Putting the “Craft” Back into Cocktails

Tuesday nights are Craft Cocktail night at the Grand Stafford Theater. For some of our patrons, just the mention of “craft cocktails” is enough to send their taste-buds into a desirous frenzy, but others of you may not know exactly what kind of treat you’re in for. So let me give you the “what’s what” on the recent resurgence of quality mixed drinks.

Over the last few decades the cocktail has been much maligned. From “girly” to “sissy” the accusations cocktails suffered have ranged from innocent insults to emasculating and unabashedly misogynistic. While mostly undeserved, drinks like Cosmopolitans, Pink Ladies, and Fuzzy Navels provided fuel to the liquor purist’s fire. These saccharin sweet drinks, which mostly mask the flavor of distilled alcohols don’t bode well with palettes that can appreciate a well crafted drink and can tell you the difference between Bourbon, Scotch, and a good ol’ fashioned Tennessee Whiskey without hesitation. (There is a difference.) With drinks like the “Cosmo” being the celebrities of the mixed drink world, it became hard to see the artistry of cocktail making – similar to the way Nicholas Cage makes it hard to see the artistry of acting. It tastes good at first, but by the time you’re halfway through, you feel sick to your stomach.

In recent years, however, a subculture of passionate cocktail concocters, like the Grand Stafford’s very own Cody Schilling, have been working hard to restore honor to the cocktail’s name. The key difference in craft cocktails is the approach. While some cocktails (we won’t name names) have employed sour mixes and sugary syrups to hide the tastes of the liquors within, craft cocktails emphasize using ingredients that support and enhance what the liquor brings to the table. Additionally, a true craft cocktail will use only the finest of ingredients. Instead of sour mix a craft cocktail boasts the complexity and freshness of fresh squeezed citrus juices and when the recipe calls for something sweet, seasonal fruit is used in place of sugar-packed imitations. Another distinguishing factor for craft cocktails is the inclusion of “bitters.” Bitters are created by distilling a base liquor with herbs, fruits, spices, or roots in order to draw out and concentrate flavors. Their purpose in most drinks it to add an extra layer or two of complexity and bring out subtle flavors that naturally exist in the liquor(s) in the drink.

The world of craft cocktails, with all its highfalutin terminology and methodology may seem intimidating, but in reality it is a return to a simpler time. Much of what the craft cocktail movement stands for was commonplace in pre-prohibition bars. At the core of the movement are people who have a passion for good liquor. These people feel that mixology (the art of making mixed drinks) is both a privilege and an obligation. They feel compelled and honored to serve you drinks that use only the freshest fruits, herbs, and spices to highlight the subtleties of their favorite liquors rather than drowning them in a sea of corn-syrup. After all, you’re supposed to be enjoying a cocktail, not a snow-cone.

For those of you who have been joining us on Tuesdays, we hope to see you return – and if you do, bring a friend. For those of you who have been reluctant to come see what it’s all about, we hope this has eased your minds. If not – we can assure you the cocktails will.

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