Bartender Donny Clutterbuck shares his thoughts and tips for how to look after yourself when you’re not behind the bar, while still enjoying all the festive fun.
And the holidays return, again! Just on time. Maybe a little early, if we’re honest with one another. Don’t get me wrong, we all like to see people happy, but the added work and play demands can be exceedingly stress-inducing for those in the food and beverage business. Extra work days, erratic levels of business and family-or-friend-centric extracurriculars pack every hour of the month(s). How in the world are we supposed to manage this? Moderation and intent shall save us from ourselves and our good friends. Let’s talk about a few ways we might best navigate all this hubbub.
We can split these tactics into drinks and methods of drink. If we turn the whole thing into a game, it can be more fun to safely and responsibly manage. Although we may not be in full control of our surroundings, whether speaking of locations or attendees, we can choose our own actions fully.
Part One: 2:1 → 1:2
As far as drinks go, our first approach is the old reverse two-to-one. Consider the Manhattan or Martini. As they sit, they’re both two parts liquor with one part vermouth. Reorganizing this build into a cocktail comprised of one part liquor and two parts vermouth. It can be prepared exactly the same as it would be traditionally (or however you normally like) but has a bit of a softer profile—not to mention a bit less alcohol than before. This can be commonly referred to as a “reverse” Manhattan or Martini.
If you’ve got control over what sorts of products you’re using, maybe split that 2 parts of vermouth into 1 part vermouth and 1 part sherry for a more dynamic drink with some of that fruit-and-nut characteristic that so befits the holidays. Maybe Fino in the Martini and Oloroso in the Manhattan? The world is your oyster. If you find yourself in any situation surrounded only by high-proof spirits, this can be a useful tool to balance the wildly aggressive spirit with the not-so-loud vermouth. Speaking from personal experience, it’s quite easy to overpower the vermouth in a cocktail with 114pf+ liquor.
Part Two: REPLACE THE BASE
Another way to turn that cinnamon and clove drink into something still interesting but a bit less impactful is to replace the base spirit fully or partially with vermouth. This works best when the cocktail’s modifier set includes a citrus fruit juice and sweetener. Examples of this might include the sour, collins, daisy, and the like. A general rule is that lemon juice calls for sweet vermouth while lime calls for dry, and in both cases, the sweetener added can be reduced, as there will be more sugar in vermouth than in most base spirits.
For example, a sour normally made of 2oz bourbon, .75oz lemon juice, and .75oz cinnamon syrup can be rebuilt into 1oz bourbon, 1oz sweet vermouth, .75oz lemon juice, and .5oz cinnamon syrup. A dry-vermouth-split daiquiri or margarita has always been one of my favorites. You can also under-sweeten even further than the aforementioned sugar reduction and add some texture by throwing a tiny pinch of salt into the shaker tin when it comes to citrus drinks. At our place, we use a 20% saline solution for the sake of accuracy, but as long as you don’t taste salt, you’re still in the subthreshold realm. A fun test regarding the effect of salt is to put the smallest amount possible on a cucumber wheel with the goal of changing the flavor as much as you can without the cucumber wheel tasting salty. This will give you an idea of how minuscule an amount is needed to achieve the desired effect.
Part Three: SPACE & PACE
We arrive at parties and often the first words from the host’s mouth are “would you like a drink?” You sure would, right? Maybe you do want that first one, so you take it and traverse the beginning of the party with drink in hand. How pleasant! Odds are good that the host is no longer hovering around you so now is your chance to ask for a soda water. Something aggressive and non-alcoholic is a great spacer to mandate in between your beverages. You’ll surely thank yourself in the morning for having abided by this. You might also just be really thirsty for water. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to ask for what you actually want. After all, the host of the party wants you to be happy, not uncomfortable. Welcome to Fun 101.
Part Four: HIDE & SEEK
I’ve been saying for years that in the latter part of my bar career, I’ve found myself finding creative ways to avoid having a drink more often than finding ways to procure one. A healthy relationship with alcohol is paramount, and it seems to me that at times that means avoiding it. Being in a whole variety of situations that were more-or-less centered around the beverage industry, I found it wise to simply not seek a drink, even if I wanted it. I noticed that drinks would casually find me at a fair pace, and while I never felt overwhelmed, I never had to say no and got to partake perfectly well in all the party situations. Frankly, I think I was more comfortable participating in this manner.
This season is full of beauty and rebirth and can serve as a gentle reminder and celebration of life and love. Watching our surroundings change from full of greenery and sunshine to orange, brown, and less daylight might clue us in to the temporary nature of all in a constantly changing world. To be lucid and aware of our surroundings might allow a greater appreciation for that which we so regularly take for granted. So, as the holidays move forward, remember that just as the trees and plants around us take a rest, so must we. Stay happy, stay strong, and be nice to yourself. Have a fabulous day and an even more fabulous holiday season.