It is that time of the year again when we reveal secrets and innovative techniques of the cocktail world. While it has been a little quiet around here lately, Summit Sips has not been idle. This year, we believe we have unlocked the mystery of bartender creativity!
For years, we have enjoyed drinks at local establishments, reviewed recipes from afar, sampled ingredients new and old, and tested techniques for making great cocktails. Yet, through it all, we have struggled to comprehend how new drinks keep coming. How is it that every decent establishment is able to churn out one masterpiece recipe after another? How do bartenders do it, season after season, one incredible menu item after another? It is as if they are tapped into some stream of creativity that the rest of us poor fools can only dream about! After years of research, we finally found the answer, and we call it the Cocktail Randomizer.
The Randomizer is more of a creativity system than a single solution for making up drinks. Because each of us has a slightly different inventory of ingredients, you can’t buy this or download a kit. You have to build it yourself—and that’s the key! Your Randomizer will be different than ours because you make decisions during construction that are perfectly tailored to what you can create. We are convinced that this is how all of our favorite recipes were ultimately discovered. When you think about it, it’s obvious. The drinks are just out there in a body of mixology knowledge waiting for someone to dial in the right combination, and then—poof—another winning recipe is yanked out of darkness and shaken into existence!
While there are many ways to pull this off, we opted for a low-tech method that relies on “spinners” much like a jewish dreidel game. You could use 3D-printed multi-sided dice, or even a computer program, but our spinners are fast and easy. Start with ingredient categories such as Spirit, Mixer/Modifier, Sweetener, Bitters, Garnish, Service, and so on. Then, list the items in each, like this:
The idea is to use your own ingredient inventory to establish the possible outcomes. We included the word “none” on a few categories like bitters and garnish to unlock those possibilities. In our example, Spirit has six categories, so we needed a hexagon spinner wheel. For bitters, we needed a square, and so on. We made a convenient template PDF for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8-sided polygons with centers. You can print this and trace the shapes onto card stock or mat board. Label each edge with the items in each category and poke a hole in the center with an ice pick. Make sure the shapes are cut out cleanly and that you transfer the exact center using the template so you have good balance. Using hot glue, secure a toothpick in the center and allow the glue to cool as you adjust the spinner wheel so it is perfectly straight.
Now, all you need to do is give each category a spin to generate your random cocktail. When a spinner stops, it is leaning on the edge to reveal the result. You will need to use common sense with proportions, but seemingly, every combination is a potential masterpiece waiting to be made! To prove this works, we generated an amazing recipe the very first time and mixed up the incredible result as follows:
Mixer/Modifier: lime juice
Service: on the rocks
Extra: salted rim
This cocktail is so good, we decided it might be something to share with friends. Given the fact that tequila comes from Mexico, we’re calling it the Mexican Lime-O (for the lime juice and orange liqueur) and we plan to serve it during an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. Everyone is sure to be impressed with our creative genius!
With our confidence building, we tried again and this time hit the jackpot with the following:
Mixer/Modifier: lime juice
Sweetener: simple syrup
You gotta try making this one. Simple though it is, it could easily become an instant classic. Maybe we should call it the Rummy Yummy?
At this point, we realized that we forgot to add vermouth to our modifier wheel. No matter. We can make up another set with sweet vermouth, dry, Lillet, Punt e Mes, or maybe even some Italian amaro—creativity has no limits with this system. If you want to invent a series of juleps, go right ahead and put crushed ice on every side of the Service wheel. It is the system’s flexibility that has us sold.
We tried again and landed here:
Mixer/Modifier: lime juice
Sweetener: ginger syrup
Sounds delicious, right? We think this will be the hit of the summer, and to keep it extra cold and refreshing we are thinking it would work out perfectly in some frosty metal mugs! Vodka and lime this time, so let’s call it the Green Russian. It seems like we can do no wrong with this system!
Not surprisingly, after three lime cocktails in a row, we also unlocked another mystery that has been bugging us for years. Ever notice how some bars seem to ignore entire drink categories? How many times have you glanced over a drink menu and thought, “Geez, this place sure has a lot of vodka drinks—what gives?” Actually, we’ve said it out loud before. Well, now we know: it’s because their spinners are out of whack. With an off-center hole, or a point that is too short, the spirit wheel can land on the same edge every time. Vodka. Vodka. Vodka. I can respect a bartender that believes in the system, but sometimes you gotta check that everything is working correctly. It’s an easy thing to adjust, so please, stop wasting our time and fix your damned spirit wheel! In our case, a little blob of lime-leaning hot glue was the culprit.
Give this technique a try and let us know what comes up. If anybody asks what you are up to, you finally know what it means to say you are just spinning your wheels.