You walk into a dark cocktail den and take a seat at the bar. A bartender hands you a small, leather-bound menu featuring drinks from 1930s with some wild modern flavor combinations mixed in, to keep the staff from getting bored.
You're a classicist, though, so you settle on an aviation, and watch as the bartender pours gin, lemon juice and maraschino liquor into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. He strikes a purposeful stance and shakes the drink with necessary flare. And then, after pouring the concoction into a glass, he inserts a bar straw, caps the top with his finger and neatly extracts a small sample.
I get the move. Lemons are finicky fruits, sometimes as tart as bad candy from Willy Wonka and sometimes vaguely sweet. To maintain balance a bartender might add a little extra maraschino liqueur or perhaps a little more lemon juice. A small taste would illuminate which direction to go.
But that's the problem.
Bartenders never ever go in any direction after tasting a drink. Instead, they invariably top the frothy mixture with a little Crème de Violette and push the finished cocktail across the bar. Every damn time.
When the phenomenon of bartender drink-tasting started in top-shelf bars, it made sense. Drink prices swelled way past the $10 mark, costing more than many appetizers. If you expect a chef to taste and adjust the salt in your soup, why shouldn't you expect the same from a master mixologist and his drinks?
But now bartenders at dive bars are sampling whiskey cokes without even thinking about adjustments. That's not monitoring quality and balance; that's getting drunk a centiliter at a time.
If a bartender is going to pause for a moment and genuinely think about the flavors of the cocktail as they grace his or her palate -- if they're going to ask themselves if they taste the burn of alcohol or the essence of a spirit and then adjust accordingly -- I openly invite them to taste the shit out of my cocktail.
But if it's just an empty gesture -- if they're never going to use the information bestowed on them by their tastebuds and synapses to further refine my beverage -- then I must politely request they keep their straws away from my drink. I paid $15 dollars for that hand-crafted cocktail, and I'd like to enjoy every last drop.