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Bar Life

The Lowball

The perfect cocktail takes only four items.

It starts with a glass. I prefer old fashion tumblers. These are the glasses with thick, heavy bases and slender, thin walls. Old fashion glasses are called such because they need heavy bases for muddlers to crush oranges, cherries and sugar cubes. I like how they open up wide and let the booze seep the smells of the liquor. The clear crystal showcases the ingredients and best of all, I love how the walls of the glass build condensation.

Second, it takes ice. Automatic ice machines found on new refrigerators are fine but the best come from actual ice manufacturers. Want a root canal? Visit an exodontists. Want ice? Go to somebody who knows how to actually make it. Spend the $3. You won’t regret it.

There is much talk at the bar about people infusing liquors with fresh ingredients or aging new products in oak barrels, but I think it is time for folks to start to making boutique ice. Good ice sets off a drink. Bad ice taste like the remains of an aged fridge. It is only a matter of time before we’ll find an ice shop in Sugarhouse and you waiting in line to buy over-priced frozen water.

Third, quality booze. Here’s the deal, this is the most arbitrary part of any drink. What I consider quality might seem like a king’s ransom for a fifth of hooch. For others, they might think that my beloved liquor isn’t fit for a railroad hobo. Good booze is what you can afford and wish to pour. Not every cocktail can be made with the best product, that’s why you need to be selective and certain of what you’re pouring is the best for our drink.

When it comes to Old Fashions, there is nothing better than Bulleit Bourbon. Manhattan should be made with Canadian Club. Mint Juleps demand Jack Daniels. Sazeracs should be made with, well, Sazerac Bourbon.

The hitch behind this—Jim Beam would easily suffice with any of these classic cocktails.

If drinking is a lifestyle then it is immaterial what you consume. But if you are trying to create perfect drinks, then you need to seek out the best liquor you can afford. And don’t get hung up on brands. Find what you like and buy it.

I figure this reasoning is why I tend to buy two bourbons: Bulleit and Maker’s Mark. They both cost around $30. It hits the wallet but not too bad. I always justify these purchases in that you get at least nine cocktails per bottle where at the bar, I would spend close to $120 for the same amount of drinks.

If you think economy doesn’t come into my drinking, you’d be wrong.

Finally, the best drinks have the best mixers. Scotch and sodas demand canned soda. Whiskey and ginger requires canned ginger ale or homemade ginger beer. Jack and Cokes, I think you can see where this is going. The best carbonated mixers come from cans and I doubt you can do better than that. At the bar, the soda guns are good but you have to factor in the hundreds of feet the soda pop needs to travel before entering you glass. At home, don’t get cheap and make substandard drinks with two-liter soda pop.

I don’t judge you for wanting to get drunk—just show some modicum of class while you are doing it.

So, you’re going to be making some home cocktails, you now know what you need to make this happen: glassware, ice, booze and mixer. These four items compose a highball and they are the best cocktails on the planet.

At the simplest, a highball can be a Jack and Coke. At the most complicated, a highball can be a Mojito. Because we are talking about real drinks, I will spare you the shame of talking about any drink that doesn’t include whiskey. Real drinks are not made with anything but whiskey.

Think about that for a minute—I have been.

When I look at my truck or my home or the standard of life that working behind the bar has created for me, I am saddened to think that everything I own comes from pouring sickeningly sweet tall, strong and fruities. Every time Erin and I go out to dinner or pay for one of our dog’s veterinarian’s visits, I calculate the cost in how many AMFs or Long Islands I had to pour. The power bill to the phone bill to flying out to visit my mother in San Diego comes from pouring disgustingly sweet cocktails because the average (rather, the vast majority) of drinkers don’t like cocktails. They like getting drunk but not the taste of liquor. They want the baby but not the labor pains.

If you prefer drinking Long Islands to whiskey and sodas, chances are you don’t have the palate to enjoy anything pure. You would rather hide behind artificially flavored vodkas because you don’t like traditional tastes. That’s fine, I am not judging you, but recognize that you don’t really like alcohol.

For those of us that do like the taste of booze, we tend to stay away from the sugars simply because the sweetness equates to both hangovers and making very,very bad decisions.

With that said, the best drinks come from whiskey.

I wish that I had access to a cabana boy who would muddle the early evening away making Mojitos and Old Fashions, but I haven’t poured enough AMFs to make that happen. So, when I am home having cocktails with Erin, I settle with whiskey and water. In my estimation, this is the best cocktail on the planet.

The whiskey and water is a part of the highball family but I always call it a lowball.

In a good glass with good ice, a decent whiskey and (Lord help me) tap water, a lowball is the best way to enjoy making dinner at home. Because I do the majority of the cooking for my family, I love a short lowball while I steam vegetables, cooking rice or grilling fish. Lowballs set the evening and offer a chance to unwind while processing the day. I work four nights a week of and these moments at the house with my family are why I leave for over half of the week. Ten years ago, I never would have thought about it in those terms. Amazing what a little maturity can do to a man.

Fair warning.

There are a thousand ways to drink a cocktail and there are a million reasons to drink. I just caution people for calling whipped creamed vodka or lemon-flavored rum mixed with a Merlin’s brew of concoctions as being a bad road to walk down. Smart money would bet that years from now when you have a shared some of my experiences that getting crocked on anything more complicated than a lowball will result in misplaced memories. Instead of remembering the good times with friends and family, you’ll be left with blackened hangovers and nauseating mornings.

I defend the lowball and so should you. It harkens back to a time when cocktails meant something, more than a daily chance to tie on one.

The perfect cocktail requires four items.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. New podcast coming up. Funny how he can write about lowballs and only had two.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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