I don’t want it to seem like I’m hating on the tradition of American happy hour, but seriously people! We need to step up our drink game. In studying the different cocktail cultures throughout the world, it’s clear that we in the US are changing attitudes and culture when it comes to the art of drinking, yet we are still leagues away from some of our European counterparts. Europeans embrace an aperitifs or digestif way of imbibing that I am envious of: cocktails center around food and the progression of a meal. An apéritif is an alcoholic beverage usually served before a meal to stimulate the appetite, and is therefore usually dry or bitter rather than sweet. Liqueurs such as Campari, Aperol and Pernod are some examples. A digestif is an alcoholic beverage served after a meal, in theory to aid digestion. Some examples are limoncello, cognacs, fernet, chartreuse. In France, they have sunset apero which I imagine is the dressed up, low-octane version of American Happy Hour, with glamorous French people sipping on apertifs in a small seaside lounge somewhere. They also have cocktail dinatoire which is essentially a casual dinner party with light bites paired with apertifs, digestifs and wine. I, for one, would like to be French for the month of October: who is with me? Sunset Apero does have such a glamorous edge over happy hour, no? Aside from the connection between food and cocktails, the reason apéritifs and digestifs are essential in the drink culture is that they are usually low in alcohol. Low-octane cocktails are important in the context of not sacrificing quality for quantity. Through my romantic rose colored glasses, I imagine in places like France and Italy, their long luxurious meals enjoyed on a beautiful terrace overlooking the coast, begin with apertifs and then progress to multiple courses with multiple bottles of wines and end with a beautiful brandy. Sigh.
I will admit that the tides in the US are a changing and low-octane cocktails are popping up all over bar menus throughout the country. They’ve even been assigned a snazzy name – shim cocktails—which is always a sign of transformation. Writer Dinah Sanders is responsible for the name of these low-alcohol cocktails meant to keep one level even after you’ve ingested three or four. I love the idea of Shims because it transforms our belief that the main goal of drinking cocktails is to become intoxicated. I truly believe we as a society care more about what we eat and drink. Words like hand crafted and artisanal are becoming part of our culture and don’t have to be said with an upturned nose. Cocktail and food culture is flourishing because we have begun to relish more in the experiences surrounding food and drink. Perhaps this change has come from our access to information, our ability to share information and experiences through social media. From a bartender’s perspective, my guests in the last 5 years are not only more knowledgeable, but more curious. They ask questions about what liquors I’m pouring, about why I’m stirring a cocktail instead of shaking it. This is an amazing progression to witness, and this blog and even our Sunday School series (which starts this Sunday!) would not exist without such an evolution. Hooray for progress!
Being a bartender in this era of growth is exciting and challenging, in that we’re always trying to keep up with the changing culture and attitudes of our guests. Shims are the perfect example of this changing attitude, and we’ve already started experimenting with delicious and distinctive cocktails in this burgeoning movement. On our current menu we have the Midnight Garden, a spritzer with a peach liqueur we created, that is beautiful and light but still full of flavor. Shims are also perfect to pair with food because the emphasis on flavor is focused on nuance rather than a big bold punch of alcohol. In creating Shim cocktails we are inspired by the classics and mix them with our own Metropole twist. Here are some low-octane classics you can make at home that are delicious and ridiculously easy to create, so multiple creations will be no sweat:
1.5 oz Campari
1.5 oz sweet vermouth
Soda water to top
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add Campari and vermouth, and top generously with soda. Garnish with an orange slice
> CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL:
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Champagne or any sparkling wine
Soak the sugar cube in Angostura bitters and drop into a champagne flute. Top with champagne or a sparkling wine. Garnish with a lemon or orange twist.
On the subject of Shims, our next Sunday School, taking place October 26th, will be all about these delightful cocktails. We’ll discuss what liquors you’ll need to stock up on at home, and will demonstrate some of the Shim cocktails we’ve been dreaming up that are low and slow. This will be a great class to take to arm yourself with the survival tools needed for the impending holiday season.
I just want to take this time out to thank everyone who came out to Cincinnati Food and Wine Classic and came to our Raising the Bar demo. It was so pleasant and we were so thrilled and grateful everyone had a great time, and hopefully y’all learned a thing or two. As promised, I will be sharing the recipes from the demo. Below is the first installment, a clever twist on a mulled apple cider – a great recipe to make for a big holiday gathering.
MULLED APPLE CELERY CIDER
1 gallon apple cider
11/2 tsp ground cinnamon
10 star anise
2 1/2 tsp all spice berries
1 whole orange peel
4 1/2 tbsp celery seed
1 inch ginger peeled and sliced
1)Pour cider into a large pot.
2)Put the rest of the ingredients except for orange peel in a piece of cheese cloth
3)Tie up cheese cloth to make a bundle around the ingredients.
4) Put bundle in pot, along with orange peel. Bring mixture to a rolling boil.
5) Lower heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and remove spice bag.
6) Allow bag to cool, and then squeeze spice bag over the pot to get every bit of spicy goodness out of it.
7) Remove orange peel
8) Allow to cool and pour into quart containers.
You can serve this recipe warm and have it simmering away, inviting your guests in with it’s warm, comforting aromas. Add bourbon to make it a Shim, a bitter apertif like Cocchi Americano, or Dolin Blanc. You can also serve this as a soda for a tart and spicy refreshment that will surely stand out from the standard fall beverages. The possibilities are endless, and that’s how we like to approach our recipes. I’m pretty amped about our very first Sunday School, and I hope we can continue to learn and share cocktails together! We are always thankful for the company and for our curious guests who always push us to continue our search for the perfect cocktails!
Your neighborhood bartender,