Cocktails for Beginners: Because You Never Forget the First Time

By: 
A.J. Rathbun

Okay, say you have this "friend." And that "friend" is just insistent about not trying any drinks made with a particular spirit. They’re bound to say “I just don’t like drinks with gin” or whiskey, etc. Perhaps they had one bad experience when they were 17when they shouldn’t have been drinkingand have never dared to revisit that particular spirit since. Well, I’m here to help.

The following four drinks are perfect for a first time with a particular spirit. These can all be made at home; but at least the first three are also easy to order in any reputable bar. The fourth may need explaining, but most bartenders are open to learning new cocktail recipes (just don’t try it during rush hour).

Gin: The Alexander
Of course, many folks’ first impulse would be a Martini, thanks to name recognition. But for those who are gin-shy, the Alexander (which is the emperor of dessert-y drinks) is ideal. I’ve served this at home and in classes to a host of folks who’ve said “I don’t like gin drinks” before trying it, and then watched them to go on to become huge converts. The gin-and-chocolate combo is unexpectedly delicious, especially if you use a more traditional, juniper-forward gin such as Pacific Distillery’s Voyager Gin. This recipe’s from Good Spirits: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway full with ice cubes. Add 1 ounce gin, 1 ounce crème de cacao, and 1 ounce cream. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a strawberry slice.

Bourbon: Mint Julep
Many might suggest a Manhattan for a first bourbon drink. But I think the bright chill of springtime captured in a Mint Julep is a better way to ease someone into bourbon. This is also from Good Spirits: Take one mint leaf and rub it over the inside of a metal julep cup (if you have one) or a highball glass. Be sure the mint touches each inch of the glasses inside. Drop the leaf in the glass when done. Add about 5 of so mint leaves and 1 ounce simple syrup. Muddle the leaves and syrup. Fill the glass halfway with crushed or cracked ice. Add 3 ounces bourbon (my suggestion is Woodinville Whiskey Company bourbon). Stir until the glass gets icy. Fill the glass with ice. Stir once. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Dark Rum: Dark and Stormy
For the rum adverse, summer must be a truly sad season. But this revered bubbly refreshing drink is bound to bring one around, as the tang of the ginger beer and the citrus shout of the lime make the dark rum play nicer than most imagine it could (and by “most” I mean those not yet fans). One thingeven though this is a summer hit, it’s tasty all year round when made with this recipe from Dark Spirits: Fill a highball glass three quarters full with ice cubes. Add 2 ounces dark rum. Fill the glass with chilled ginger beer (I suggest Rachel’s Ginger Beer, which is lovely and local). Squeeze a lime wedge over the drink, and then let it slide on in. Stir, but briefly.

Tequila: Persephone’s Elixir
The Margarita is responsible for 63.6% of all tequila drinks consumed. But I fear there's too great a chance it can be so badly made and therefore set someone off tequila for years. This lesser-known creation eases a drinker in to tequila with a serious-but-fruity nature. Also, as it has pomegranate and orange in it, so it’s a healthy choice. The recipe is from Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz: Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice cubes. Add 2 ounces white tequila, 1 ounce PAMA pomegranate liqueur, 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice, and 2 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Image from Dark Spirits, Harvard Common Press, copyright 2009.

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