This weekend I visited Bluestem's lounge area, manned by Van John Zarr, one of the best and most knowledgeable bartenders in the area. I was with a large group that included some college students who, while no strangers to drinking, had just turned of age and were inexperienced in world of cocktails.
Zarr quickly made them feel experienced. He asked what they liked to drink, and when one customers said gin and tonic, Zarr talked them through a series of possibilities and within a minute was pouring them samples of Campari. Sure enough, one got a negroni.
Guided by a professional, a cocktail novice can quickly learn a lot. Zarr has lots of experience reading people like tea leaves to determine what they'll like. But some people are impossible to read. They're not cocktail novices, they're cocktail virgins.
Liquor blog Cocktailians has a post on which drink
to service these cocktail virgins, people who have no experience or,
even worse, tried some cocktail eons ago that made
them gag and swore off the category completely for beer and wine.
Cocktailians decides that the best virgin drink is the Aviation.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Aviation cocktail, "which
dates to the 1930s, is a simple drink calling for gin, maraschino
liqueur and fresh lemon juice -- but it's the maraschino that makes
this cocktail stand tall. Many people who haven't tasted maraschino
liqueur assume it's overly sweet, like maraschino cherries, but good
maraschino liqueur ... is far drier than the name might lead you to
The Aviation blends the spice and sourness of gin with the fruit
and sweetness of the maraschino. It's an inspired choice. Unfortunately,
it's impossible to make correctly in Kansas City because there's a fourth
ingredient, creme de violette, a liquor that was extinct for years. It's recently been brought back but not in this area.
After spending way too long on CocktailDB
typing in ingredients and looking at recipes, I finally hit upon what I
believe to be the perfect virgin cocktail -- a cocktail that's going to
get people hooked.
The Tom Collins! It's got everything. It's one of the original cocktails made by the father of mixology, Jerry Thomas. Its name used to be a joke, leading to an interesting story while you drink it. It's incredibly easy to make, only requiring one liquor: gin. It's light and airy with lots of citrus. The simple
syrup provides sweetness, the gin provides bitterness and a small
amount of bite that each cocktail shoud have and the lemon provides
sourness to counteract the syrup. Add a little soda to dilute the
flavors and it becomes a perfectly balanced drink with a cool name (just avoid the pre-made Tom Collins mix).
Freshly squeezed lemons beat "lemon-flavored extract" any day of the
Here's the classic Tom Collins recipe.