Which is why I almost never order them in a bar.
Isn't that odd? Isn't that where drinks live? In bars?
In theory, yes. Cocktail-makin's live in bars. Alcohol. Carbonated beverages. Fruit juices.
The problem is that cocktails need to be created quickly to satisfy demand. Few bartenders take the time mix one well. Another problem is with the ingredients.
Consider the simple gin and tonic. It has 4 ingredients: gin, tonic, ice and lime wedge. Cocktails don’t come any simpler.
Maybe the bar has a nice selection of gin.
But look at the tonic. Ninety-nine per-cent of the time the tonic will come out of a “gun.” It will consist of tonic concentrate mixed with carbonated water. The gun will also dispense cola, soda, ginger ale, lemon soda, and reconstructed fruit juices—not to mention to bane of a good margarita, “sours mix,” a syrupy lemon/lime artificial abomination. The gun is the primary reason I stick to good beer or wine in bars.
Garnishes are also problematic. Maraschino cherries? Ugh. Go to an Italian market and get real cherries preserved in alcohol. Your Old Fashioned will thank you.
Lemon twists were cut en masse before the dinner rush, drying and curling sadly in a rocks glass for the server to garnish their own drinks (because most bartenders garnish only their own customers’ drinks, not those destined for servers). All the other fruit was cut ahead of time. Fresh juices (if they have them) may have been produced a day or more in advance.
Luckily there's a cure.
A number of years ago I read in the NY Times magazine a reminiscence about a father’s gin and tonic technique which essentially changed my life. After tasting one made this way it ruined all other g/t’s for me.
Friends soon became converted, and started referring to it as a “Daryl Cross G and T” to differentiate it from the more standard recipe. However, this was cumbersome, so a new name was sought. Someone came up with “Muddled Limey”—just about perfect, given the technique and the fact that I was born in England.
The Muddled Limey
Pour a good slug of gin into a glass.
Add fresh juice from ½ a lime (I have hand-held, clamp-like juicer for this purpose).
Add squeezed lime rind to glass of gin and juice.
Muddle rind with gin and juice for one minute. This releases the oil from the rind, which has a distinct character. You cannot skip this step.
Allow this mixture to sit for at least two minutes, allowing the flavors to commingle and soften. You cannot skip this step.
Add dash of bitters (optional).
Add ice to glass
Slowly pour in tonic from a freshly opened small bottle of tonic, such as Schweppes. Discard leftover tonic to remove temptation of using flat tonic for your next round of drinks.
Add fresh squeeze of lime (optional).
Few bartenders would take the time to make a drink like this.
Just about any cocktail could be improved by this technique. Rum and coke with lime. Vodka and soda with lemon. Margaritas.
Or as I call them all, “Happiness in a glass.”