Friday, January 16, 2009

Sample Jamboree and the Perils of Naming Drinks


I periodically receive samples of liquor in the mail. The purveyors of these fine products kindly package them up, send them on their way, and presumably hope I’ll like them enough to mention them by name.

I’m happy to say that in one way or another, I‘ve enjoyed almost everything that has arrived on my doorstep. There’s the occasional clunker, but by and large, my usual reaction is one of enthusiasm- I’m almost always jazzed to make a drink using a new ingredient.

Sometimes a list of recipes is included with my bottle of whatever. I like to browse these suggestions to get a sense of what other folks deem suitable uses for the product, but for me, the real fun is looking at something I’ve never tried before and thinking, “Hmmmm…what can I make with THAT?”

I’ll spare you a description of the “process” I employ when attempting to come up with a new drink. It’s untidy, inconsistent, and gloriously unhampered by any discernible logic. Guided mostly by my dubious intuition concerning what flavors and textures might work well together, I shamble around the kitchen in an orgy of trial-and-error. And every once in awhile something emerges that doesn’t seem half bad.

So I’ve got my recipe, I’m ready to write about it somewhere, and then I run right up against the hardest part of the whole project:

Naming the damn thing.

On rare occasions the drink just sort of names itself. But most of the time I’m struggling to come up with a moniker that isn’t too long, too silly, or too obscure. I often try to imagine a scenario wherein I’d order the proposed-titled drink at a bar. Would I immediately cringe upon saying it? Would I stumble over a lengthy string of syllables? Would the barkeep wordlessly greet my request with a withering expression of confusion and contempt?

See, to my way of thinking the best drink names have snap. They’ve got character and intrigue. And under ideal circumstances they should both elicit curiosity and communicate something. Longer drink names can do this, but I particularly like the ones that embrace brevity. (think “Zombie” vs. “Long Island Iced Tea” and you’ll see where I’m going).

So when it comes time to name an original drink, I usually start off completely paralyzed, and slowly try to find some aspect of the drink to latch onto and use as a beachhead. Here’s an example:

I recently received samples of Kilo Kai rum and cherry Heering. After tasting the sweet-ish and spicy Kilo Kai, the Heering seemed the perfect thing to match it up with. I decided that putting some whiskey in the mix to dry it out and fortify it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea either. I added in some Zirbenz pine liqueur (I’ll discuss my pathological need to employ unpopular and/or difficult ingredients in a another post) and a wisp of bitters and I thought I was onto something.

After some slight tinkering with proportions and taste-testing, the Bamboo Babe suggested the final touch should be rimming the glass and garnishing with a fresh piece of ginger. She was right- the flavor and aroma was exactly what was called for.

1 oz. Kilo Kai rum
1 oz. cherry Heering
.75 oz. rye
.5 oz. Zirbenz
1 dash Fee's Whiskey Barrel bitters

Shake with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Rub rim of glass with thin piece of freshly-sliced ginger and float in drink.

So now I had a drink that I was happy with. All that was left was the dreaded naming. As I looked over this concoction I observed the lustrous reddish color, pondered the tropical aspect of the rum, the classic pedigree of the rye, and the final flourish of…ginger. It was obvious- I’d call it the “Ginger Grant.”*

Then, during a quick Google search to check a detail or two, I ran across this post.

Dammit. I guess it’s true what they say about all the good ones being taken. Anyone got any ideas?

UPDATE 7/15/09: after much deliberation, I have dubbed this concoction the "Red-headed Castaway." This is not to be confused with the infamous "Red-headed Slut", which was officially eulogized and laid to rest last week during Tales of the Cocktail 2009.

*This would be obvious only to anyone who is familiar with the classic sitcom Gilligan’s Island. Hard as it is for me to conceive that there might be someone who is not acquainted with the show, I realize given my advanced age that it may not be the universal cultural touchstone it once was.


Tiare said...

I enjoyed reading this post.

Any ideas for a name? as soon as its time for me to name a drink my head goes blank.Totally.

Camper once said to me something like:

"if you wouldn´t take 2 hrs everytime you shall name a drink you would get much more things done in life"


If i ever come up with an idea for your drink i will post it.

Doug Winship said...

Names are such a pain!

I seldom come up with anything new that's worth naming to begin with, but there is a reason that the best drink I've ever come up with, I ended up naming the Blue Beetle #2.....

Kaiser Penguin said...

You have provided us what may be the most eloquent description of cocktail creation. Your words embody my process. :)

This drink looks insane! I can't wait to try it (hopefully in two weeks?)

Anonymous said...

Naming concoctions is often grueling. Love the post.

Dr. Bamboo said...

Tiare- Absolutely. Sometimes I think it takes more time to name a drink than to figure out what to put in it!

Doug- Now I really want to know what's in the Blue Beetle #1. ;-)

Rick- I'll take "insane" as a compliment. Heh.

Intoxicologist- Thanks! And remember- don't let it become *too* grueling...we're supposed to be having fun!

Stevi Deter said...

Oddly, if someone offers me a prize, I find inspiration for names right quick.

My favorite sources are history, geography, and babelfish.

Kirsten said...

you should name it: Tiger Lilly

RumDood said...

Totally agree, Craig. I HATE coming up with names for things. I usually rely on the kindness of other, more talented people for such things.

I may just start exchanging bottles of non-Washington-available booze with Stevi for naming services...

Dr. Bamboo said...

Stevi- Good point. Maybe I just don't have the right incentive ;-)

Kirsten- I like it! But with my luck there probably already is a drink named that.

Dood- Can I get in on some of that action?