Why did it take thirty-nevermind years of life for me to discover the Presbyterian?
A few months ago, a gaggle of us went to Little Branch, one of the elder statesmen of the New York/pre-Prohibition style/pay-$14-for-a-cocktail-and-beg-for-more temples of cocktailing. Little Branch’s menu does things a little differently that other bars of its ilk — in fact, let’s diverge for a paragraph or two and talk a bit about that, the organization of cocktail menus. (God, what a cocktail dork I am; this stuff actually excites me.)
Death & Co.’s menu, for example, is primarily categorized by cocktails’ base liquors: gin, rum, whiskey, etc. (No vodka, of course, as ‘t’wasn’t what Americans drank way back when.) Those groupings are subdivided into shaken cocktails and stirred ones. I like this because 1) today we’re largely conditioned to think about drinks by base liquor, making this menu accessible at first glance; 2) subdividing into shaken and stirred, the menu still gives customers something new to think about, the idea that proper cocktail making includes how you physically amalgamate your ingredients.
Clover Club in Brooklyn (which I just went to for the first time last weekend and ooh! Lots to share with y’all soon!) pays greater attention to the type of cocktail rather than what’s the base liquor, like I talked about the other week — “Collins & Fizzes,” “Sours & Daisies” — and then has a catchall “Cocktails” list and, curiously, one for “Rye” but no other liquors. It’s fascinating and full of helpfully written, witty bits of copy, but still takes more digesting.
And then there’s Little Branch’s menu, which I stole and have read over and over and still find sort of opaque. The best way I can describe its organization is to literally spell it out:
I. Standard Cocktails
A. Tart & Mildly Sweet
1. Lime Drinks
c. Brandy Shake
d. Gin or Rum Rickey
2. Lemon Drinks
b. Tom Collins
c. Rye Fizz
3. House Ginger Beer
b. Dark & Stormy
c. Moscow Mule
B. Spirit Forward
a. Oliver Twist
b. Rob Roy
4. Old Fashioned
Where’s my mixologist’s decoder ring?! It’s a bit all over the place, a bit hard to wrap your mind around, and I feel bad for the cocktail waitresses there, because my guess is that they have to spend a lot of time answering questions.
I don’t think any of us ordered a Presbyterian that night, but I was intrigued, and actually all the more so when I read how basic and simple, and thereby sort of refreshingly elegant, a Presbyterian is: It’s just bourbon, ginger ale and club soda. It’s crisp, it’s light, it’s a bit WASPy, and it’s exactly what I’d want to quaff at the family cocktail hour, after a round of tennis with Mumsy.
I hope this is one y’all can add to your at-home arsenal, ‘cuz seriously, you can’t ask for more supermarket-friendly ingredients, and sometimes the last thing I want to do is to bother to make myself a Manhattan.
2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Equal parts ginger ale and club soda
Fill a Collins glass (the nice, tall, slender ones) with lovely and perfect, prep-school ice cubes. Pour in the bourbon, followed by your equal parts ginger ale and club soda to fill. Garnish with lemon slice or twist. If you’ve got a nice, slender ice tea spoon — you know, like you keep at the Nantucket summer home — give it a few gentle stirs. Discuss the stock market and the poors.
Can you use ginger beer instead of ginger ale? Can you do unequal parts of the ginger-whatever and club? Surely.