The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a cocktail as “a usually iced drink of wine or distilled liquor mixed with flavoring ingredients,” a fairly broad definition that leaves a lot to the imagination. Historians tend to disagree on the exact origin of the cocktail, though many think it probably traces to sometime in the early 19th century, very likely in England. What the first cocktail might have been is also disputed (the Sazerac and old-fashioned are both contenders). Even the origin of the term “cocktail” is cloaked in mystery. Some say the term originated in New Orleans from the French word coquetel, an eggcup that doubled as a drink glass. Others claim that “cocktail” once referred to drinks that were stirred or decorated with an actual cock’s tail, and that over time the definition was broadened to include drinks mixed without the help of our feathered friends.
Whatever the truth might be about the cocktail’s past, mixed drinks have earned a place in our contemporary culture. The mere mention of the word “cocktail” evokes images of smoky jazz-soaked nightclubs brimming with stylish people. They are served at the beginning of nearly every event imaginable, from corporate mixers to wedding receptions. We have cocktail parties, cocktail dresses, and you have to wonder: What would James Bond be like if he ordered a beer instead of a martini?
In the recent past, cocktails have undergone a transformation of sorts. Serving as creative outlets for bartenders (or mixologists, as some like to be called), modern cocktails often are made from the finest ingredients, regularly including things like freshly squeezed juices, homemade syrups and bitters, spices, exotic fruits, and locally distilled spirits made with great care and attention to detail. These drinks look almost as good as they taste. Some might even say that modern cocktail craft has been elevated to an art form.
Read on to discover inspired creations by three Merrimack Valley bartenders. Try making these drinks yourself, or round up a group of friends and enjoy a fantastic night out.
The Copper Belle
Horseshoe Grille’s Amy O’Neil has been in the food and beverage industry since the age of 16 and will have been at “The Shoe” in North Reading for a decade this summer. She created the Copper Belle along with General Manager Brian Shue.
O’Neil and Shue are particularly proud of this unique concoction. To make it, they infuse Copper Dog whisky with Pink Lady apples for five days. The infused whisky is blended with Belle de Brillet, a pear cognac; Green Chartreuse; and Dubonnet White. The resulting elixir is aged in an American oak barrel for 12 days before it is ready to serve. The presentation is simple, but the silky mouthfeel and elegant finish provide a multilayered, intense drinking experience.
BBQ Bloody Mary
This cocktail will only show up on the Horseshoe Grille menu on special occasions — the days after New Year’s Eve or the Super Bowl, for instance. To truly appreciate it, you’ll need to spend the previous evening studying the art of the cocktail perhaps a bit too passionately. O’Neil jokingly refers to it as “the bartender’s breakfast.”
Horseshoe Grille is known for its barbecue, and this drink includes a pinch of the restaurant’s secret recipe dry rub, along with shrimp, smoked and candied bacon, Boursin-stuffed sweet peppers, blue cheese olives and cocktail onions. As author Flannery O’Connor wrote, “The basis of art is truth, both in matter and mode.” While the BBQ Bloody Mary might not have the balance of some classic cocktails, that’s not what we want from a bloody mary anyway, where subtlety gives way to bold tastes and striking contrasts.
North Reading, Mass.