I recently helped judge the New York finals of a Plymouth competition, along with Gary "Mr. Cool" Regan, Noath Rothbaum of Liquor.com, Stanislav Vladna and Plymouth's uncommonly well-dressed Nick Van Tiel. The sartorial prowess of this panel was nearly as daunting as their cocktail savvy, but I busted out my silver/blue Joseph Abboud suit and my brown leather $10 Yves Saint Laurent thrift store shoes and was able to make myself reasonably presentable. Some fine cocktail were shaken up that evening, but the clear winner was from Jason Cousin of Brooklyn's Meatball Shop. "The Margherita" is an improbable salad-in-a-glass that lingered in the mind's palette for days. Bearing some resemblance to Scott Beattie's vodka-based "Upstairs Neighbor", this "Margherita" pulls classic Italian food elements--basil, tomatoes & balsamic vinegar-and fuses them with citrus and gin for an unexpectedly subtle tall cocktail that's incredibly summery. And so out-of-the-blue that it should catch anyone you make it for way, way off guard, and subsequently delight the hell out of them. Once you make the basil-peppercorn syrup production is relatively simple, and with a little prep you can bang out a few of these at a barbeque or at the beach with minimal effort, and maximum joy.
1.5 oz Plymouth Gin
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz basil-peppercorn syrup
1 barspoon balsamic vinegar
3 plum tomatoes (1 for garnish)
3 large basil leaves (1 for garnish)
Ground black pepper
Muddle 2 tomatoes and 2 basil leaves in the basil-peppercorn syrup in a mixing glass. Add all other ingredients, shake and double strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice. Top with 2 oz of club soda and garnish with a basil tomato flag and ground black pepper.
BASIL PEPPERCORN SYRUP
1 Cup water
Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the peppercorns and basil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and strain. Store in the refrigerator.
Cousins, in the "shaking and be judged" portion of the competition. Intimidating judges, too.
Nick Van Tiel, so well-dressed it borders on the rude. Look at that watch! There's a small list of brand ambassadors who really rock the suits--Paul Franich, formerly of 42 Below, is one (and he rocks the non-suit too) and Raj Nagra of Bacardi come to mind, but Van Tiel's a new contender in this ambassadorial bespoke fashion promenade of swagger. They might be discussing some arcane aspect of spirit production or the nuances of a cocktail, but you find yourself staring resentfully at their shoes, or cufflinks, or their windsor knot.