Cocktail Class - 405 Magazine

Cocktail Class

What — besides a Ramos Gin Fizz — to order, where and why in the 405.

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What — besides a Ramos Gin Fizz — to order, where and why in the 405.

A recent series of popular memes posed the question: What does your favorite cocktail say about you? The answers ran the gamut from funny to eye-rolling, but its popularity is an indication of how much we tend to adopt signature cocktails as an object that says something about what makes us ourselves, even as we realize “Guys named Gary order gin neat because they want to feel sophisticated in spite of their choice paralysis issue” probably doesn’t adequately capture who orders gin neat.

But pleasingness to the palate isn’t the only consideration. There is a sense among bartenders that anyone who orders a Ramos Gin Fizz on a busy night — Gary or not — is, to quote at least a few local bartenders, “a monster.” Why? Because a proper Ramos needs seven minutes of shaking minimum. Imagine being behind that person in line, and you feel the other side of the coin of the bartender’s ire. Our summer cocktails feature is designed to keep you in your bartender’s good graces, expand your comfort level with ordering riffs on favorites and lead you to the best cocktail oases in the 405. 

GIN

Definitely the greatest food and beverage item to hail from England (really, The Netherlands is more likely, but England needs a win), gin is now one of the most popular spirits in the world, with styles and ingredients multiplying as new nations and distillers get involved in gin production. (The best in the world are from Japan now, but Oklahoma has an award-winning example in Wanderfolk’s Garden Club Gin from just up the road in Guthrie.)

With the exception of Old Tom style, which has added sugar, gin is meant to be dry. The flavor variations come from botanicals and other additions, and while juniper was central to the flavor profile for centuries, it’s less prominent in modern versions. For the purpose of cocktails, less is more with gin. Monkey 47, for example, should be ordered neat or with a cube, because 47 botanicals are not going to sit quietly for the fruit juice component. 

The featured gin cocktail is the beautiful and popular Butterfly Effect at Jimmy B’s (1225 N. Broadway Ave., OKC), a floral, barely sweet concoction that relies on pea flower extract for the stunning color variations. The drink has a subtle earthiness to it thanks to the use of sparkling sake, which also adds acid to balance the lavender and simple syrup. As the lavender foam warms, the pea flower extract seeps into the glass, turning the Butterfly Effect into increasingly vivid shades of lavender and violet.

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

Martini Mastery

A martini might as well be the default emblem of sophistication. No other cocktail has been mentioned as often in popular culture; from television to classic movies to novels and essays, it’s been the choice of sophisticates since its invention. One quick point before getting to OKC’s best martini: A martini has gin and vermouth as its base. No gin and no vermouth? No martini. A vodka martini is not; it’s just chilled vodka.

When Kyle Kern took over as the food and beverage director of the new iteration of Mary Eddy’s, he said he wanted Oklahoma City’s best martini at his bar. Young rockstar bartender Nathan Cover answered the call. His velvety smooth, complex creation involves Wanderfolk gin fat-washed with avocado oil, dry vermouth, a bar spoon of QuinQuina (a bitter amaro), and two types of bitters – lemon and orange. 

The result is a martini that makes a trip to Mary Eddy’s – already an easy yes – an even better experience. Cover’s twist succeeded because he respected the classic by preserving key original ingredients while updating them with a modern, craft sensibility.

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

RUM

One of the earliest base spirits for cocktails, rum is slightly sweet, as it’s a distillate of sugar, especially sugar cane or molasses. The best rums use sugar cane, but excellent examples abound in both categories. Most associated with tropical drinks like tikis, rum is versatile in its own right, and premium brands like Maggie’s Farm, Privateer and Hampden can be enjoyed neat like good bourbon. 

Humankind Hospitality (Frida, Oso, etc.) is about to address one of the glaring vacuums in Oklahoma City’s cocktail scene: the lack of a bar that specializes in classic tiki cocktails, like Tulsa’s spectacular Saturn Room. Scheduled to open this month, Flamingo will occupy the space at 605 NW 28th St. next door to Scratch – Paseo, and the bright pink paint job will make it hard to miss on Paseo’s main strip. 

The beverage program will include popular tiki drinks like Dark and Stormy, Mai Tai and Painkiller, and its Jungle Bird is our featured Rum cocktail. 

  • 1.5 ounces Hamilton Jamaican Black Pot Still Rum
  • .75 ounce Campari
  • .5 ounce Turbinado simple syrup
  • .5 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 4 ounces pineapple juice

Serve in a Collins glass over ice, garnished with a pineapple frond (assuming you have those lying about)

Pro tip: Turbinado sugar is a minimally refined sugar that retains some of the molasses from the sugar cane, meaning you get more caramel color and flavor. It’s easy to make. Just add equal parts sugar and water, heat on the stove until the sugar is dissolved, then allow to cool before bottling. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

TEQUILA

We begin with a pro tip: You don’t get “crazy” on tequila because it metabolizes differently — no shots, no “crazy.” It’s the shot that dumps all that booze into your bloodstream, upsetting the delicate balance of your pleasant buzz and sending you into “I should definitely dance on this table” territory.

Tequila — at least the good stuff — is a distillate of blue agave from one of five Mexican regions, the best known of which is Jalisco, and it’s really the name for a subset of the mezcal family of spirits, which are always distillates of agave. The flavors range from sweet to earthy to smoky, and you’ll even find floral and fruity if you want to pay for the really good stuff. (The recent trend toward additives to change color and flavor is a gimmick, as the best way to add flavor and color is by making a cocktail.)

