If you ask us, creating the perfect cocktail is a mixture of both art and science.
We sat down with Marlow’s Tavern Manager of Adult Beverages, Rick Blumberg, to discuss the science of mastering mixology and get his take on the art of creating inspiring cocktails.
What is the single most important thing to making a great cocktail?
“Because everyone has a different palette, the single most important element to a cocktail is balance. There are two basic categories in cocktails: they are Boozy or Approachable, Bitter or Sweet. For any of those styles, there has to be a perfect balance of alcohol, sour, bitter or sweet… depending on what category of cocktail you might be going for.”
Is there a difference between a bartender and a mixologist?
“This is always a hard question. The term “mixologist” isn’t a new one—we have had mixologists since the 1800s. But what is the true difference? I’ve always thought of it in terms of a college degree. A bartender is equivalent to having a Bachelor of Arts degree, and a mixologist is equivalent to having a Master of Science degree. Both have an elevated level of education; both can make a drink to meet your needs. The mixologist may know just a little more about the spirits they work with and classic cocktails they’ve conquered.”
If someone is just beginning to set up an in home bar cart or bar area, what are the necessities they should have in terms of ingredients, spirits, mixers and tools?
“Oh, this is fun! Always start with the tools and stems (glassware). For tools, you would need a Hawthorne strainer, fine strainer and Julep Strainer, a Boston Shaker and pint glass, a muddler and a vegetable peeler… all just to start. For glassware, you can go retro and antique, or super modern. Definitely have fun with the glass! For spirits, you need the basics: Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Bourbon, and maybe a scotch if you’re into it. The spirits should be premium to impress your guests, and why would you want to pour yourself something cheap? The rule is if you can’t cook with it, don’t drink it… or is that the other way around? Before you start buying random liquors and a whole library of spirits, decide what you like the most. If it’s Gin, then you should start a Gin collection. If it’s Bourbon, then you should start a Bourbon collection. It’s very easy to spend a lot of money on booze that your friends will drink. For mixers, always try making your own.
“At Marlow’s, we always ask ourselves, “Hey, can I make that?” And we usually do.”
Are the types of glasses and size and shape of ice cubes really that important?
“Surprisingly, yes! All of those funny glass shapes out there actually serve a purpose. I’ve conducted a blind tasting for a group where I poured the same wine in two different types of glass. One glass was 100% glass, the other lead crystal. Glass wine is perfectly smooth and has zero irritation with the wine. The lead crystal glass has microscopic pockets within the glass and irritates the wine, helping to aerate and open it. The lead crystal definitely wins every time. For ice… it sounds funny, but the colder, the better. The more solid you can keep your ice cubes while imbibing, the more you will enjoy your cocktail. A large, two-inch cube will melt slower than several ice cubes and will prevent your cocktail from diluting at the end.”
How has mixology changed over the years in terms of trends?
“Sometimes it’s difficult to see where it all began. There have been some highs and lows in cocktailing. I would say that the mid-to-late 1800s were the golden years of cocktails. Classics were created and passed on from bartender to bartender. Prohibition and the 80s were the lows, but somehow we still managed to create classics during those years, too. I think people love a great drink, and people love a great bartender. Those trends will always be there (I hope)! Ingredients and fashion are the things that change. Vodka was never a popular spirit until 1941 when the Moscow Mule was invented. Sometimes you just need a good bartender to shift what’s popular.”
What are the special cocktails Marlow’s is mixing up for summer?
“We are featuring one of the most refreshing Margaritas I’ve ever had: a Watermelon Margarita. This drink features Herradura Reposado, fresh-juiced watermelon, agave nectar, and fresh-squeezed lime juice.
What are the current trends in cocktails?
“I think fresh and homemade are still king. The trends seem to be leaning toward what’s healthy. We should start to see more drinks with healing herbs, teas, and fruits with benefits, like Acai. Fun interactive drinks with Butterfly Pea Tea may also become popular—the added acid will change the drink’s color.”
There seems to be yet another resurgence in classic cocktails, and absinthe. What are your thoughts on New vs. Classic? Also, was not absinthe dangerous?
“I hope the classics never go away. Appreciating and building on the classics is one of the most fun things to do as a bartender.”
“Absinthe contains an herb called Wormwood, which is safe for the most part. Wormwood oil contains a chemical called Thujone, which can cause seizures when consumed in large quantities. The chemical is found in the spirit, but only in trace amounts. The spirit was banned in the US in the early 1900s because the consumers of it usually became very intoxicated. Absinthe is very high in alcohol. The Prohibitionists used consumers’ drunkenness to say that Absinthe created insanity and should be banned. It wasn’t until a few years ago that Absinthe was allowed to be sold in the US again. It’s a great spirit, I usually have a small bottle in my bag to add a little anise flavor to a cocktail every now and then.”
Could you share a summer cocktail recipe with us?
Try our Southern Charmer. For a Bourbon drink, it’s very approachable!
1.5 oz. Old Forester Bourbon
.5 oz. Domaine de Canton
1.5 oz. Peach Nectar
.5 oz. Lemon Juice
2 dashes of Lavender bitters
Is there any other advice you would like to share about mixing your best cocktail?
“Mix and mix again. If you don’t like the way a cocktail turned out, don’t give up. I made the Southern Charmer 30 times before I got it just right, and now it’s one of my favorite cocktails.
About Marlow’s Tavern
Marlow’s Tavern was established in 2004 with the opening of its first location in Alpharetta, Georgia, and has continued to grow over the years, adding many Atlanta-area restaurants, as well as locations throughout Orlando and Tampa, Florida. In 2018, the Georgia Restaurant Association named Marlow’s Tavern one of the Restaurant Neighbor Award winners. The neighborhood restaurant is open for lunch and dinner daily, offering guests classic American tavern fare with an upscale twist. For more information and location addresses, visit marlowstavern.com.