What’s the best drink you’ve ever had?
I first started trying to answer this question a couple of years ago when I was living in Paris, a city with an ever-growing cocktail scene. My friends and I were in a well-known cocktail bar, and I was trying to figure out whether the drink I was holding at that moment might have been the best of my life to date. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the appreciation of a cocktail, unlike a glass of wine, depends on factors other than those inside the glass.
The drink in my hand when I started pondering this question was the Saint Germain, a signature cocktail at the Experimental Cocktail Club in Paris. Even now it remains the cocktail that most stands out in my mind, but I can’t call it the best I’ve ever had. Yes, it was beautifully presented (a slice of cucumber resting atop a bed of egg white foam, served in a coupe glass), and its taste was utterly unique and aligned with my preferred flavors, and it was in fact those two things that made me remark to the group, “this might be the best drink I’ve ever had” – but ultimately, as I stood there sipping and pondering the truth of this remark, I realized it was not. I thought of other drinks, less memorable perhaps in taste or appearance but nonetheless standouts in my memory because of other factors: who made them for me, whom I was with, the ambience of the bar, the general context of my life on that particular day.
Maybe I take all of these factors into consideration in compensation for my relatively undeveloped palette. I don’t particularly care which type or brand of base liquor goes into a mixed drink, and honestly I think if you care too much about that, you’re rather missing the point. Cocktails are a vehicle for enhancing a social occasion, and as I realized while drinking that Saint Germain (which, by the way, I’ve ordered many times since), taste and appearance alone cannot necessarily qualify a cocktail as the best. Here are the criteria I will use to evaluate the drinks, bars, and bartenders I discuss in this blog.
On my last trip (to Buenos Aires for New Year’s Eve) I realized that I spend enough time seeking out cocktail bars while traveling that I should maybe start a separate blog to serve the dual purpose of 1) helping me to identify a favorite drink (indeed, to better define my own personal taste in drinks) and 2) providing suggestions to others traveling to the same places.
So, whether you’re traveling to a particular place or just curious to hear about some interesting cocktails, read on!