Damn. Here I was, thinking I'd spotted a major new trend-apparent: cocktails designed to combine nutritional value with alcoholic value. It was happening in LA and New York (surprise, surprise), and being reported (in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere) as a new kind of functional drink – the Red-Bull-and-vodka idea for drinkers whose taste-buds are not informed by ham-and-pineapple-pizza-flavour crisps. That is to say: energy and enervation, the disease and the cure, in a single glass. You could acquire the hangover and the cure simultaneously.
It sounded great. The only problem is that it seems to be nothing more than an alcoholic flash in the bedpan. None of the bartenders I spoke to in New York knew much about vitamin cocktails, and none seemed to care much. The cocktails, it turns out, are little more than vodka mixed with ingredients that include "vitamin water", the micronutrient-laced H2Os reported on in these pages last year. My bartender contacts were dismissive of the "Dragonfruit Vitaminwater Martini" served at Mirabelle, on Hollywood's Sunset Strip: vodka, pineapple juice and the eponymous vitamin water made by Glaceau.
A more intriguing development seemed to come in the form of Zygo, a potato vodka developed by an Idaho potato farmer. This is an opportunistic vodka if ever there was one, enriched with ingredients including taurine, guarana and yerba mate. And made palatable, or so the theory goes (I couldn't track down a bottle for tasting), by peach, mandarin and vanilla. Zygo seems to be aimed at clubbers – the ads reportedly call it a "morning vodka", and a company spokesman says, "It's about being able to sustain your evening... about being able to make the after-after party." In short, it's not about taste but about function: knock 'em down, pick 'em up. The only place I've heard of Zygo going in cocktails is Centro-Fly, a bar in Manhattan's trendy Flatiron district known primarily for its music.
I can't say I'll be surprised if these drinks fall flat on their functional faces. While I have no principled objection to functional food and drink, I find this pushme-pullyou approach to alcohol consumption slightly alarming. If you are going to drink, drink like a grown-up. Don't think you can magically undo alcohol's effects even as you're setting them in motion.
In New York, as always, grown-ups seem to have a different agenda. There, the usual guiding aim of the discernimenti is to breathe new life into old, classic ideas rather than invent new concepts with no pedigree and little likelihood of staying power. And nowhere is this made clearer than in the mulled wine made at Manhattan's renowned Gramercy Tavern (42 East 20th Street, tel: 001 212 477 0777). It serves it as an alternative to traditional digestifs, and it is a doozy.
What's more, the procedure is simplicity itself. Into the pitcher go four tablespoons of sugar, a few prunes (plus optional other dried fruit), a quartered orange, two sticks of cinnamon, six cloves and any other spices you normally like to sniff in mulled wine.
Boil water – you need four generous tablespoons – and pour into the pitcher. Stir well and steep for a few minutes. Add half a bottle of wine, 100ml of port or cherry brandy, and stir again. Cover tightly, and refrigerate until needed. It's designed for drinking warm, obviously, but it's works on ice as a warm-weather drink too. It tastes great. It warms body and spirit equally and it's a lot better, I'd wager, than a cocktail with vitamins attached.
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