The word “martini” in their names are not, in fact, martinis. They’re cloying concoctions of indifferently flavored vodkas, fruit juices and sugary sodas, served in oversized martini glasses, but with none of the martini’s style and sophistication. These gloopy mixtures are designed to appeal to people who are too timid to experience the taste of actual alcoholic beverages, but aren’t opposed to getting a little buzz on – so long as their breath smells like they just chewed a case of Juicy Fruit.
It would be unacceptably sexist to characterize the creatures who order these abominations (yes, Cosmo drinkers, I’m talking to you) as females, so I’ll carefully avoid doing so. However, they (note the nice neutral plural) may safely be classified as weenies, defined as crowd-following blither-twits with no business clogging up perfectly good saloons with their demands for what amount to slushies with a shot.
Go back to 7-Eleven where you belong.
Or – if you insist on playing with the adults – order something less cringe-worthy. Such as:
The Left Hand. I first tried one of these suddenly trendy drinks at the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club, where bartender John Myers knows I like Manhattans. The Left Hand, invented by a New York mixologist and named after Al Pacino’s character in “Donnie Brasco,” is a more complex version of the Manhattan with less bourbon kick. It’s also an excellent way to use up that bottle of Campari that’s been gathering dust in your liquor cabinet since the Lyndon Johnson administration.
In a shaker half filled with ice combine 1 1?2 ounces of bourbon (Myers used W.L. Weller, but that brand has since become hard to find, so I substituted Buffalo Trace), 3/4 ounces of Campari, 3/4 ounces of sweet vermouth (Dolin works well, but if money is no object, Antica Formula Carpano does wonders) and two healthy dashes of Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters (unlike most bitters, this contains no alcohol, so it’ll have to be refrigerated after opening). Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry.
The Brandy Smash. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I found bartenders turning out smashes – a classic form of cocktail that include fruit, sugar and mint – in an amazing variety. These easy-sipping drinks are usually made with bourbon or rye, but variations using vodka, rum and tequila abound. This recipe, elegant without being snooty, is one of my favorites.
Cut a small orange in half. Slice a thin piece off one side and cut it in half. Set the halves aside for garnish. Cut the other half into quarters. Cut one of the quarters into small pieces and dump them in a Boston shaker. Add six good-sized mint leaves, which you’ve slapped between your palms to release the oils. Throw in a half-tablespoon of sugar (you can use an ounce of simple syrup instead), and muddle the concoction until it’s swampy (if you don’t own a muddler, go buy one right now). Fill the shaker half way with crushed ice, and add 4 ounces of brandy (I use Courvoisier VS cognac). A recipe I saw in the Boston Globe suggested an ounce of Grand Marnier, as well, and I’ve found that enhances the end result. Shake well and strain into two rocks glasses filled with ice. Add a splash of club soda and garnish with the orange slice and a cherry.
If all that looks like too much work, try a Lime Rickey, instead. There are roughly a zillion formulas for this, many involving gin and sugar or simple syrup. But you’re trying to man up here, so let’s go with one of the oldest and most basic forms.
In a rocks glass, squeeze the juice of a quarter of a good-sized lime. Add lots of ice, 2 ounces of bourbon (Old Granddad works nicely) and a splash (or two, depending on your degree of wimpiness) of club soda. Some versions call for bitters, but I find them unnecessary. Stir lightly, relax and enjoy.
The Old Capri Long Drink. Here’s the perfect Sunday brunch concoction when you wish to avoid blood and women named Mary, but still need something with more oomph than a Mimosa can supply.
Fill a highball glass with ice. Add 2 ounces of chilled Limoncello liqueur. Fill the rest of the glass with champagne or Prosecco. Add a dash of grapefruit bitters (Fee Brothers makes a good one). Give the whole thing a slight stir. Garnish with a lemon slice and a mint sprig. Face the music and dance.
Your reputation as a cocktail wimp will be gone faster than the first round.
Al Diamon writes the column Politics & Other Mistakes for several Maine newspapers and websites. He’s also the media critic for The Bollard magazine. He firmly believes expensive vodka is a rip-off and that one should never live out of walking distance of a good bar. He can be mailed at email@example.com.