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Cocktail 101: How to Make Cocktails for a Flask

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[Photograph: Michael Dietsch]

If there's anything for which 'tis the season, 'tis the season for drinking in unusual places. In a one-horse open sleigh? Check. At your SO's office party? Yup. At the home of teetotaling relatives? Been there, my friend, been there. At the mall while finishing your shopping? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmaybe.

'Tis also, unfortunately, the season for badly made drinks, poorly prepared punches, and lukewarm beer. Office parties are probably the worst offenders, where even a cash-bar request for Jack on the rocks gets you a quizzical look from the rent-a-tender.

What to do? Carry your own cocktail.

It's easy and quick to mix up a flask cocktail. Yes, a flask full of whisk(e)y will smartly keep the chill off you as you're caroling from house to house. Yes, any fool can premix gin and tonic into a flask. But I'm going to urge you to get a little more creative. Now, don't panic. "Creative" doesn't need to mean "elaborate." You can carry around a great-tasting flask cocktail without much work or effort. Lazy drinking—isn't that the best kind?

Todd Price, a writer for the Times-Picayune wrote a couple of years ago about a trend among New Orleans bartenders of carryings flasks filled with cocktails to NOLA music festivals. Price's article contains tips and recipes, and I thought it offered good advice not just for summertime festival tippling, but also for wintertime holiday festivities.

Now, as Price and the NOLA bartenders make clear, flask cocktails are great for many purposes, and not just holiday tippling. But one great advantage to using them in the winter is that because they're usually sipped at room temperature, they're quite effective at warming you up on a cold day.

Just watch out. NOLA's open-container laws allow people to carry and drink booze in public places. Most locales aren't so forgiving. Be prepared to nip surreptitiously or only in private settings. But I suspect most of you have some experience with this already.

A Few Tips to Get You Started

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  • You'll be drinking this one warm, so start with a high-quality spirit. Ever notice the swill most bartenders pour into the blender when making Slushiritas and frozen mangoberry daiquiris? Unless the barkeep upsells you to Patron, you're usually getting speed-rail spirits, and there's a reason for that: the icy drink numbs your taste buds so much you don't notice the bottom-shelfer. You'll have the opposite problem if you use cheap hooch for a flask cocktail. Since you're drinking it at room temperature, you'll notice a poor-quality booze right away.
  • Keep it simple. The more complex the recipe, the more likely it is to taste terrible at room temperature. A flask cocktail doesn't need to be much more than a spirit and a modifier or two. Hey, I like Wild Turkey as much as you do. But adding a bit of vermouth and some bitters won't hurt you, and you'll be the hepcat carrying around a Manhattan in your flask. But even three ingredients might be too many! Consider mixing rye and Benedictine or gin and a hint of Chartreuse. The complex herbaceousness of liqueurs such as Benedictine or Chartreuse mean that they can modify a spirit very nicely on their own, without added bitters or other ingredients.
  • Maybe lay off the citrus. Price says this tip is mildly controversial in New Orleans. Some bartenders say that citrus brings out the tinny notes in a metal flask and makes a drink taste metallic; others say they've never noticed such a problem. I'll leave it to you to make the call.

Recipes?

Recipes are hard to provide for something like this, although Price offers several that sound like good places to start. Here's the sticking point on providing recipes: I have no idea how big your flask is. I have two of my own that are close to hand, and a couple of others in storage. Both have about a five-ounce capacity, although one's just over five ounces and the other is just under five ounces. Yours may be a dainty three-ouncer or a hefty six-bagger.

What I can provide is a basic procedure, which goes as follows:

  1. Measure a few ounces of base spirit into a bowl or measuring cup.
  2. Add mixers or modifiers
  3. Transfer to a flask using a funnel.

And I can offer general guidelines:

  • Use a graduated measuring cup with a 1-cup capacity, like the Oxo brand cup with the slanted side. This way you can mix everything in a single measuring cup and pour the cocktail into your flask.
  • Mix to your taste. With just a few ounces of hooch in your pocket, you'll at most be sharing this drink with a couple of other people. So get a balance that works for you and maybe your favorite drinking companion.
  • Proportions: Say your flask can hold five ounces and you really like rye. Start with 3 ounces of rye and 1 ounce of vermouth or other mixer. This way, you have only 4 ounces in your measuring cup, and you can adjust your quantities to taste, adding spirit, modifier, and water (optionally; see below) until you reach 5 ounces.
  • What about water? If you've read my pieces on bottled cocktails, you'll remember that I suggest adding water, if you're going to be serving the drink right out of the bottle. Adding water predilutes the drink, supplying the dilution you'd normally get from shaking or stirring. The same principle applies to flask cocktails. If you add water, it should account for about 1/4th the volume of the cocktail. If your flask is 5 ounces, you can fudge this, and use only about 1 ounce of water. I wouldn't sweat this too much; just mix to taste.

Have you ever carried cocktails in a flask? Got any tips for drinking in unusual or less-than-ideal circumstances?

About the author: Michael Dietsch approaches life with a hefty dash of bitters. He and his family live in Brooklyn. You can find him on twitter at @dietsch.

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