Mixologist, Bartender and a Hop Shot

Sure, I got as vexed as anybody when I first heard the term mixologist a few years back. Why attach an academic title to a service that doesn't need one? To be a bartender -- at least a good one -- requires quick wits, charm, speed, people skills, drunk-people skills and the ability to measure on the fly, in the manner that French cooks forgo measuring cups.

It was not until reading Wayne Curtis's And a Bottle of Rum that I learned mixologist first appeared in print in 1856, at a time when hard-drinking Americans were fueled by raggedy rum, coarse whiskey, brandy and a series of flips, cobblers and shrubs.

Mixology is literally "the study of mixes," and it took a lot of study to come up with today's collection of cocktails. So, unless you exclusively drink sherry flips, hats off (even fedoras) to the decades of learned bartenders.

A New Classic? I don't see a lot of new classic cocktails. Perhaps in this age of viral everything, a cocktail has a hard time standing out. But one caught my attention, in this New York Times celebration of the new breed of mixologists. It's the Bitter End, created by Ciaran Wiese of Scott & Co. in Tucson. It's simply a shot of Campari, poured into a pint glass filled with ice, topped with India pale ale, with a twist of lemon.

Now I love Campari, and beer is great, of course, but it's not noted for its mixing qualities. Wiese is an exceptional mixologist to even consider this combination. For his recipe, he gives the instructions "top with the ale." From experience, I know that a mere 1/2 ounce more or less of a mixer can completely change the nature of a cocktail. Wiese is a skilled bartender, with the instinct of how much ale to pour.

How Much Beer? I have to know exactly, so I lined up pint glasses, added 1 ounce of Campari to each, filled them with ice and started adding a basic Goose Island IPA in half-ounce increments. With 3 ounces, it was a Campari drink, like a poor man's Negroni. At 4 ounces, the Campari and beer were balanced, but that's not Wiese's intention.

At 5½ ounces there's a sweet spot, and above 6 ounces, the Campari fades away.

Next, I tried the drink with a Stone IPA, and found that this hoppier beer significantly improved the cocktail. Then I went to the extreme with a Burton Baton oak-aged Imperial IPA from Dogfish Head. This ale is the richest, creamiest (and most expensive retail) beer I've ever tried.

The Campari brought out the oak, but not in a good way. The beer was far better by itself. This is costly ingredient overkill, like using Glenfiddich 40 in a Scotch & Green Tea. You could dial it back to a Dogfish 60 or 90 Minute IPA.

So here's my non-mixologist take on the Bitter End, adapted from Wiese of Scott & Co.

  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 5 1/2 ounces cold Stone India Pale Ale
  • 1 lemon twist or the thinnest of lemon slices

Pour the Campari into a pint glass, fill with ice and pour in the ale. Garnish with the lemon twist or slice.

This is supposed to be a summer drink, but here in Houston it would be just right in any month except December and January.

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