Salvatore Calabrese is quite possibly the best bartender in the world. Years ago, my wife gave me his slim, elegant little book Classic Cocktails. It sits quietly on the side of the bar as a reference, but it’s more than that. It’s a book about values, about living well.
For example, although it’s essentially a book of cocktail recipes in alphabetical order, it begins with 14 pages on the Martini: history, legend, lore. Then it proceeds to list the others, under the chapter heading “The Rest.” At no point does Salvatore (I feel we’re on a first name basis, and I’m sure he would agree) specifically say that the Martini the best of all mixed drinks — he just assumes it, and demonstrates it.
Calm assertion, as the great dog trainer Cesar Millan would put it. Brilliant.
“To be a bartender is to practice the art of conviviality and humanity to all types of people at all social levels,” he begins. He even writes like the perfect bartender: laying out the ingredients, mixing in a little context and background, giving great advice — but offhandedly, swiftly. He lets you in on things with a conspirator’s wink; reading him, you feel kind of brilliant yourself.
So in that spirit of conviviality, let me kick off your holidays with Salvatore’s recipe for egg nog. We’re not talking about the stuff you get in a cardboard quart at the supermarket. This is a cocktail; it’s meant to be created one drink at a time, made with some flair and served with love. Try it and see.
By the way, these are Salvatore’s exact words; I have added nothing.
1 fresh egg (preferably free range)
1 dash of gomme syrup
1 oz. brandy
1 oz. dark rum
5 oz. milk
Put all ingredients (except the milk) in a shaker and shake sharply. Strain into a highball glass. Add the milk and stir, then sprinkle fresh grated nutmeg.
The holidays can have a dead, depressed feeling about them. Maybe the problem is simply the canned, prepackaged quality of the “joy” that’s being offered. When “JOY!” becomes a banner hanging over the ornament section of K-Mart, maybe it is time for a war on Christmas… at least on that kind of joyless corporate Christmas.
Maybe a little handcrafted, thoughtfully made and offered, and yes, quite possibly alcoholic joy would be the antidote.