Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Mr. Potato Head theory of cocktails

Photo by tps125 on flickr
As much as I love the negroni or the manhattan, sometimes you want to try something new. But you don't always want to start from scratch, throwing random things into a glass in the hope it will taste good (or like apples). So one of the ways you can get a new cocktail is by modifying the old; this is the Mr. Potato Head theory of cocktails. Don't like that nose? Replace it with a different one. Don't feel like vermouth? Replace it with amaro. I do this often, and Serious Eats talks about it in a recent post.
Imagine a Mr. Potato Head toy. He might start out with red shoes, a black mustache, a black hat. But maybe you get tired of that version. No worries! You can swap out the black hat for a pink one. Keep going! Try it with a blue hat. And once you try the blue hat, you might want to put in some blue shoes, too. Looks pretty sharp. 
In cocktails, the building blocks aren't noses or shoes or mustaches—they're ingredients. To break out of your cocktail rut, just start with a classic drink and try swapping out one element at a time. It's not a new idea (and it certainly predates our friend Mr. Potato Head)—these simple variations and substitutions go back as long as the history of cocktails.
Maggie's article mostly suggests switching out the base liquor; try swapping brandy for gin, for example. More often I like to swap out one of the minor ingredients. For example, I like to put Cointreau in my manhattans. (I know, this makes me a bad person). But sometimes I want something a bit richer, so I'll swap Averna for the Cointreau. Alternatively, I'll swap the vermouth for Cardamaro. This is an excellent way to make your personal cocktail list a bit longer.

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