01 August 2014 16:36

Denzel Heath's Diary of a travelling bartender (#6)

Sour Hour

If being a travelling bartender has taught me one thing, it must be how to really appreciate the simplest cocktail recipes and readily available ingredients. More often than not, I find myself chopping and changing cocktail recipes when arriving for a launch, event or training session (mostly in Africa) because of the lack of fresh ingredients in local markets. Ingredients that we so easily take for granted in South Africa are just nowhere to be found. Conveniently, it forces me to get back to the basics... And I love basic boozy mixes!

Whiskey Sour

One drink I can always rely on, regardless of where in the world I find myself, is the Sour... I am reminded of this almost every time I am behind the stick. Never has a customer come back to me after sipping on a sour and said, I will never drink this damned drink again, although granted, they may ask for me to sweeten it up, leave it a bit more sour or omit egg whites. When made with the client's choice of base and according to their personal taste, one cannot go wrong! The keys to a successful Sour though, is balance and variation.

I always start off my Sour with a brief but powerful interaction with the conflicted imbiber. During a training course with Emmet O'Brien a couple of years back, I was shown a simple system on how to asses what a client is expecting from his/her bar experience and how to sell to those needs, through asking 3 simple questions: Who, Why and What? Who the heck are you? Why do you find yourself here of all places? What are you looking to have achieved through your visit to our watering hole? You can obtain so much information through these simple questions.

The scenario could play out as follows: "The name is Bond. James Bond. I am on a stake-out. I am looking to catch a bad guy and bed a good girl." As a bartender, I know not to interact with James too much - he is on the job after all. I know that he is not really here to be sold to, rather than to be served. I make simple suggestions rather than trying to sell him a Pangallactic Gargle Blaster. Something a bit less conspicuous, if you will. If a hotty with a sexually implied title comes along, I could suggest he buy her a drink. [I can sell the hell out of any cocktail to a girl called Pussy Galore.] If I see a shady henchman-looking character lurking in one of the back booths, I could calmly inform James of the situation. At this stage it would also probably be a good idea to inform your manager that there is an international man of mystery in your midst and he should start planning an exit strategy while getting the poh-poh involved - but let's not ruin this scenario with too many semantics. James is happy. I make my tip. I gain a regular.

Cocktail? Yesh pleash.

I have taken this system of assessing a customer's experience expectation and adjusted it a bit to suit the Sour need. Spirit? Strong? Sweet? Sour? Susceptibility? Finding out the type of spirit the consumer usually enjoys and the strength at which they prefer consuming it is a pretty straight forward practice. The next step is finding balance between sweet and sour according to how the consumer defines it. And lastly, Susceptibility... Huh? How susceptible is the customer to exploring some different variations of the basic Sour.

It is noteworthy, that most male patrons are usually pretty set in their drinking habits and females are usually more open to experimenting when it comes to deciding on what to drink. Hence we find the reasons behind why the Cosmo is pink, all bartenders are sexy (including girls) and why the word 'cocktail' starts with the word for the male reproductive organ. Follow your most manly mate to his local a couple of times and I bet you will find him drinking the same drink over and over again. Now do the same with your bff. Now call yourself a stalker... The above mentioned systems are more applicible to the undecided patron.

For more on finding balance, please feel free to check out an earlier diary entry. For now, let's chat variations. Sour is more a group classification for cocktails than the name of a specific cocktail, as is made apparent in Jerry THE COCKTAIL BOSS Thomas' 1862 publication of How to Mix Drinks. It is made up of a base spirit, lemon/lime and a sweetener. Your sweetener does not necesarily have to be granulated sugar (my preference), nor does it have to be gomme syrup. Classic sweeteners include triple sec, grenadine and pineapple juice. Hence we find that cocktails like the Classic Daiquiri, Margarita, Sidecar and the White Lady are all part of this illustrious and tasty family. And they all have simplicity in common.

Dill or No Dill

Recently I read an article by David Wonderich referring to the New York Sour. All the rage during the early 1880s, it takes the simple Whisky Sour made with either Rye or Bourbon, lemon juice and demarera sugar, and tops it off with a shot or two of dry red wine. Looks good and tastes great! My personal favourite variation is the Boston Sour - a sour with added egg white. My Boston Sour is made with half a lemon in wedges added into the shaker, some Buffalo Trace Bourbon, sticky brown sugar and 8-10ml of egg white. First dry shaken and then shaken with ice and poured directly from the shaker. Finally, I like to top it off with a healthy helping of Angostura Bitters(not standard in the classic Boston Sour).

Gareth Evans, British bartender extraordinaire from the Blind Pig in London, does a beautiful Gin Sour with the addition of cucumber, dill and Elderflower, called the Dill or No Dill. I should know this recipe off by heart as earlier this year, during a guest shift, I made about 100 in 2 hours! Great drink. Pop in to the Blind Pig and try it sometime.

Here is another favourite sour of mine, the Ward 8 (my variation):

Glass: Whiskey Rocks
Method: Shake and fine strain over ice
50ml Sazerac Rye Whiskey (If you manage to get your hands on Sazerac Rye, otherwise any rye will do just fine)
25ml Fresh lemon Juice
20ml Fresh orange Juice
20ml Grenadine
Dash of Angostura Bitters (Peychaud's Bitters also makes for a great variation)
Garnish: Orange zest

The original recipe does not call for any bitters, but in my opinion, a sour and aromatic bitters go together like Gin and Tonic. I like to make my own grenadine by cooking pomegranate rubies with sugar, a touch of orange blossom/rose water and some high proof rum for a bit of a kick.

That's all from me and my diary for this time. Until we meet again, keep mixing! Remember to check MUDL for my travelling updates, and for more information on where I am and what I am up to, follow me on Twitter @MeMyDrinksandI.


Yours truly,

The Travelling Bartender (Denzel Heath)

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