Ever since I wrote a favorable review of New Amsterdam Straight Gin for HuffPost last year, the dedicated and diligent PR folks who promote the stuff have been trying to get me to write about it again. A bottle would arrive in the mail with an electronic press kit on a USB drive tied around the neck. I kept getting invites to try the same New Amsterdam-based cocktails I'd tried before, with the same mixologist, only in different venues. "Guys," I pleaded. "I like your product. But I've already said everything I have to say about it."
Finally, they came up with an offer I couldn't resist. "We've got some great new New Amsterdam-based cocktails. Why don't you invite some people over and have a cocktail party? Pick out a couple of recipes and have your friends make them, and you can write about them. We'll provide the gin." Sounded like a plan, but I altered a few of the details. I wanted to make ALL the recipes - there were eight in total - and I wanted to be the sole bartender for the evening. After all, I couldn't resist the opportunity to flex my mixological muscles for my friends and loved ones.
If you want to compare my bartending skills to those of a professional, think of someone doing tai chi next to a black-belt who's practicing kung fu. It looks kind of similar, it's just a whole lot slower. I can mix complicated cocktails, provided I have lots of measuring spoons and cups on hand and can consult a mixology manual every 15 seconds or so. And I can whip up from memory the best Manhattan, margarita or martini you've ever tasted - provided you're not in a hurry and have the fortitude to watch me agonize over each drink's creation.
And speaking of martinis -- if you say the word "gin" to me, I will automatically respond with "and vermouth, with olives or perhaps a twist of lemon. Mmmm." New Amsterdam has a much softer, citrusy taste than traditional, juniper-heavy gins, which is why people who aren't gin fans like it. On the other hand, the sweet notes make this a gin that simply doesn't work in a traditional martini. Since gin is also known as "martini juice" in my home, I hadn't given my bottle of New Amsterdam a workout in a while. I looked forward to trying it with the fancy-shmancy cocktail recipes I'd been sent.
My first error in judgment was thinking I'd gotten a sweet deal in scoring a couple bottles of free gin for the party. Once I looked at all the mixers I needed to get -- everything from pineapple juice to vanilla extract to stalks of lemongrass, not to mention enough food for a dozen hungry, gin-consuming guests -- I was in the hole financially. Well, at least I wouldn't feel bad writing a lousy review of the cocktails if they sucked.
My next mistake was deluding myself into believing I'd suddenly start mixing drinks more quickly and efficiently than I have been since I grasped my first shaker so many years ago. In my little fantasy, I'd be able to make all eight cocktails on the list before my guests either got bored, impatient, or overly drunk. I also didn't think to prepare my ingredients beforehand; I started juicing the lemons and limes and making simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) about 20 minutes before the first guests started trickling in.
Thankfully, the promise of free gin, along with the eats my wife had thoughtfully prepared, kept my guests at bay while I measured and mixed -- save one, who kept pointing to his cup and saying, "Hey, Tony, gimme some more gin! I'm thirsty over here!"
In the end, I wound up making five New Amsterdam-inspired libations for my friends, and making a huge mess of my bar. I sacrificed neatness for speed, and while I didn't get much faster, I did have all sort of juices and pulps and leaves and goodness knows what else strewn all over every available surface.
And how were the drinks, you may wonder? Well, they were powerful. Because New Amsterdam is on the sweet n' fruity side, you can mix a whole lot of it into sweet n' fruity drinks and have it harmonize perfectly with the various juices and other ingredients. I only made half portions of each cocktail for my guests, and they were told they didn't have to finish each one. But by night's end, they were still pretty hammered.
They were also, by and large, very good. The hands-down favorite was the Radio City, which sounded kind of gross when I read the recipe. Liquefied honey, elderflower liqueur and a whopping 2.5 ounces of gin, topped with champagne. But it came out luscious without being too cloying, and the dryness and sparkle of the champagne balanced out the sweetness of the honey and liqueur. "Sweet," one of my guests said with tongue only slightly in cheek, "without being impertinent."
The only one of the five that didn't go well was the Central Park, a bizarre concoction of tomato juice, lime juice, vanilla extract, a dash of cayenne pepper, and two ounces of New Amsterdam. My friends all sipped, made a face, looked at their glasses and then at me, and uttered a collective, "Huh?" Turns out I'd forgotten the lime juice. Once I recalibrated the elixir, those who were inclined to take a second sip found it much improved. Now that I think about it, I may have forgotten the cayenne pepper, too. (To check out more New Amsterdam recipes, go here)
The cause of my mistake was twofold. After a few hours of nonstop muddling, juicing, stirring, shaking and pouring, I was beginning to get a little punch-drunk. And after liberally sampling each one of the cocktails -- just so I could make tasting notes for the purpose of writing this blog, you understand -- I wasn't just punch-drunk, I was drunk. I wound up not having the time to take tasting notes (and the bar was too wet to write on anyway). Besides, by the end of the evening, I could barely tell you my name, let alone articulate what I thought of the Brooklyn (a lovely drink consisting of muddled raspberries, pear nectar, lemon juice, lots and lots of gin, and of strangely enough, arugula).
But maybe that was the point. New Amsterdam brought together a dozen people, ranging in age from 19 -- um, I mean 21 -- to 41, and we all got drunk and had a great time. And not a single one of us wrinkled our noses at any of the cocktails and said "eewww, gin." I couldn't tell you exactly what the New Amsterdam did for each cocktail, but maybe that's also the point. It did more than merely add alcohol to the mix, the way vodka does, but it didn't overwhelm the other ingredients by screaming "I am juniper, hear me roar!"
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that at $13.99 a bottle, New Amsterdam is one recession-friendly spirit. So buy a bottle, invite some friends over, make some cocktails, get drunk and have a great time. Is there a better way to ring in summer?