This is the best drink I have made in quite a while. How’s that for a spoiler? I am not only giving away the hook before it is set, but before I have even made much of a cast. If nothing else, no one can accuse me of burying the lead. I just put this one right out on front street. This drink rocks. Not only does it rock, but it brightened my day and reminded me why I embarked on this voyage of discovery in the first place. You already know that a couple of paragraphs from now, I am going to rave about the taste, but you don’t yet know how I am going to tie it to Encanto and a voyage of self discovery, so won’t you willingly suspend a little disbelief and join me now as we stand and make the Naked and Famous.
This one falls into modern classic territory, though I rarely see it on menus lately. Created by Joaquín Simó at New York’s Death and Co. in 2011, this cocktail is an inspired riff on two of my favorite drinks. He describes it as “the bastard love child of a classic Last Word and a Paper Plane, conceived in the mountains of Oaxaca.” I absolutely adore both of those drinks and I am always up for a nice smoky mezcal so let’s see what makes this one so special.
Just like the inspirations, this is an equal parts cocktail so grab your tins and pop in 3/4 of an ounce each of Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh squeezed lime juice and mezcal, I chose Vida Del Maguey. Add ice and give it a good shake to the beat of Amanda Palmer’s amazing stripped down cover of “Surface Pressure” from Encanto. If you are familiar with her work, you get it. She knows all about being naked and famous and most importantly, painfully genuine. When your tins begin to frost over, double strain into a chilled coupe and serve entirely garnish free.
Did I mention that I love this drink? Good, because I do. This thing is perfectly balanced, but in such an unusual way. Balance is what we are usually going for in drinks and this one nails it, but with a surprisingly independent approach. Rather than a full choir, just four ingredients lift the tune, each voice harmonious but distinct. You get the smoke from the mezcal and this one wants as much smoke as you can give it. You get the herbal complexity from the Yellow Chartreuse. You get that sweet then bitter turn from the Aperol. You get the tart brightness from the lime juice. None of them step on each other, none are lost. It really is the most amazing drink. Usually to get this level of perfect harmony from four distinctly different sources you have to hang out in front of a barbershop with Lida Rose. This one is so very good, you simply must try it.
Clearly, I make a lot of drinks and I think about how this craft affects our lives. I read old cocktail books and imagine what things taste like. I make lists of things to try and ponder what might pair with whatever is on my mind that day. I think about lighting and how the shot will turn out. Those are all easy things. I also worry, a lot, about whether the words will be any good and if the words aren’t good, what is the point of making the drink? Somewhere over the last two years and hundreds of drinks I quit making them for pleasure and started making them because I felt obligated to, which is a shame.
Like Luisa said, “What breaks the camel’s back is pressure like a drip, drip , drip that’ll never stop…” I have been working on that, trying to take more time off, but still I would feel bad when I did not make something for too long. I’d end up doing something forced and I could feel it. That was why today was such a relief. During my evening stroll I remembered this drink and decided to make it, just out of curiosity. I laid out my tools and ingredients and made a drink, while reveling in the ritual. I was rewarded with an amazing flavor and a certain kind of peace. Honestly, I only remembered to take a picture as a an afterthought, which you can tell if you look at the glass which has clearly had a sip taken from it. Sorry, that you missed the perfection that could have been, but that’s life. For the first time in a long time I felt really good about what I was doing and I owe it all to taking the time to do something for myself. Maybe it was self-care, maybe I am trying to sell selfishness as a virtue, either way it worked.
It is funny, the places your epiphanies come from. Like most everyone I know, I laughed and I cried and I felt the lessons that came a little too close to a fractured home when I watched Encanto. I immediately identified with Bruno as the guy who got the blame for things beyond his control. That was quick and easy and had that whole redemptive thing, plus a catchy song. This week though, when Amanda Palmer released her cover of “Surface Pressure”, I actually heard the lyrics for the first time and I realized I have been Luisa my whole life. Somewhere along the way, my thing became being strong and doing the hard things. Until I caught some of those more elusive words it did not hit me just how much of my self worth I had tied up in doing hard things for others. I am not sure that is healthy. When I heard her sing, “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service,” I felt that. After all “Who am I if I can’t carry it all?”
I know better, I really do. There is nothing wrong with being strong for others and yourself and I have plenty of days where I am weak enough for all of us, but somewhere along the way I decided that the harder something was for me the better it made me for doing it and that is not healthy. Doing good things is awesome, reveling in the pain and discomfort you take on yourself so that others don’t feel it, not so much. I get taking pleasure in pain and there is nothing wrong with that, but not the way I was doing it. So, I am going to work on me. It’s funny, but I feel like I’ve been doing penance for a long time, so long that I am not even sure what my original crime was or if it even existed. Most folks are content trying to drink their demons away, but I prefer to play both sides of the bar, pouring the drink, enjoying it and looking those demons in they eye while waxing poetic on our shared human condition. So thank you for your patience, while I explore my prolonged childhood on this nearly 50 year long path to becoming a better human. I guess we all have our ways of dealing with things. I hope you will stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.