You don’t have to be a chef to create your own recipes, and you don’t have to be a bartender to dream up your own cocktail creations. But it helps to have the imagination of a liberal arts major married to an engineer’s love of tinkering.
It also helps to have good ingredients at the bar as well as in the pantry and refrigerator.
For example, I was recently given samples of Purely Syrup’s premixed simple syrup — a staple of bartenders — that was lightly flavored with ginger. A few days later, I received two samples of Martin Miller’s gin, one the standard 80 proof and the other 90 proof.
The proximity of the deliveries of the simple syrup and the gin convinced me to try the two of them together, but I knew I would need at least a third ingredient. When it comes to cocktails, I like to think like an Italian cook — stick with a few ingredients so that each will be identifiable even in a blend.
For the third ingredient, I had recently tried a recipe for halibut prepared in a harissa bouillon that required Meyer lemons. I had a few left over, so here was the perfect opportunity to use them up as well.
I started by squeezing a couple of the lemons to test their flavor and acidity. Then I tasted the Purely Syrup — rounded sweet, not too much ginger flavor, and no bite. Finally, the gin. I love Martin Miller’s because it doesn’t hit you over the head with a juniper branch, and it has a great glycerol mouth feel — not fat, but lightly sweet.
Even though the ingredients in both are the same, the 90 proof seemed to accentuate the citrus notes more. If I wore cologne, I would have a small bottle of Martin Miller’s London Dry next to my basin to slap on my face and perhaps to gargle with each morning. I next worked on proportions until I found a formula that fit my palate. Finally, I added a couple of ice cubes and a splash of soda — something sparkly but less flavorful than tonic water.
I fixed a glass for my wife — the gin judge in the family — for her comments. “I love the flavors, but it’s a little too puckery for me,” she said. “I would cut the lemon in half.” I like pucker, so I ignored her and downed the drink.
Now I needed a name for my new creation. Some people like to name their cocktails the way rock bands like to use nonsensical fronts for themselves — Dumb Turtle or Marjorie’s Complaint. I prefer to name the drinks the way most horses are named, taking something from the sire and something from the dam.
I finally decided on “The Ginger Miller,” which worked in gin, ginger, and Miller’s. A few pages of Google convinced me it was a somewhat original name for a cocktail as well as providing me an inspiration to dedicate it to the several women who bear the name.
(For more on Purely Syrup’s products, go to www.purelysyrup.com. Martin Miller’s gins are imported by Kindred Spirits of North America.)