From the Archives: Testing, Testing

Guy walks into a bar, orders a daiquiri. Bartender makes him a Daiquiri, and is critiqued. Three ingredients in perfect harmony is what the guy wants, but isn’t the concept of perfect harmony just a bit of an opinion? Can the bartender ever be correct with confidence, or does he just have to hope that the customer shares his preferences? I suppose, ideally, he’d be able to read the preferences of the customer. But why in the world is that drink the test drink?

Dale likes a sweet-side Daiquiri, and Nick likes a lime bomb. Yet rarely will anyone specify how they’d prefer that drink to taste. It’s either good or bad, but rarely a proper execution judgment of the Daiquiri itself. It ends up being more a comparison of taste buds and feelings. 2oz or 1.5oz of white or dark rum? Equal parts 1:1 simple to lime juice, or heavier on one side? That’s a whole lot of variability for what could possibly be the most common solidification of one’s opinion of another.

I’ll make you one right now, using 2oz of white rum that has very little sweetness, if any, to it. Brugal maybe. I’ll add .75oz each of ~six hour old lime juice and 1:1 simple syrup. This is where I find the greatest harmony of flavors. This is what you’d receive, if you ordered a Daiquiri from me with no specification of preference. That’s just from me, though. There’s no absolutely solid recipe for a Daiquiri out there. Each book and bar suggests that it be made slightly differently, so it seems a fairly untoward test. I have no expectations that I’ll get exactly the Daiquiri that I want unless I make it myself. That’s the perfect Daiquiri for any bartender. It’s like masturbating.

So, to avoid perpetual dissatisfaction and endless critique, I always test a bar with the Negroni. It has an unwavering and categorical recipe, and if the barkeep has ever read a book or heard it from a boss, the Negroni is 1:1:1 – gin : sweet vermouth : Campari. The variables will hopefully only include what type of gin and sweet vermouth, as the brand of liquid is a variable in damn near any drink. The level of cohesion may vary based on those choices, but generally speaking, I know that I’m in a bar that pays attention if the Negroni tastes like a Negroni. If made with equal parts, rarely will it ever taste too sweet, too bitter, too acidic, or too hot. They’ll be different from bar to bar, but the balance will generally be what you expect it to be. If they screw this up, they can for sure screw up everything else.

I’ve ordered a Negroni at one of my old post-work stops in the East Village of Manhattan and received 4oz of gin, 1oz of Campari, and a speck of sweet vermouth. This was topped with soda water and garnished with an orange wedge. A great portion for $8 on 2nd Avenue, but a Negroni it was not. I knew instantly that this was not the kind of joint in which one expects a cocktail. I’ll stick to things that come directly out of a bottle, and I’ll do it happily!

My point, I suppose, is that basic recipes are my initial testing ground for a bar, and no matter what you do to the Negroni (even if you shake it, like it says on the back of the Campari bottle), it’s still a Negroni, and I’m still going to want to drink it. If it’s stellar, and the gin and vermouth you’ve chosen pair perfectly with one another, then I’ve completed the second test of finding my favorite bar all in one breath. A drink with a solid and well known recipe is a good test of where you are and what you should order. A drink with a subjective recipe seems not to be. We’re all different, we have different mouths and brains, and that’s what makes this world a beautiful place to live. It’s also exactly what makes the Daiquiri a fallible test drink, and I propose that we all switch to something more objective to test bartenders. It’s fair. It’s telling. It’s what we actually want.



This article was first published on February 2, 2016.

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