Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Where to Start?

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

It's sometimes difficult to explain to casual observers, but as with enjoying many other parts of the culinary world, there's a certain aspect of drinking well-made cocktails that borders on rapture. And as with anything that brings such pronounced joy, many fans can trace their enthusiasm to a particular "aha!" moment, when the proverbial clouds parted and the light came down, and all of a sudden their perspective on what's good permanently changed.

But how to share that excitement with others? What's a good way to try to create that sense of sudden wonder in a mixological virgin? This was the question posed to the larger online cocktail community for the most recent round of Mixology Monday; using the theme "The First Time," the event hosts from the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, or LUPEC-Boston, asked cocktail enthusiasts for ideas on the perfect introductory cocktail that would not only reveal to a relative neophyte the appeal of a well-made drink but would also spark that flash of interest and excitement that would prompt further bibulous exploration.

The responses have been interesting. Some have suggested setting the bar fairly low, bringing beer or chardonnay drinkers into the fold with approachable beginner cocktails such as juicy vodka drinks or the once-ubiquitous Cosmopolitan; others suggested straightforward though unaggressive drinks such as classic daiquiris or margaritas; and still others set the bar higher, with more challenging though still basic drinks such as the whiskey-and-pineapple based Algonquin or the cognac-based Sidecar. Indeed, if there was any agreement on the perfect drink to serve someone who's never had a good cocktail before, it was that there were so many options to choose from.

Which brings us to you. There are plenty of people with the cocktail bug, who think there's nothing finer at 5:30 p.m. than a well-mixed martini, or who craft rafts of elaborate cocktails when friends come over on Saturday--and plenty of them hang out around these parts.

What's your suggestion? If you have a guest who typically sticks with beer but is curious about stepping over to the cocktail side, what do you suggest as a drink that they'll not only enjoy but will ask for the next time they come over? A thirsty world wants to know.