People often ask me how I come up with ideas for cocktails, especially those that I create for my job at Recklesstown. I tell them honestly that I really don’t know the answer, and that I’ve allowed it to become a matter of intuition. Because I make that statement quite frequently, I’ve come to wonder exactly what it is that I’m talking about. Let me give you an example. The other night, my son Zachary texted me to ask if there was a way to make an elevated version of a Jack and Coke. I suggested that he use a better whiskey and then learned that I’d misunderstood the question. He wanted to know if we could make a fancier riff on a Jack and Coke that we could serve for his son Jack’s birthday dinner, which happens to be tonight. Ahhhh. Well sure. Let me think on it. And so I considered the idea of taking the cocktail apart and reassembling it in a new way by adding a few ingredients to a syrup I’d recently created for work, along with a citrus cordial and the Jack Daniels. The cocktail materialized in my mind in a relatively short period of time, yet I’m inclined to say that the steps I’ve just described were not a product of intuition. I think, to the contrary, that they are more related to the accelerated logical thinking that comes from doing something over and over again until it becomes a refined process. Still, it seems as though intuition has to be involved in some way, right? Otherwise, without tediously tasting the addition of every new ingredient, I’d never have been able to say with certainty that I thought the drink would work. And yet I knew, without a doubt, that it would. Is this because I’ve developed a certain level of confidence in what I do? Of course. It has become a matter of trust. The question is whether or not that’s the same as it being a matter of intuition.
I began thinking of how we might apply this question to everyday life. We all have certain patterns to the way we do things that end up turning into habits and routines. In many ways, these steps are comforting and predicable, and they provide a certain structure to our days. In fact, we tend to become upset if something changes unexpectedly. But what if we were the ones who actually made the change? What if we deconstructed one of our daily processes into all its individual parts and then reconstructed it in a totally different way? I would imagine that it would feel quite different to us. For starters, we’d be forced to move through our routine at a much slower pace. Things would be out of sequence, making them seem unfamiliar, and we’d be unable to operate on autopilot, which would force us to attend to every detail. Think of how much thought is required to recite the alphabet backwards, even though we know every letter in it. And yet, despite the slowdown and the discomfort, a state of mindfulness would settle over us that would certainly raise our level of awareness in a fairly significant way. Heightened awareness leads to laser focus, and there are certain psychological experts who believe that this type of sharpness is much better for our minds than any kind of automatic thinking. Deliberate concentration fully occupies the logical mind, which in turn allows our intuitive voice to come through in brilliant moments of unquestionable clarity.
In addition to having a set way of behaving each day, we also have certain emotional patterns that govern the way we react to things. What if we attempt to restructure one of these as well? My theory is that something very different would occur. Because our logical mind sees emotions and intuition as linked together, we believe that any change to our reactive tendencies (a.k.a. the proverbial emotional ruts in the road down which we travel) will have to come from our intuitive voice, and so we attempt to invoke it. But intuition simply does not work like this. The more we think we hear the answer in our own thoughts, the more it is actually eluding us. The longer we ruminate on these self-created suggestions, the more fearful we become that we’re going to make a mistake, and we end up falling back into the pattern of emotional behavior that feels safe, wondering why our intuition has failed us. The truth is that it hasn’t. Intuition can never be coerced by the logical mind. Nor will it ever manifest as an unclear choice that needs a great deal of consideration, or one that makes us afraid. It is a flash of brilliance, felt before it is seen, that requires no further thought and brings a sense of great calm and freedom. If we wish to change an emotional reaction, we must deconstruct it in the same way we would a logical process, but rather than attempting to reassemble it through intense focus, we must release its individual pieces and listen in that stillness for the first step we need to take towards reassembly. Only then will it become a matter of trust.
For today’s cocktail, I did exactly what Zachary asked me to do. I deconstructed a Jack and Coke by keeping the whiskey and adding a syrup made from sarsaparilla, cinnamon, vanilla, and the tiniest amount of a citrus extract called Fiori di Sicilia from the King Arthur Baking Company, along with a homemade lemon cordial, and black walnut bitters. A good quality club soda added the required fizz, but something was still missing. I decided to pull a sprig from an herb I had growing on my porch called Santolina, or cotton lavender. It has a strange savory flavor that’s reminiscent of olives, of all things. I loved s symbolic contribution as well: because its growth is shrublike, Santolina is an herb that can be shaped and reshaped many times. Would it work? For some reason unknown by my logical mind, it was just what the drink needed. Cheers everyone. Happy Friday! Thank you so much for reading.
A Matter of Trust
2 oz Jack Daniels whiskey
1.25 oz cinnamon sarsaparilla vanilla syrup*
1 oz lemon cordial
.5 oz Navy Hill club soda
2 dashes black walnut bitters
1 sprig of Santolina in shaker
Long shake over ice.
Double strain into cocktail glass.
*Make a simple syrup with 8 ounces water and 8 ounces demerara sugar. Pour into a mason jar over a crushed half cinnamon stick, and 2 teaspoons of dried sarsaparilla root. Allow to infuse for 24 hours. Add a teaspoon of vanilla paste and 5 drops of the Fiori Di Sicilia extract.