Mixologist Kali Erwin Gives A Smack-Down On the Vodka Martini
Last week Playboy's booze and party correspondent Dan Dunn told us that “gin may be the least understood bottle in the bar.” As self-proclaimed gin aficionados, that comment hit close to home. We decided to catch up with Tanqueray's resident blogging mixologist, Kali Erwin, to discuss the delicious, fermented juniper nectar, along with other boozy subjects. A Trinity College graduate and former legal assistant, Erquin is now a veteran mixologist on New York City's upscale lounge scene. She shares her expertise on spirits at WeResistSimple.com, where she also provides a smorgasbord of gin-centric cocktail recipes. After the jump, Erquin chimes in about the purity of the gin martini, why you should infuse your liquor with jalapenos and bacon, and essential advice on the best liquors to keep handy in your home bar.
BroBible: How has the vodka martini bastardized the sanctity and art of a real martini made with gin?
Kali Erwin: What is truly sad to me is that many bartenders and customers do not even know that a “Martini” is made with gin. Period, end of discussion. There have been many times that customers have ordered a Martini from me, taken a sip, and sent it back because I made it with gin and not vodka. To further insult the classic drink, some have suggested to me that a Martini is always made with vodka, never gin. That has to be the worst modern misconception of cocktail history. A “Vodka” Martini is chilled, shaken, tasteless vodka in a martini glass with a lemon twist or an olive. How much more boring can you get? A Martini is chilled, aromatic, flavorful gin and a healthy portion of dry vermouth stirred so as not to bruise or over-dilute the delicious balance of botanicals and herbs. So the next time you order a “Martini” and it's made as it's supposed to be made, with gin, if the bartender knows his/her classic cocktail history, don't hate. Appreciate!
Generally speaking, BroBible readers tend to keep it simple when it comes to beer and libations. Other than old standards such as gin and tonics, Tom Collins, and rum/whiskey and Coke, are there any bold new mixology concoctions that would appeal to our audience?
I'm a big fan of infusing liquor with ingredients such as jalapenos, rosemary, bacon, apple, basil, sage, chamomile, and strawberries. These are my favorites, but you can infuse liquor with just about any fruit, herb, or spice, and you will not be disappointed, especially if you use Tanqueray. Keep an eye out for infused liquor drinks on bar/lounge/restaurant menus, or check out my blog at WeResistSimple.com to find out how to infuse your own liquor at home.
There's a healthy debate in the nightlife world about the use of the label “Mixologist” vs. “Bartender.” What's the difference? Care to weigh-in and settle the score?
I personally don't mind being called a bartender or a mixologist. When I am behind the bar preparing and serving drinks to customers, that would qualify me as a bartender. When I am creating signature cocktails for venues or liquor companies that would qualify me as a mixologist. And that's where the difference lies between the two terms. If you do not create custom cocktails on a regular basis, which most “bartenders” do not do, then you are a bartender: an entertaining, customer-service oriented, friendly bartender that will follow a recipe given to them by the mixologist or from a book called “1001 Cocktail Recipes.” A simple analogy is that a cook is to chef as a bartender is to a mixologist. If you are a cook or a bartender, and you have a passion for creating culinary or cocktail recipes, as opposed to following somebody else's, then you will eventually become a chef or mixologist. If not, that's cool, too.
From a pop culture perspective, Carrie Bradshaw's gang in “Sex and the City” caused the cosmopolitan to explode in popularity with women around the country. Was there ever a pop culture cocktail equivalent for men?
I honestly can't think of any cocktail, for men or women, that exploded in popularity as the result of a movie or television as the Cosmopolitan did. There were many references to classic cocktails in classic movies from the 1930-40's. The 1953 Bond novel “Casino Royale” introduced the Vesper cocktail to popular culture, but not many men are drinking it today. The Vesper Cocktail recipe is 3 parts Tanqueray, 1 part vodka, 1/2 part Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth, and 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker, and shake until icy cold. Strain into a deep champagne goblet and add a large, thin slice of lemon peel.
What are the essential liquors, mixers, and garnishes that every guy should have stocked in home bar/liquor cabinet in order to make an impression a lady friend, yet not run the risk of ridicule from his buddies?
First off, you should have the six major liquor types in your bar. I think it is safe to say that your boys won't laugh at you for having gin, vodka, rum, tequila, cognac and whiskey in stock. In fact, they should be jealous that you have such a well-stocked bar from which you can offer your lady friend whatever her pretty little heart desires. If I had to pick three of the ultimate six to have on hand, my personal female taste would prefer gin, rum, tequila, or whiskey. Now, if all you had in stock was vodka, I would laugh at you. But that's me. Special lady friends will appreciate a diet soda option. Your boys will laugh at you if diet soda is the only option available. Any flavored “tini” mix would send me running for the hills (again, that's me) and make your boys clown you for a week. But on the real, some men and women like the same cocktails, some men and women like different cocktails. My suggestion is that you ask your special lady friend what liquor she likes to drink and what type of flavor she appreciates, do some research and find a good recipe that incorporates her flavor and liquor of choice, and then make sure you have the ingredients in stock to make that drink.
Are there any drinks in particular that you feel are currently under-appreciated?
I think cocktails made with raw egg white are under-appreciated. There are quite a few classic cocktails in which raw egg white or yolk play a major role in the drink, adding a silky, frothy, light texture to the concoction. Raw egg is tasteless, so it's all about creating a unique texture when it's employed in a cocktail. I often whip up the classic Silver Gin Fizz cocktail, which combines Tanqueray, lemon juice, sugar syrup, one whole egg white, and soda water.