5 Occasional Cocktails

I was a craft bartender in Los Angeles and New York for a lot of years. These were the

swanky sort of watering holes that used words like “libation” and “elixir”. Back bars

were botanical gardens of bottles unrecognizable to the layperson. The “speakeasy”

cocktail bar has firmly anchored itself in the rituals of modern life. With few exceptions

they’re dimly lit and decorated like a period-movie film set. You can come to one of

these bars where a barman in a costume (that is actually his regular clothing) will

yammer on unsolicited about this bottle or that cocktail just to show off what he knows.

Staying abreast of the ever-changing craft spirits world is a job unto itself and under

ordinary circumstances any sensible person would volunteer how few of the bottles they

recognize at this sort of bar. However the irony of these basement-real-estate-Ponzi-

schemes is that they tend to muster the grade-school social situations that make a person

afraid to admit any inadequacy whatsoever. You don’t go for twenty-three-dollar

cocktails (served in a thimble) with your drinking buddy or your kid sister; you go on a

date, or with co-workers, or to entertain a client. It’s almost always someone with whom

you maintain a certain desire to impress. In such a state your voice is higher and your

actions are too eager. Betraying that all you see behind the bartender is a shelf stack of

hieroglyphs would be fatally uncultured. So when the busy bartender finally gets to you

in the crowd, you unknowingly commit a bartender’s least favorite faux pas: you look up

from the menu, you manufacture an expression that you hope says you understand this

thing that’s clearly written in Sanskrit, and you say, “What’s your favorite drink?” If this

is in Flatiron Manhattan at a particularly popular whiskey haven circa 2013, this

musketeer-looking character will say, “That’s like hiring someone to paint your house

and asking them for their favorite color.” You’re startled and not sure how to respond.

Your date is watching. When the bartender turns back after attending to several items that

his body language mimes are vastly more important than you, you try to fix it, “No, I

mean what’s your favorite drink, like, to make?” You’re cool, that’s your point. You’re a

great customer. In fact this was a charitable endeavor from the start, to make things easier

for the bartender. You don’t want him to do anything for you that he doesn’t want to do.

“Oh, a painter’s favorite color to paint. Much better” says this supercilious sack of waxed

mustache. But your indignation probably doesn’t set in until much later.

Yep, that was me. In the plumed hat, too busy or bothered to help a fella out. After so

many years, I’m not going to defend myself. I’ll just answer the question.

I drink up and down the spectrum. The occasion of, where, when, and with whom

prescribes the what. There’s no finite number or variety of occasions. Fine dining, one

must pair with wine. With my last girlfriend we usually drank brandy or sherry—now

even their smell can call to mind my nights with her much like songs can summons

memories. When I’m back at my home bar in Brooklyn, I drink whatever cocktail Devin,

the proprietor and my former roommate, is working on for the menu. With old hockey

teammates I drink beer. I have to be entertaining fanciful notions of earldom to call for an

expensive scotch, and I sometimes do. On Cinco I drink anything hecho en Mexico.

Home is bourbon. But also deep in mi corazon es mezcal (and tequila). A group of my

best friends take a ski trip every year on which we observe a masochistic tradition of

Fireball shots and Bud Light (historically, one or another of us cretins is in a state of

crisis at the time of the trip and instigates us through a whole handle of cinnamon

fungicide before the end of night one). And despite all that, what I probably sip as often

as anything are velvety and briny gins.

After a phase of fanaticism and self-righteousness, a “mixologist” generally

grows up and remembers a bartender with all the knowledge in the world is still a

bartender. And what that is really, is a people-tender—which calls for intuiting when a

guest is seeking ego-friendly assistance. Eventually, when faced with a bartender’s least

favorite question, I said something like this: “It depends on the occasion. What’s the

occasion today?” For a bespoken cocktail, my next question was usually, “How hungry

are you?”

Since we here at Nosotros Tequila traffic in shots and cocktails, below are five

different cocktails by an occasion that calls for them.

Chuggable. When you’re in the mood for slamming margaritas with your people on a

summer day but it’s March and you’re in quarantine.

2020 Do-Over

2oz tequila

1.5oz green apple shrub

.75oz orange liqueur