D.L. Stewart: Let’s have another cocktail... with extra fish sauce

During my senior year at The Ohio University I worked as a waiter in a restaurant that, incongruously, had a Polynesian theme. Nothing in the hills of southeastern Ohio would remind anyone of Polynesia.

One afternoon the bartender didn’t show up and I was pressed into service, even though the only cocktail I knew how to make was a rum and coke. Naturally, the first customers through the door ordered a round of zombies.

Rather than concede my inexperience, I went down the row of mysterious bottles behind the bar and poured a dash of this, a random splash of that and some rum. Lots of rum. I topped it with pineapple juice — this was, after all, a Polynesian restaurant — and served it up.

Ten minutes later one of the customers swayed back to the bar and slurred: “Another round jush like the lash one.”

This warm and boozy reminiscence surfaced the other day when co-worker Alexis Larsen reported on the results of this year’s annual Battle of the Bartenders contest.

The winning cocktail she wrote, consisted of: chai tea and hot pepper mash infused with vodka, mixed with ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, fish sauce, saline and coconut cream which was clarified through coconut milk. Plus a small basil leaf as a garnish. Lord knows what kind of concoction you’d wind up with if you forgot the basil leaf.

The defending champion entered your basic espresso and vodka smoked with a little bit of hay.

I’m not sure when getting a buzz became so complicated. My stepfather managed it with a shot and a beer. Upper classes got there with a glass of gin into which they added a few drops of vermouth in order to differentiate themselves from those who guzzled their gin straight from a bottle in a brown paper bag. When I was in college, 3.2 percent beer worked for me.

“In the old days,” mixologyu.com marvels, “people would drink beer, straight liquor, or shots, which is why it was referred to as the “cocktail dark ages.”

But now, apparently, we’re in the new days of cocktail enlightenment. Drinks are neither shaken nor stirred, they’re infused. Customers can have fish on their plates and fish sauce in their drinks. They can savor cocktails imbued with the essence of barn fires.

Their drinks are presented by workers previously known as bartenders who have declared themselves to be mixologists and recoil at the thought of preparing anything as plebeian as a vodka tonic. According to mixologyu.com, “A mixologist is to a bartender as a chef is to a waiter.”

And I can’t for next year’s contest.

I’m planning to enter my zombie.

Contact this columnist at dlstew_2000@yahoo.com.

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