When it comes to tequila and mezcal, the primo OKC destination is Palo Santo, 1203 SW 2nd St. in the Farmer’s Market District. Co-owner and cocktail yogini Bailey Butler is the established master of mezcal in the 405, likely because she loves the smoky stuff — although for those who prefer less blunt force on the palate, she’s a genius with tequila, too. For the featured tequila cocktail, Butler made one from Palo Santo’s new summer menu: “Napping House.”

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

VODKA

Vodka, without the flavoring or sugar some companies add to make it less “medicinal,’ is a neutral spirit. It’s what is left at the end of the distillation process before anything else is added. (Gin is essentially vodka with botanicals.) The nearly antiseptic flavor profile makes it an excellent candidate for mixing, and while some bars and bartenders refuse to use it for various reasons based primarily on snobbery, vodka makes a versatile base spirit. (A vodka-soda or vodka-tonic is a one-and-one, not technically a cocktail. Think Jack and Coke or scotch and soda, and one-and-ones are pretty clear.) 

For our vodka cocktail, Julia McLish at Barkeep (1121 N. Walker Ave., OKC) made the Strawberry-Basil Lemon Drop, a fruity refresher with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. Great cocktails begin and end with balance between the components, and that is one of the primary strengths of Barkeep’s cocktail program.

Muddle a small strawberry in a mixing tin. Add:

  • 1.5 ounces Garden Club Vodka
  • .75 ounce basil syrup
  • .75 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • .5 ounce Giffard Rhubarb Liqueur
  • Ice

Shake until blended, and strain into a coupe glass, or a rocks glass if you’re prone to spills (like me).

Pro tip: Always use fresh juice, not sweet and sour. Fresh juice is the difference between a well-crafted cocktail and sugary blah. 

For the garnish, McLish used beautiful purple basil from Prairie Earth Gardens.

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

Tools for Your Home Bar

When setting up a home bar, a few tools are – if not essential – useful for making the process easier. Starter kits are very affordable, and retailers like Barkeep and Parks Distributing Company keep a large inventory on hand and can assist with questions and suggestions.

1. Strainer. For pouring the cocktail from the mixing glass or tin into a glass without having to deal with the ice.

2. Bar spoon. For stirring and adding small quantities of syrups, liqueurs, etc.

3. Shaker tin. For cocktails that need to be shaken, which usually means anything with citrus as an ingredient.

4. Jigger. Most have hash marks for precise measuring from 1/4 ounce to 2 ounces.

5. Mixing glass. For mixing multiple cocktails that need to be stirred.

WHISKEY

While vodka is still the overall king of sales, whiskey dominates the super premium category, thanks largely to scotch and allocated bourbons. It also dominates the favorite cocktails list on survey after survey, with the Old Fashioned in the number one spot for the past seven years in the U.S. For American palates, shaped as they are by soft drinks and sugar, bourbon’s corny sweetness strikes the perfect chord.

Bourbon is a subset of the whiskey family, made distinct by the legal requirement that its mash bill (the grain mix for distillation) contain at least 51 percent corn. Prices for the allocated versions — those for which demand far outstrips supply — can run into the thousands of dollars, but programs like the federally defined “Bottled in Bond” and the relative affordability of its ingredients makes it easy to find delicious, affordable options like Elijah Craig Small Batch, Wild Turkey 101 and Evan Williams Bottled in Bond. 

Rye, named for the majority rye in the mash bill, is another popular choice with whiskey enthusiasts. Spicier and sharper than bourbon, rye makes an excellent Old Fashioned and can be used in many classic and craft cocktails. (The difference between classic and craft here is that craft cocktails tend to be modern twists on classics — pre-Prohibition cocktails — or unique modern creations.) Rye is the base for our featured whiskey cocktail, the High Horse from Charles Friedrichs at The Jones Assembly, 901 W. Sheridan in OKC. 

The High Horse relies on Jones’ private barrel selection of High West Double Rye, which was aged in peated scotch barrels, so it’s a smoky, spicy blend that’s tamed a bit by the addition of yellow chartreuse, a heavily botanical liqueur originally created as a medicinal cure. It’s rounded out with a trio of fruit flavors — mango, peach and lemon — and given high-toned aromatics with thyme. It’s a serious drink for people who love complex cocktails.

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.

Cocktail Destinations

The Library of Distilled Spirits, located in the repurposed vault of the The National Hotel downtown, is Oklahoma City’s newest upscale cocktail destination. With a menu of 1500 spirits, an extensive cocktail menu, and stunning surroundings, it’s an easy yes for a happy hour, after-dinner drink or nightcap. The main bar is in the vault proper, and two other bars allow for overflow, but shouldn’t be considered “less than.” The blue bar is funky, fun and perfect for happy hour festivities. The light installations throughout are beautiful, the lounge and bar furniture super comfortable, and the service excellent. For the serious cocktail drinker, The Library of Distilled Spirits is a must, as are these other metro locations, and we’ve included a favorite cocktail to get you started.

1884 at The Railyard. Red Dirt Road

Bar Arbolada. El Diablo

The Hamilton. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a

Milo. Nichols Hills Garden Tour

Ponyboy. Flower Power

R & J Lounge. Aloe Can You Go

Scratch – Norman. Flatliner

Scratch – Paseo. Teaches of Peaches

Sidecar. Midnight in Oaxaca

Vast. Sheridan Sour

Photo by Lexi Hoebing.