I still remember my earliest encounter with a bartender who could remember my cocktails. My bride and I arrived for our first dinner at Goodfellows, which was well on its way to becoming the best restaurant in Minneapolis at the time. We were early, so we wandered into the glass and steel bar, and placed our fledgling-cocktail-drinkers martini orders—one Absolut on the rocks, one Tanqueray up with olive. The drinks arrived cold and clear, and we had become David’s new customers.

But that isn’t when we knew he was a first-rate bartender. No, it was when we returned for our second visit a year later. Again arriving early for dinner, we took our same seats in the bar. David greeted us warmly, and recited “Absolut martini on the rocks, Tanqueray up with olive.” I was impressed, and at that moment I knew I had met my first professional bartender.

I don’t know how professionals memorize the cocktail tastes and preferences of their customers so thoroughly, and with such apparent quickness and ease. I do know that you  have to care about your customers, and you have to pay attention to detail. I have found considerable challenge—and enlightenment—in learning, and remembering, the details of cocktail preference for the much smaller circle of my friends and family. There is always the amusing party challenge of suggesting interesting cocktail ideas that hew to these preferences. It’s easiest when all you need to remember is to adjust a sweet/sour balance, or to select a gin or whiskey to match particular tastes—less lemon here, more Laphroiag there. I’m blessed that many of my friends are cocktail hunters in their own rights, often bringing the ideas, and even the hootch, to me.

The more demanding challenge, one that requires real knowledge and effort, is to satisfy cocktail companions who have outright dislikes for ingredients that are fundamental to whole classes of great cocktails.

My most acute and enduring example of this challenge is my bride’s sensitivity to bitters. Not to mention her distaste for sweet vermouth. A wide swath of classic and interesting cocktail recipes become instant non-starters. There are still lots of options, of course, but the search for new opportunities is always on; once in awhile, we hit on one that works.

Countrypolitan Cocktail, photo © 2010 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Countrypolitan Cocktail

And one that works is the delicious Countrypolitan Cocktail.  A bourbon sour, it is an no-vodka twist on the Cosmo that I ran across at Felicia’s Speakeasy. With a few adjustments to accommodate our tastes and pantry, we came up with the following pleaser:

Countrypolitan Cocktail
  • 1½ oz Bulleit bourbon
  • ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz demarara syrup
  • ½ oz Grand Marnier
  • ¾ oz Pama pomegranate liqueur

Shake with ice, strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Express and garnish with lime.

Bulleit is relatively spicy, as bourbons go, and adds a pleasant dimension to the drink; the demarrara adds some complexity to the sweetener. The Pama concentrates the pomegranate flavor nicely; it is on the verge of overpowering the Bulleit at ¾ ounce, but this proportion gives the drink a distinctively pomegranate profile. I speculate that a quality grenadine could be successful, too.