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Wednesday Garden Cocktail: Rosemary Collins

Last January I cycled snowy Chicago streets from Edgewater to Logan Square to hear a friend’s band play at The Whistler. I had only just heard of the bar but looked forward to the cocktails by which everyone seemed so impressed. And impress they did.  Now that I think of it, this was my initiation into the ‘craft cocktail’ world, as I had stubbornly stuck to my beers for so long. I recall my first visit vividly.

I started with an Orchard Old Fashioned while I waited for a friend. Arriving solo to a packed house allowed me to grab the only empty seat at the bar right in front of Paul McGee, the man behind the drinks. There I watched him shake and stir, muddle and measure, while I sipped from a drink built of rye and apple whiskey, Demerara sugar and Angostura bitters.

Now, you have to understand much of my finest mockery material has been based on subjects ostensibly belonging to the ‘hipster community’ (stemming from an insecurity that these people are simply cooler and more put-together than me). And this heavily bearded mixologist in a bow tie would be no exception. But there’s just one thing: the man makes the most exquisite drinks. It seems in poor taste to parody an expert of his craft in the same breath that you ask for another.

So I held my tongue and politely ordered the Rosemary Collins. A spin on the classic Tom Collins, this bright and herbaceous drink sucked me into a Proustian sense-memory vortex of such intensity I didn’t even notice the band playing. A huge sprig of rosemary greets the senses as you raise the tall glass for sampling. It is so piney and resinous that I was instantly transported to the dense Sequoias of Kings Canyon National Park where I’ve taken numerous backpacking trips. The light citrus and sweetness in the drink reminded me of the powdered sweeteners we add to filtered water to make them taste less of pond. But the Hendrick’s gin is so floral and fresh, from the rose petal and cucumber notes, you can’t help but picture a favorite rose garden– the Mission in Santa Barbara comes to my mind.

I walked, well biked, away from the evening with a new respect for the art of making a cocktail.  It’s harder than it seems to concoct something that is neither too sweet nor too strong, that compliments the quality of the alcohol establishing the drink’s foundation.  So distinctive and delicious, this drink has been on my mind for a year.

Go see the master mixologist before he moves to a new venue at the beginning of February. Or make your own Rosemary Collins by following the recipe here.  Do you have a home bar? I can’t wait to make one for myself, and found this article helpful (or just taunting.)

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January 18, 2012 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

4 Comments

  1. Just lovely.

    Was this your mixologist?

    Comment by Josh K-sky | January 18, 2012

  2. The “master mixologist” looks like a total douche.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | January 19, 2012

  3. Josh, I just caught that first episode! Pure gold. I also wanted to share with you that my local Trader Joe’s started carrying Bulleit Rye, and they offered Hendrick’s for substantially cheaper than other stores. BevMo had it at $32.99 and I bought it at Trader’s for $23.99. Magnificent. Their Tito’s was also cheap– $17.99 I think. Cheers!

    Craig, I hate the term “mixologist,” myself, though there aren’t a lot of alternatives as ‘bartender’ is too general. And while he may not be to our taste stylistically, the man knows how to fix a drink.

    Comment by ebolden | January 19, 2012

  4. I’m of the fickle sort: if he looks like a doucher, then he likely is a doucher. And douchers are best ignored or mocked regardless of any other redeeming (or otherwise) talents they may have.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | January 19, 2012


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