A bit of trivia about Pimm’s No. 1 (the primary constituent of the Pimm’s Cup, which I’ve declared the Official Drink of Summer in Regina 2010): it’s widely considered a pre-mixed cocktail.
(Now, if you want to split hairs — and I generally do, especially where liquor is concerned — it’s technically a “fruit cup”, but now is not the time for that conversation.)
You see, Pimm’s is a mix of gin, fruit juices, spices and herbs. It’s a mixed drink in a bottle and I typically eschew such things. But for Pimm’s, I make an exception because it dates to the early 19th century so it has some tradition behind it. What can I say? I’m suspicious of drinks that haven’t proven themselves across a few generations.
And I’m especially suspicious of beverages that seem designed solely to sucker lazy or inexpert drinkers.
Case in point: Bartender Secrets Whiskey Sour. I stumbled upon this obnoxious little number on my last visit to the SLGA. It was on the pre-mixed cocktail rack, wedged between the Pomegranate Martini In A Bag and the Dr Cockblocker’s Screaming Tequila Margarita To Go or some other such madness.
The first thing I find striking about Bartender Secrets is the bottle design. It’s actually pretty classy. The bottle shape and typography ride well the line between old fashioned and modern. There’s nothing on the label screaming at you to guzzle its contents. This isn’t booze disguised as soda pop or an energy drink. It isn’t intended for high school drinking.
My guess is they’re after the casual Mad Men viewer.
Also of note, the Bartender Secrets brand seems to be a homegrown embarrassment, coming as it does from the Mark Anthony Cellars of British Columbia. And my guess is their Whiskey Sour is just the first of a whole line. (The smart money is on the Sidecar being the next item out the Bartender Secrets door. That way none of their excess glucose or lemon extract will go to waste.)
Most striking though is the ingredient list. It starts: water, glucose/fructose, whiskey, vodka [?!] and citric acid. From there, things become unreasonably polysyllabic.
Thing is, the list is long and requires a chemistry degree to understand and it leads me to an inevitable question: why? Why?!
You don’t need so much stuff in a whiskey sour. The recipe is pretty simple.
2 oz blended whiskey
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
Shake whiskey, lemon juice and sugar well with ice. Strain into a prechilled old-fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon slice and, optionally, a maraschino cherry.
You’ll note: Three ingredients total (not including garnish). Sugar plays a small supporting role. No bloody vodka.
This is hardly rocket science.
Bartender Secrets describes their Whiskey Sour as a perfectly blended cocktail, its recipe crafted by a master bartender from the coast. And I’d argue, that blurb on the label is designed to play to a drinker’s insecurities. “Oh, I could never mix a perfect whiskey sour. They must be awfully complicated if they require an expert bartender to prepare.”
But, beyond the simplicity of the whiskey sour, what goes unrealized — and, the makers of Bartender Secrets will earn their fortune off this bit of know-how remaining occult — is that cocktails were never meant to be packaged commodities like wine vintages. That you can muck about with the recipe to suit your mood or personal tastes is all part of the charm.
In other words, there is no perfect whiskey sour.
Find the recipe above too sweet? Dial down the sugar by half a teaspoon. Too tart? Try going with only half an ounce of lemon juice and adding a splash of orange.
And the whiskey? Absolutely, that must be taken seriously. You can’t simply slop in some casked hooch and call it drink. A decent cocktail requires decent spirits. (And where whiskey drinks are concerned, personally, I lean towards Canadian Club Classic but that’s only because I’m a casual Mad Men viewer.)
Now, I freely admit I haven’t tried the Bartender Secrets Whiskey Sour. I doubt I ever will. Certainly, it falls into the same pre-mixed cocktail category as Pimm’s No 1. But Pimm’s is a drink unto itself with its own recipe and own story.
The Bartender Secrets Whiskey Sour, on the other hand, is just a cocktail simulacrum and should be scorned like all counterfeits, frauds and deceptions.