On Saturday, March 13, 2010, the Happy Mouth Supper Club met at The Rookwood for dinner. It was Tracy’s month to select, and also her birthday.
The group met at the downstairs bar for “craft cocktails” before dinner.
What “Craft Cocktails” in Cincinnati means to me, a short essay by Andrew Vogel:
Craft cocktails, or “scratch cocktails” (implying that the cocktail is made from scratch – a term I prefer because it lacks the pretense of “craft cocktails”) are a throwback to days of yore when fresh-squeezed juices, house-made simple syrup, premium spirits, and precise measurements were the norm. These cocktails are, perhaps, the antithesis of the bar scene we saw in the movie Cocktail. (Why we ever left the high standards of the old days is topic for another post.)
The experiences I’ve had with “craft cocktails” in Cincinnati make it clear to me that we don’t have the full implementation of the spirit (no pun) of “craft cocktails”. Sure, local wine lists now include cocktails (which I think is just dandy), but too often, the places in Cincinnati seem to substitute fresh lime juice for mixes, make their own simple syrup, call ‘em “craft cocktails”, and jack the price.
What are hallmarks of craft cocktails in Cincinnati?:
- Commoditizing simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water) by adding virtually undetectable amounts of ingredients (like lavender or juniper) to it. The percentage of simple syrup in most drinks is fairly low, and the percentage of lavender in most simple syrup is extremely low, so the flavor simply isn’t there.
- Slow service (holy smoke – bar service at Rookwood was so… slow…! Sadly, this seems to be the norm.)
- $9 for a $4 drink
That being said, the selection of drinks on the menu at The Rookwood appears varied and interesting, but ultimately, the palette of ingredients is limited so the resulting drinks end up being fairly routine. Plus, $9 to take a chance on an unknown drink is cost-prohibitive for many people.
After waiting too long to have my order taken, I received a “Com Tollins”, The Rookwood’s twist on a Tom Collins. It was made well, but not better than a similar cocktail I’ve had for less than half the price. Ultimately, what matters to me is not riding the wave of the latest fad, but what happens in your mouth – what’s it taste like? And, I found that the difference between a premium-priced “craft cocktail” isn’t worth the price difference for a “non-craft” cocktail made with non-well spirits.
It is interesting to observe how fads come in and out of fashion, and how hangers-on are quick to jump to the latest fad. (From a culinary perspective… Remember foams? Yeah, I am glad that fad is over!) I suspect that in 12-15 months, we’ll be done with “craft cocktails”. Perhaps by then we’ll be back to “flair bartending”!
So, I am not impressed with this fad of “craft cocktails”. Still, I acknowledge that being able to charge $9 for a $4 drink is smart marketing. (Open wide and say “glug”!)
Until I find a place that embraces the full-spirit of “craft cocktails” in Cincinnati, I’m declaring Cincinnati a “half-craft cocktail” town.
Here ends the short essay.
However, hanging with friends was very nice. We were a big group, nearly filling the bar seats before we moved to a private upstairs dining room for dinner.
The Rookwood took very good care of us upstairs, and the food was good. I enjoyed a chicken dish with polenta, brussels sprouts, and bacon. Everyone else seemed to enjoy theirs as well!
Another successful Happy Mouth! Happy Birthday Tracy!