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Keeping up with the Collinses

By Keir Graff

AUGUST 2, 1999:  On the rare occasion that I am able to evade my nurse and escape for a quick tipple, I find I hardly recognize the back bars of modern drinking establishments. Upon asking the barman for something refreshing, he seems most likely to recommend a drink with a rude name, or perhaps a blended concoction, garnished with fruit salad and more suitable for a kiddie beverage stand than for a grown man's thirst.

And while it has been some years since my medical regimen has allowed for anything stronger than a ginger beer, I do well recall several classes of summer drink from my drinking days, drinks that both refreshed and ameliorated the palate. What, I ask you, has become of the gin Rickey? Whither the floradora cooler?

Perhaps a little refresher course is first in order - but let's stick to tall, commonly gin-based drinks mixed with effervescent water, thus preventing the novice mixologist from having to struggle with the more esoteric paraphernalia of the bar.

Now, as a species of drinks, the highball is perhaps the most broad. Technically, any liquor served in a tall glass over ice and mixed with water or soda water is a highball, although by far the most common was once whiskey and soda. Some go so far as to include soda pop such as 7-Up as a mixer, and I won't quibble. But it is disconcerting to approach the bar and order a bourbon highball, only to receive a quizzical look from the saloonkeeper. He ought to have the professional pride to at least make something up.

For those inclined to look for a little sweetness, the Horse's Neck is quite appealing, bourbon and ginger ale with a long lemon peel floated in the glass. Now, here is where it gets somewhat more difficult. Though undoubtedly the compilers of traditional bartending manuals would have you believe that there are important distinctions between them, I wager you will always have a tough time telling the difference between Collinses, coolers, fizzes and Rickeys. It is only for the furtherance of the food sciences that I will attempt a delineation here.

A Collins, with its liberal splash of lemon juice, is often thought to be a punch relative, but it is in actuality a tall sour. Tom (made with gin) is the most popular Collins brother, although the expansive family includes John, Pepito, Pierre and others, covering virtually the entire world of liquor.

Coolers vary quite widely, and can be very similar to Collinses, but often entertain more diverse liquors in their mix, such as apricot or cherry brandy, pineapple liqueur or even wine. They tend to have less fruit juice in them, however, and are stirred rather than shaken.

You must shake a fizz, although you shake it before the soda water is added. They can contain lemon or lime, or both, and some even serve them in goblets, as a morning pick-me-up. Like the Collins and the cooler, the fizz is sweetened with sugar, but you may also use ginger ale or champagne. Silver, golden and royal fizzes are created by adding egg white, yolk or an entire egg to a gin fizz. Beginners may wish to start with a sweet, gentle sloe gin fizz.

A Rickey is always made with a half lime, soda water and the liquor of your choice. They are resolutely unsweetened, and the lime shell is dropped right into the glass, la the Cuba Libre. Quite a glass of grog!

We must finally cover a personal favorite, the mint julep. As most of us are undoubtedly aware, the julep is native to Kentucky, and is traditionally made with quality bourbon, a teaspoon of powdered sugar and a splash of water. It is important to both muddle some mint and top the beverage with a healthy sprig of the mint leaves, to provide the nose with a healthy bouquet each time the face inclines for sipping. This is the only instance I personally approve of a salad encumbering an alcoholic libation. NEVER use mint syrup or extract to compensate - if you are unable to procure fresh mint, your juleps will simply have to wait.

At the Kentucky Derby, mint juleps are often served in frosted pewter or silver mugs, and if you can afford this small extravagance, you will not regret it. I once failed to collect on a sizable bet won at this equine event due to the irresistible allure of this Kentucky captivator.

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