Opinion: Enough with the wanky cocktails

Radishes and clam broth do not belong in my drink.

ROSA GOLLAN explores the mysterious world of cocktails.

I thought the sliver of candied bacon atop my glass of maple bacon-infused Jack Daniels was bad enough. I thought a side of salami with my dill vodka and clamato juice was bad enough. What even is clamato juice? Oh of course – a drink made from reconstituted tomato juice and clam broth.

What’s going on here? I find it highly concerning how much time, effort and money people are putting into bringing together a list of pretension-infused ingredients to make what is essentially a concoction of poisons. I just don’t see the appeal in paying 25 odd dollars to dress up a substance that my body immediately tries to get rid of as soon as it enters, at least not on a student budget anyway. Give me a simple refreshing cider, a clean vodka and soda, a bold glass of red. A goon sack for all I care, just keep it simple.

But this is the way it is now. This is Clover Moore’s aim, to make a city of experimental bartenders in claustrophobic bars, to “build a more civilised drinking culture and encourage owners and operators to offer more than just alcohol such as live music and good food.”

While the state government attempts to regulate drinking hours and hunt down boozers who cause trouble, the rest of us, it seems, are developing a more refined palate for booze. But what I am starting to see, what makes it all the more stupid, is that our palate is refining to be something from another planet.

I’ve managed to whittle down the wanky cocktail into a few different categories:

THE FLOWER VASE

Ingredients might include: Hibiscus, dried hibiscus, hibiscus slices stuffed inside hibiscus, rose petals, jasmine, candied lavender.

Flowers live in the garden, not in my cup. I have no desire to find a whole sunflower growing from my drink, or a Venus flytrap for that matter.

THE GARDEN SALAD

Ingredients might include: Carrot juice, beetroot, mushroom bitters, radish chunks.

I understand a Bloody Mary, a slice of cucumber, the odd olive, even some ginger sprinkles. But a kale juice margarita is not okay, neither is vodka with edamame bean puree. Bars are tapping into the raw food revolution but vegetables are healthy, alcohol is not. It’s false and misleading advertising.

THE SPECIAL EFFECTS

Ingredients might include: Wood smoke, fire, dry ice, explosions.

When I think of liquid nitrogen and the misty dry ice effect, I can’t help but remember the English girl who lost her stomach a few years ago for drinking a shot laced with the stuff. If you want a smoky effect, get your mate to blow their cigarette into your glass.

It’s all a love/hate relationship for me. At times it’s great to be able to go out with friends, sit on broken milk crates and sip expensive liquid from a chipped teacup. But I find myself asking which body part do I need to sell to afford this? Why do I need this encyclopaedia to accompany my drink? Why is liquid nitrogen involved in everything? I feel cultured yet dirty at the same time.

I’m not just angry with myself and society for being sucked in by all the glamour and adjectives. I’m actually really curious to learn more, to understand why cocktails need to be tampered with, to understand the appeal of cryptic menus.

At a swanky cocktail bar in Sydney’s eastern suburbs you can find a variety of mysterious, inexplicable items on the menu. Pink peppercorns? White chocolate ice sphere? Pumpkin pie moonshine? And I don’t know how anything could make tequila taste nice let alone a mixture of butter, raisins, brioche and chestnuts.

The number of ridiculous items was so extensive, infuriating, and fascinating that I just had to check it out. My curiosity of the mixed berry shrub and Pimms option got so intense that on arrival I very nearly burst through the doors and ran for the bar screaming “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”

However, first I had a list of questions about the menu for the poor waitress, one of them asking what ‘green pea tonic’ was. She replied, “We infused tonic water with green peas and pull all the florals out of it so it has a fresh pea flavour.” She was utterly convinced this is a normal thing to do.

I decided to go with the John Wayne – Bulleit Bourbon, Laird’s Apple Brandy, maple, root beer & cherry cola syrup, peanut butter bitters mist – I was too intrigued by the peanut butter mist. Despite being assured it was the best drink they had, what I got tasted like a watered down bourbon decorated with a tiny American flag sticking out of a soggy cherry. Where was my peanut butter? Not even a hint.

Three cocktail bars, three decorative menu choices, three watery drinks later and nothing came remotely close to blowing my mind or even getting me slightly drunk. I wasn’t upset, angry, or disappointed. I was happy because I had proven it was all a scam, that we aren’t better off because we have truffled honey milk and saffron in our drinks, and that miso paste and crisp meringue floating in our glasses aren’t going to make us better people.

I had won, I had beat them and their system. And then I realised I had spent all my rent money, had consumed an obscene amount of empty calories, and was sitting alone in a fancy bar, thoroughly sober and unsatisfied.

Originally published on ON I’ll Drink To That magazine

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