas are bottomless, your bartender's meager savings are not. So tip well and stay happy!

For your hangover-numbing relief, Interurban opens at 3 pm New Year's Day. The rosé will be flowing. 

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Water, Protein, Water. Repeat.

Jordan Felix, Multnomah Whiskey Library (1124 SW Alder):

"My hangover cure often goes in 3 steps:

1) San Pellegrino Sparkling BIG bottle & a Vita Coco coconut water. Both tend not to fail me but if they do, a Campari & soda with no citrus helps immensely.

2) Grab a Steak & Egg sandwich from Meat Cheese Bread on SE 14th & Stark. I don't know how they do it, but this sandwich is a miracle.

3) A litre of water and a Boylan's ginger ale. It's all about hydration!"

Time-honored advice for a reason--alcohol is well-documented to cause dehydration. And, while many pro drinkers swear by greasy carbs the next day, protein--especially the amino acid cysteine--may hold the key to replenishing your sapped reserves. 

So drink and eat up, Portlandians, and by that we mean agua and steak. And if you're vegan--well, you can still have a protein shake.

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Burn, Baby, Burn.

Lucas Plant, Barlow (737 SW Salmon):

"My hangover cure is heading to Minizo, in the food carts on Mississippi next to Prost. Try the Shoyu Ramen and ask Ken to go all in--his kimchi and garlic paste will sweat out last night's bad decisions, and get you ready for round two."

Savvy bartender at Barlow and co-founder of Bull in China--Portland's premier craft barware shop and recent darling of the NY Times--Luke knows how to spice things up on either side of an epic night out.

You may want to avoid extreme remedies like habaneros or the infamous ghost chili pepper--not to mention Eeyore plushies and a swift kick in the nuts (Seriously, a pretty decent Youtube vid that gets GREAT around 2:30--a hangover helper in itself).

But fermented foods like kimchi replenish your body's "good" bacteria, and garlic, high in the amino acid cysteine, cleanses your rotting gut of all the debris.

No stranger to herbal digestifs--or professionally perfect timing--Luke added, "Totally forgot. After the ramen, a Fernet seals the deal!" Booze out. Booze in. Repeat.

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Grease the Wheels.

Jesse Leo, Nightlight Lounge (2100 SE Clinton):

"Grease, man. Something that'll make me tired. Gravy! You been to Tabor Tavern? They have a breakfast sandwich called the rev, and it will--it'll blow your mind. Crispy fried chicken, bomb-ass pepper gravy, cheese--it's amaaaazing."

While not exactly supported by science--greasy food can clog up an already-taxed liver, and deliver few of the nutrients your body actually needs--Jesse's folk wisdom resonates with what's become a solidified part of Portland's culinary canon. At the very least, a rich, heavy breakfast will stick to the ribs, putting you--and those sudden flashes of last night's drunk texting--right back to bed.

While Jesse can be found most Saturday nights happily spinning up Nightlight's seasonally-rotating specialty cocktails, you don't have to wait for the cure: Nightlight is offering up a special New Year's Day brunch from noon to 3--moderately priced, adults-only (mmmimosas!), and exceptionally crafted. Sure, there're vegan options, but c'mon. You know you want gravy.

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Potassium! Okay, and Maybe a Shot.

Daniel Osborne, Teardrop Lounge (1015 NW Everett):

"For summertime, Teardrop's Piña Colada is all fresh ingredients. Coconut cream, pineapple juice, pineapple gomme. A very good source of potassium!"

But Ptown's chilly winters call for something slightly more...bold.

"My go-to tequila is Olmeca Altos Blanco. It's a very good source of alcohol!"

As for Piña Coladas, I have to admit, as a former bartender, that no matter where I worked, the blender was somehow always broken...just right now...just for you. It's a safe bet that Daniel and the staff at Teardrop are a tad more hospitable.

In contrast to the Piña Colada's sweet, creamy blanket, tequila is not for the faint-of-heart--nor the faint-of-gag-reflex. But it remains, for the faithful, an unstoppable cure--not, we might argue, just for hangovers, but for modern guilt, deep insecurities, and those graceful good manners your friends thought you had. Proceed with caution, young Jedi.

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The Big O.

"Orgasms! I'm being serious. It creates blood flow and oxygen intake." 

This from Beckaly Franks of Clyde Common (1014 SW Stark), whose attractive bar staff and inventive cocktails make for a seductive experience on their own. 

While we might not all be so lucky as to have, um, help with this cure, Beckaly's observations are right on point. A recent study of migraine sufferers by German neurologists found that a majority found relief through sex, with many experiencing "moderate to complete" alleviation of the monster headaches.

Men, too, experience increased brain activity during orgasm. One study even suggested the effects are similar to heroin, which makes sense to those who've experienced major post-coital stupor right after the big moment.

Ah, well. Naptime is good for hangovers, too, right?


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