Booze Musing

Do Cocktails Get a Free Pass on Weird?

I hope so.

March 3, 2010

A cocktail from Beaker and Flask, the Portland bar where the Norwegian Negroni was born.

So I’m flipping through my new Bon Appétit last night, and I come to a sunshine yellow page with a big cocktail glass on it. Turns out to be the Norwegian Negroni, a “Scandinavian version of the Italian negroni.” The drink is attributed to Kevin Ludwig, owner of Beaker and Flask in Portland, and it is described as “Scandinavian” because it is made with aquavit instead of gin. It also contains sweet vermouth and Cynar (an Italian artichoke liqueur that most of us have to learn to love) and is garnished with an orange twist.

The reason I bring all this up is because as I was sitting there reading, it occurred to me that I wasn’t looking at Imbibe, or some regional Seattle, Portland, or San Fran foodie publication whose readers were accustomed to odd little cocktail bars with bracing drinks that, while frequently fantastic, are often acquired tastes. (Cocktail lovers: do you remember the first time you tasted Cynar?)

I’m not criticizing BA, I was thrilled to see this funky drink amidst articles like “Best Places for Donuts” (shout-out to Mighty-O) and a recipe for a chicken parmesan burger that can only be described as very straightforward. But there seems to be some mixed expectations here. On the page prior to the negroni article, the mag’s food expert explains to readers what their palate is, and how they can use it to discover flavors in food and drinks. I hope people making this drink reads that page first, because they are about to put their palates through something serious with that cocktail.

Or let’s think about it this way: What would be the food-recipe equivalent for an aquavit, sweet vermouth, and Cynar drink? It ain’t a chicken parm sandwich, that’s for sure. And I think that’s awesome, from a cocktail lover’s standpoint. It seems that in the national media, drinkers might be getting a free pass on weird. And when weird is also complex and rewarding, that’s a good thing. Plus it’s fun to think about an adventurous older lady in some far-from-the-freeway town whipping up Norwegian Negronis for her book club.

Brace yourself, ladies.

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