The Intoxicologist

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Measuring the White Russian

Stepping into an unknown bar to order a drink is a little like playing Russian roulette. Each bartender is as different as the bar they work in. Each bottle of liquor is as individual as the label. No two vodkas are the same. No two liqueurs are the same. Each double old fashioned glass gets filled to a different level with ice each time. Some bartenders free pour, some don’t. Some jiggers measure in an ounce, some measure in an ounce and a quarter. That being said, it stands to reason that it would be pretty difficult to order a drink at one bar and then go to another and expect to order the same drink and get the exact same taste. Or is it?

When I first started bartending I was taught that faster is better. One of the first things my boss told me was where the liquor pour line was on all of the glasses. He said we didn’t use a jigger, because it took too much time. He was only right in that it takes a few seconds longer to use a jigger, but faster is not always better. Faster does not make a better drink. Faster usually means an out of balance drink that can never be duplicated from one glass to the next no matter how hard a bartender tries. That isn’t to say it cannot be done. There are professionals out there that can do it from one drink to the next, but it is rare.

Part of bartending is an exact science and some is not. A martini for example may vary ever so slightly in how much vermouth is shaken out of the iced martini glass. The size of the olive, onion or lemon twist can change the outcome of the martini in the tiniest of increments depending on its size and how much juice has still remained on it before it is put into the martini. Those are the variables of bartending.

The mechanics of bartending is basic measurement.

I do a lot of experimenting with old style cocktail recipes, homemade mixes, and fresh squeezed juices. When I go out to a bar, I am usually disappointed with the run of the mill bottled mixes and the same old “martini” style cocktail choices on the menus. So, I usually end up ordering a drink I think no bartender can possibly mess up, because it is simple measurement; the White Russian.

The White Russian is a simple drink consisting of equal parts vodka, coffee liqueur, and half and half built in a double old fashioned glass. This drink has been served to me in a collins glass filled with 2% milk, in a rocks glass with 2% milk, in a rocks glass half full of ice topped off with unmeasured half and half, in a rocks glass with heavy cream, and once I swear with gin instead of vodka. What really gets me is the not measuring of the half and half (and the incorrect ingredients of course.) I see liquor being measured carfully in some cases and then bartenders winging it when it comes to topping off drinks with the amenities whether it be the half and half, grenadine, or juices. All of those things need to be measured. In the case of the White Russian, if the glass is only half filled with ice and the vodka and coffee liqueur are measured, that still leaves room for almost two measures of half and half in the glass if a bartender chooses to free pour. That makes for a watered down drink. It makes me an unhappy camper and will make your customers or guests dissatisfied if they know what a well made White Russian is supposed to taste like as well. This goes for any drink. Measure it correctly and you will get the same perfectly made drink every time.

Now for the ease of making the White Russian…

White Russian

1.25 oz Smirnoff Vodka
1.25 oz Kahlua Especial
1.25 oz Half & Half

Fill a double old fashioned glass within a half inch of the rim with cracked ice. Measure each ingredient into the glass in the order in which given. Stir with a cocktail stirrer and enjoy. Some choose to garnish with a maraschino cherry. My preference is to go without.

If you are a Kahlua user, try the Kahlua Especial at 70 proof at only a couple of dollars more than the original Kahlua at 53 proof. The Kahlua Especial has a deeper, richer coffee flavor to it than the original. All vodkas are not created equal nor should the same vodka be used for every kind of drink. For this particular drink, Smirnoff is my vodka of choice. It has a smooth, clean taste that stands up to the Kahlua without getting lost.

Now a really great twist to this particular drink is to change up the liquors and try something really fabulous. If you are a tequila drinker this is really great stuff. The spice of the Patron adds some real dimension to this drink.

1.25 oz Patron Reposado (80 proof)
1.25 oz Patron XO Café (70 proof)
1.25 oz Half & Half

Fill a double old fashioned glass within a half inch of the rim with cracked ice. Measure each ingredient into the glass in the order in which given. Stir with a cocktail stirrer and enjoy. Definitely no maraschino cherry garnish on this one.

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