Getting Fresh with a Cocktail

Michael Nagrant / 08.11.06

I’ve given cocktails short shrift. I’m a descriminating gourmand, who’ll travel a thousand miles just to eat a local specialty, but when it comes to the bar, I’m more likely to amble a couple of blocks, and ask for my old standby of bourbon and Coke.

Lately though I’ve been spending some time with bartenders who pursue mixology with the same dedication as top chefs. These guys are focused on seasonal ingredient driven cocktails filled with chopped farm fresh fruits and vegetables.

I don’t know why it took me so long to have an epiphany. Whenever possible I’m looking for farm grown heirloom tomatoes for caprese salads or local creameries for my milk, and yet I think nothing of using mixes full of corn syrup, sodium benzoate, shelf stable gums, and artificial colorings for my drinks.

Like a commitment to eating well and cooking well, all you have to do is be more conscious and make a few changes in your repetoire and you’ll be drinking better. Here’s a few rules:

1) Throw away the Rose’s lime juice and harsh palate puckering Jose Cuervo Margarita mix.

2) Squeeze fresh juice. It takes very little effort to squeeze a lime or a lemon, and better yet, a peach or a watermelon.

3) Cut fresh garnish-slices of lime, pitted black cherries, etc.

4) Shake drinks over ice, don’t refrigerate your spirits, it’ll mask the flavor.

5) Think of the rim as another component to your drink-use spices, salts, pepper, edible flowers etc.

6) Use top shelf spirits. It’s an old wives tale that you’re wasting good spirits in a mixed drink. Start with junk and your drink will taste like drunk. If you’re the kind of person who’ll spend a hundred bucks on aged balsamic or fifteen bucks on authentic jamon serrano, why wouldn’t you throw down ten or twenty more for an 100% agave tequila that isn’t diluted with harsh spirts. That wicked hangover you sustained in high school or college wasn’t from tequila, but from the substandard filler used in the spirit.

Finally, here are a couple or recipes to get you started.


This drink might seem obvious, but when’s the last time you’ve had a fresh balanced margarita that wasn’t from frozen concentrate or shelf stable mixes. I’ve been experimenting a bit and here’s my favorite. Portion size will fill a typical martini style glass.

– 2 oz Patron or Gran Centenario Reposado Tequila
– 1 oz Grand Marnier
– 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
– 3/4 oz simple syrup (mix equal parts superfine sugar and water and shake)
– finely chopped zest of 1 lime
– 1 tablespoon salt

Fill a martini glass with ice and cold water to chill.

If you have a mortar and pestle, work the zest and salt together to make a lime salt. Pour salt out on a plate and spread in a circle.

Pour ice water mixture out of the martini glass and wet the rim of the glass with a lime wedge. Turn the wet rim over and submerge it in the salt mixture to create a lime salted rim.

In a shaker filled with ice, mix the tequila, Grand Marnier, lime juice, and syrup. The biggest variable in this recipe is how tart the limes are. If you think yours are especially tart, you might want to compensate with a whole ounce of simple syrup instead of 3/4 oz. Once everything is in the shaker, cap it off and shake. As soon as the shaker frosts over, your drink is properly diluted.

Pour through a strainer into your lime salted martini glass and enjoy.

Peach Mojito

-2 oz rum, Bacardi will work fine here, but the better rum you get, the better it tastes
-1 oz freshly squeezed peach juice
-1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
-6-8 mint leaves
-3/4 oz simple syrup
-1 Teaspoon of diced peach

Chill a martini glass as above. Place the diced peach in the bottom.

Mix simple syrup, lime juice, and mint in a glass and muddle. You can buy a pro muddler or use the handle of a wooden spoon to smash the mixture together.

After some serious muddling pour the mixture into a shaker filled with ice and add the rum and peach juice. Shake. When the shaker frosts, your drink is properly diluted.

Pour through strainer into the martini glass. If you want a bit of fizz, you can always top off with a bit of club soda, but I prefer mine without.