The secret to enjoying great cocktails

After about ten days on antibiotics for an ear infection in August — ten days during which I didn’t indulge in either cocktails or cologne — I wanted a drink very badly. The first thing that came to mind was the house cocktail at Thistle Hill Tavern in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a Rob Roy variation that used Famous Grouse blended scotch, Carpano Antica vermouth, and A.B. Smeby Citrus bitters. So I tried to make my own version at home:

1.5oz Johnnie Walker Black
1oz Carpano Antica
2 dashes Fee Bros. bitters
1 dash Fee Bros. orange bitters

I stirred it until chilled and garnished with a Luxardo cherry. It wasn’t exactly like Thistle Hill’s cocktail, but it had that satisfying blend of slightly smokey blended scotch with the bitter vanilla of the Carpano Antica. The regular bitters added a deep herbal, almost root beer-like quality, and the orange bitters brightened it back up a bit. This is definitely a Rob Roy variation I’ll try again.

I really savored that cocktail. But weeks later, I found that even when I spent extra time carefully crafting a cocktail, I enjoyed only about every other one.

Take last night. I sat down in front of the television with a handful of delicious caramel popcorn (with bacon bits in it!) and my new favorite cocktail, Jason Wilson’s Manhattan variation, the Livorno:

1.5oz bourbon (I used Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 Yr.)
.75oz Tuaca liqueur
two dashes Peychaud’s bitters
one Luxardo maraschino cherry

Why didn’t it taste as good as it did last weekend? Was it the popcorn?

The answer was much simpler: it was my attention span.

I had that revelation today when I listened to a song by The Who, a band I normally can’t stand. A friend had sent me “Eminence Front,” a song Pete Townsend wrote in the early 80s about cocaine abuse. I’d heard the song way too many times on classic rock radio and had always dismissed it. I thought it was Peter Gabriel anyway. But when my friend told me to listen to it again with an ear to modern synth-pop, I kind of liked it.

What I realized is that I seldom sit down to listen to music—it’s more often in the background. Likewise cocktails. When I give a cocktail as much attention drinking as I did in the making, I truly enjoy it more. Why bother drinking something that good if I’m not going to appreciate it? That’s what cheap whiskey and lousy beer are for.

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