Name That Drink : The Creation of a Cocktail List

November 9, 2011    » posted by: Matt

Last Friday, as I quickly ducked into the local wine shop to grab a bottle of white for the house, I heard a young woman exclaiming into her cell phone in the next aisle.

“This. Is. PERFECT!”. Just like that, too.

When I looked over the rack, I saw that she was holding a bottle of Mommy’s Time Out. Uh-huh. Picked it up, 2010 Pinot Grigio from Italy, pretty typical $11 bottle. But the artwork on the front showed a chair facing a corner, bad kid style, with a bottle and glass on a table next to it. And the somewhat awkward English on the back proclaimed, “We all know that being a Mommy is a difficult job. A Mommy’s Time Out is a well deserved break. This wine is delicate and fruity…” and so on. When I checked out, I asked the kid at the register how it sells.

“It flies.”, he said.

“Really? Come on! Is it any good at all?”, I said.

“I don’t know. All about the label, I guess.”, he said, nodding after the woman before me.

Which got me to thinking. How many perfectly average bottles of white come pumping out of Italy yearly, and what could a producer possibly do to stand out? Mommy’s Time Out. Bitch. MommyJuice?! Can a name really sell as much or more than quality and reviews?

We try to rotate our cocktail, beer and wine list seasonally, as we do with our menu. With beer and wine, you try to match up with the seasons and temperature. Light whites with summer, big reds in cold weather, pumpkin beer in the fall, etc. At Redd’s, we need to coincide cocktail menu changes with the seasonal food changes. It preserves the philosophy that we adhere to…and printing menus is a ridiculous pain in the ass, believe it or not, and we only want to do it once if we can manage it. So I set out a month ago to figure out a few new cocktails for the list, and the brainstorm started, as it usually does, in the back of the kitchen near the end of service where Charlie’s making piecrust.

A quick discussion about what’s in season, what we have in house and we’re onto something. Local cider, maple syrup, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, some warm spice…shake up some samples, taste, tweak, lay some on the always thirsty servers(note to self: pay attention to sample size), consult with bartender, get valuable input from bar patrons…tweak once or twice more, and damn…three purty good drinks in fairly short order. A cider and spiced rum drink with maple syrup and fresh ginger, a sidecar with Calvados and a spiced rim, and a fresh squeezed Cab Sauv grape juice and vodka, with a sparkling red float. Feeling mighty good about myself, I slap ‘em down in front of Charlie, who says, “Real good…what’re you calling them? The name makes or breaks a good cocktail, you know.”

Please. I could name these in my sleep, kid. Bring on the printing deadline.

Started with a little research. There’s this cat, Duke Antone, who was a champion mixologist in Hollywood in the 50’s, who might just be the muse/patron saint of just such a project. Duke not only created several legendary (and now classic) cocktails, he gave them the names that put them in that category. Rusty Nail. White Russian. Godfather. And, my favorite cocktail name, and a drink that my young and crazy parents drank with abandon in the early 80’s (and also happened to be the first alcohol I ever tasted), the Harvey Wallbanger. Great names, fun AND classy to order, and have an inside joke feel to them. Me, I don’t really have that close relationship with these new drinks, like I imagine Duke and his cast of characters on Sunset Boulevard did.

So I started brainstorming, mostly aloud. The grape juice drink seemed easy enough. Easy drinking, on the rocks, almost too easy, maybe falling into the fruity, college girl “I can’t even taste the alcohol! Wooohoo!” category. Charlie suggested Girls Gone Wild. There were a number of issues with that choice, though I saw what he was getting at. South Padre? Tito’s Vodka is from Texas, same train of thought. Better, marginally, but still would be painfully misunderstood when seen in type. Ok, wine grapes are juiced. Crushed. Crush…Grape Crush, like the soda…late night…Late Crush, like the last run at a winery. Bingo. Maybe a bit cheeky, but not bad.

Cider drink on deck. Uh, Johnny Appleseed…Sailor Jerry…Sailor Johnny? Ginger, maple, Fred and Ginger, Jerry and Ginger….another dead end. Struggling between inside joke/funny/classic-like-Duke names. This is gonna come up on tickets for the bar, people will order it out loud, maybe even write about it in a review or Yelp or something. What’s French for apple? Spanish for ginger? It’s now 11:45 pm, last call is being hollered upstairs, and I’m on Wikipedia reading about Luxembourg viez, and how it’s rather like English scrumpy, and I’m a bit off track here. Paperwork is piled up, shift drink is SCREAMING my name, and this joint needs cleaning. Hard cider…cider is pressed…Cider Pres? No, no…Hard Press, as in we’re closing and I’m hard pressed to name this goddamn thing. Done, good, beautiful.

Next day, just put my baby boy down for a nap, and this Calvados sidecar needs a name…now. Gotta stuff these menus in 2 hours and I got nothing. Calvados made in Normandy…storming the
beach…Norman something, Norman Bates, Stormin’Norman!…uh, French for sidecar? Moto et caisse. Shit. Calvadero. Calvarado. Calvadilleo. I need classic, St. Duke! This is a pre-Prohibition cocktail with history and class, I need wit, debonair, smooth but not pretentious (pretentious is strictly forbidden at Redd’s). I got…nothing. Wincing, resigned and ready to defend the new “Stormin’ Norman” cocktail, I asked my girl, a whip-smart pragmatic marketing director, what she would call it. She thought for two seconds and said, “Calvados Sidecar. Don’t complicate things. Empty the diaper pail before you go in today, please.”

Like I said, this shit is easy. Fast forward a few weeks, the Late Crush, which I thought was the cleverest name of the bunch, has lagged a bit, the Calvados Sidecar has done quite well, and the Hard Press is flying off the bar. What’s in a name? Plenty, I’m sure. But when y’all stop in for a drink next time, don’t be shy. Tell us what you think of the Girls Gone Wild. I put a lot of thought into it.

also seasoned with: