100 Sutton

What makes a craft cocktail?

When I started drinking at age 12, I was given some sagacious advice from an older sibling. We were living in Greece where the drinking age for minors at the time was more of a vague advisory. Thanks to this, my gang of eighth grade hooligans and I could venture out on weekend nights and begin our experimentations with alcohol. Knowing this, I was advised by my elder to always “Drink for the taste and not to get drunk.” Looking back on this it feels kind of glib, but for some reason it stuck to my ribs and I have made it to my 40s without becoming too reliant upon alcohol as habit or crutch. This started me on a path that led to my appreciation of what makes a craft cocktail

What makes a craft cocktail

So what makes a craft cocktail? For me, it is a brief escape from the general rigamarole of life. It’s a sensual experience that vibrates beyond the buzz of the spirits therein. The inclusion of fresh herbs, fruit zest, bitters, syrups, and other diverse ingredients is akin to a witch’s recipe, a love potion, a sacred ritual. It culminates in an experience that’s shaken and stirred in a meditative mix of scent and flavor distilled into a singular transcendental sip. And (for the foreseeable future) there’s no way to digitize or synthesize that experience.

A good cocktail is not about getting drunk.  Even with simple imbibes like martinis where the liquor is the main event, the experience lies in the specific ratio, the balance between drank and mixer. It’s a curated experience born from experimentation and flirtation with hangovers. It’s not just a tasty way to get lifted. It’s a tasty escape for a bored tongue which tickles the inhibition centers in our brains and massages away the stress of a long day at work.

So what distinguishes a craft cocktail from its less crafty cousin? Well, it could be posited that having more than two ingredients pushes it into the realm of mixology. Cocktails such as the Gin & Tonic, the Rum & Cola, the Screwdriver, all can be thrown together by any mustachioed goon behind a bar. They are a shot of something strong tossed into a mixer. They get the job done, but they lack class.

Then come the second stage cocktails. A Margarita is Tequila, Tripel Sec, and Lime. An Old Fashioned is Whiskey, syrup, and bitters. Sea Breezes dare to mix fruit juices together before adding the vodka. These are the drinks bartenders learn once they’ve landed their first gig between filling pint glasses with MGD and lining up shots of Jager Meister. They are a step in the direction of craft, but are just rude enough to be tossed back by raucous crowds without feeling the need to taste them.

Craft cocktails tend not to be slung at sports bars. Part of what makes a craft cocktail, believe it or not, is the ambience of the joint they’re served in. A converted 1800s horse stable with six creaky seats, a sleek bar at the top floor of an overpriced hotel and a view of the Hudson River, that new spot in your neighborhood that lets you bring a couple records from your collection to hopefully inspire awe in the rest of the vinyl nerds lucky enough to score a couple seats are all excellent venues to encounter a fine craft cocktail. The venue is a part of the experience. If the drink is supposed to transport you to a new frame of mind, the bar that serves it at the very least should not detract from the mission. If you’re a part of our Greenpoint community, consider trying Diamond Lil or The Hidden Pearl!

But what truly makes a craft cocktail is the palate and ingenuity of the bartender who crafts it. These mixologists make it their job to know which vodkas are actually made from potatoes and how best to imbue any herb into a grain alcohol. Like great chefs they seek out fresh ingredients and process them by hand a drink at a time. For these dedicated souls, the vessel–whether rocks glass or copper mug–can be as important to the drink as the ingredients. And the truly great ones, like miracle workers of yore, can size you up and prescribe the perfect salve for your ailing soul. For the aspiring spirit guide, the New York Bartending School offers a class on mixology which dives into the realm of flavor pairings, the zesting of citrus, and the endless array of bitters now available to add spice and effervescence to their latest brave concoction. 

To live is to experience and one of the most primal ways to experience life is through our tastebuds. While some people may not seek out new flavors as a part of their lifestyle, I think no one is ever put off when they get a mouthful of something truly delicious. There are plenty of bars out there whose sole purpose is to provide interested parties the quickest route to Crunktown. What makes a craft cocktail special, what sets it apart, is that its purpose is not to get you drunk, but to give you pause. So when you find yourself bogged down by the drudgery of professional life, instead of heading out to get schwasted and forget yourself, consider seeking out a cocktail bar and letting a new flavor guide you to a place in yourself you never knew existed.

Stay tuned for a series of craft cocktails debuting at the 100 Sutton bar throughout 2024!

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