In an era of unparalled experimentation and invention in cocktails the need for new, fresh names can add a thrilling additional layer to the creative act. Coming up with that perfect title can bring the whole project together, capping it off with a pretty verbal bow, le mot juste--or it can induce mindlock and inertia. Most bartenders probably experience both side of the naming coin, with it coming easily in one instance and then not coming at all in another. I recently tasted something really lovely and uncommon, a marriage of El Buho mezcal, tangerine, chamomile grappa, citrus and thyme. Jonathan DeLeon of the Lower East Side's Piedmont-style Italian spot Sorella had come up with a few winners in the short time I've known him, often involving unexpected, seeminlgy improbable combinations. He seems to have his own palate and picks some odd flavors on the color wheel of herbs and spirits that you'd never noticed before, but are pleased to have found in his cocktails. Naming the things, however, is not his strong suit. Perhaps that's in keeping with his off-the-beaten-path cocktails--it can be hard to put a name to a new construct. But this cocktail wound up involving 5 people in a periptatic sequence of half-hearted brainstorming sessions, reluctant emails, listless conversations, most of which ended in a semi-satisfied detente of sorts, a "good enough" name. I'm not sure every cocktail needs its own name. But this one really defied any resolution.
When Jonathan first made it for me a couple weeks ago they were just calling it a "Mexcal, tangerine and thyme cocktail", which may still be the best name. It turned out that the mezcal was actually the very, very new one that my friend Redford was involved in making and importing, and given that less than 50 preview bottles were circulating around New York City it felt like a pretty big and very cool coincidence . (El Buho will be available April 2nd through Faropian, more on the subtle, 89 proof mezcal shortly.)
Various iterations of the name include, but are not limited to: Mezcal T Thyme (from Sorella partner Sarah Krathen), El Buho Nido (The Owl's Nest) from Embury cohort Jason Schell, but that somehow didn't land, either. As fitting as it was a bird's nest isn't necessarily something you want to drink.
Then I had a cinematic brainwave and decided to insert myself into the equation, which doubtless only added to the confusion. The tangerine juice made me think of Kate Winslet's compulsive hair-dyer in "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind", and the scene where she runs in to the bedroom and jumps on Jim Carrey with freshly tangerine-d hair. The unmoored quality of the film seemed apropos to this drink without a clear antecedent, but Winslet's character's name, Klementine Krucynski, seemed unwieldy to Jonathan, and he was probably correct. Still, fun idea.
The Tango Thyme was in play for a minute, followed by a brief flirtation with Tango Mezzo Forte. Then, moments before press time a note from Jonathtan showed up in my inbox. "Disregard all previous emails. "A Tango And A Smoke" is my pick." So, without further ado:
A TANGO AND A SMOKE
1 oz El Buho Mezcal
1oz Montanaro chamomile grappa
2.5 thyme twigs, leaves pulled off into drink mixture
1.5 oz tangerine juice
1/4 oz ginger syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz lime juice
Shake well, strain over fresh ice, top with club soda and a few thyme leaves.
And depsite being quiten taken with the cocktail, somehow I'm still not completely sold on the name. Once you open that Pandora's Box, it can be hard to close. J.R.
El Buho arrives....