Food & Drink

How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ridiculous Cocktails

Since Valentine’s Day is a whatever holiday, here’s a quick guide to what to drink on this very weird day.

John deBary is a cocktail expert and author, founder of Proteau, and co-founder of Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation. Youngmi Mayer is a stand-up comedian and co-host of the Feeling Asian podcast. The duo are best friends who got together to give us some advice on what to drink this Valentine’s Day.

If you ask us, Valentine’s Day is an extremely whatever holiday. No matter what your relationship status, it can feel awkward and perfunctory. Plus, it’s still a pandemic. In the spirit of taking it easy on ourselves, here’s a quick guide to what to drink on this very weird day.

John deBary: Ok so it’s Valentine’s Day, the pandemic has been going on for 500 months, what are we drinking?

Youngmi Mayer: During the pandemic, I haven’t really been drinking, I’ve been chugging. Unfortunately, I’m not great at making drinks so I’m just drinking a lot of tequila on the rocks and White Claws, which taste bad!! How about you John, what have you been fixing yourself?

JdB: Oh god. I’m so all over the place right now. Last year I didn’t drink alcohol at all and so I have been doing the opposite of a Dry January—a Wet January. Really this means a bunch of really chaotic drinking experiences and enjoying the novelty. 

YM: I am also a big believer in wet January, like it doesn’t make sense to me to quit drinking during the most depressing, boring month of the year. I usually do a dry March or April.

JdB: Like the other day I drank beer for the first time in 13 months and watched Wandavision and fell asleep at 9 pm. It was amazing. Last night I had an amaro slushie from Momofuku Ko that I had saved up since Thanksgiving. 

YM: I love winter cocktails and it’s the only time of year I really drink sweet syrup-y drinks. My fave is a sazerac but because of quarantine I have not been able to sit in front of a professional who could make me one. Remember when I texted you because I had an industrial-size vat of cranberry sauce and I was like ‘how do I make a cocktail with this?? Boil it??’ and you were like, ‘why would you boil it?’

JdB: I feel like a lot of people fall into this trap where they think they need to Do Something to an ingredient in order to validate its usage in a drink. It always makes me feel like an asshole to say, but when most people are like, “what should i do with X?” the most useful answer I’m able to give is: “Drink it!” A lot of people are scared to try things because they’re worried it’s going to be “bad” and it’s like, ‘bro do you know how many horrifically disgusting drinks i’ve made?’

YM: Yes I always think I have to Do Something™ to my drinks. But also the most success I’ve had is when I've mixed vodka with blueberry soda and added a squeeze of lemon. I think the squeeze of lemon is the layman’s magic trick, like if anyone sucks at making drinks like me you just squeeze lemon on it and it is magically amazing. Do you think that’s a good tip or like an orange rind. My dad drinks whiskey with Diet Doctor Pepper and I think if I just put a heated orange rind on that, I could charge $17 for it in Brooklyn. Is that offensive to bartenders?

JdB: The lemon trick is very legit. You’d be surprised how much of a difference fresh citrus makes in a drink. It’s basic as fuck, but when you add a lemon wedge to a drink, you’re getting acidity and flavor from the juice, plus aromatic oils that come out of the skin. Same goes for heated orange peels. Ninety five percent of good bartending is just nailing the basics. The rest is marginal. I’m sad that you haven’t had a chance to have a proper Sazerac. It’s also one of my favorite drinks and it’s pretty easy to sandbag. Maybe I’ll prep a bottle of Sazeracs for you as a Valentine’s Day present. 

YM: So now that you’re drinking booze again what’s hitting? What are you into? We became close during your dry time so I never knew you when you drank so I have no idea what you drink regularly.

JdB: Honestly everything is hitting—I have no tolerance. I had my first real cocktail in over a year last week which was an Old Pal with Japanese whisky. But so much of what I find fun about drinking is the social setting, so drinking at home is not that compelling to me--even though I still do it. I’m also finding that wine gives me horrific hangovers. I drank red wine after midnight on New Years and literally felt like I had internal bleeding in my brain and I had only had a few glasses.

So Valentine’s Day is coming up. I haven’t been single since 2006 and my husband and I regularly forget our anniversary, so the day pretty much has no meaning to me. As a single person, does Valentine’s Day hit differently when you’re single in your 30s and desperately alone? 

YM: When I say I’m single I mean I have 10 boyfriends who I spend .8 days with a week. so.. yes I am desperately alone.

JdB: Guys who live downstairs who DM you at 1 am asking to be let into your building because they forgot their keys do not count as boyfriends Youngmi. 

YM: Yes they do and they are also the reason I drink. What is like a classic Valentine's cocktail? Will you make me enough sazeracs that I can share with all 10 of my boyfriends (one of them has a gluten allergy)?

JdB: Actually all spirits are more or less gluten free, so you’re good. 

YM: I love sparkling wine. I know that’s a big thing for V day. As a server on Valentine's Day, I always see these like bros who’ve never had it before forcing themselves to chug it down. Once I went to Nobu and I ordered a French 75 and the bartender was like “what is that?” and then I saw Claudia Trump or whatever her name is? Valerie? Ivanka! And the maitre d’ was nice to her!! Anyway, I felt like I was way too cool for Nobu after that.

JdB: You are unquestionably too cool for Nobu, and also they should know what a French 75 is.

YM: What is a good champagne cocktail? Let’s make one called the Absolutely Fabulous because I remember watching that show as a kid and being jealous of Eddie’s glass fridge filled with champagne. Also, I am old and single like those gals in that show. What should be in it?

JdB: Really there is no ‘classic’ valentine's day cocktail other than maybe some desperately uncreative strawberry-in-champagne monstrosity, or whatever the bar manager at Lavo made with four cases of Stoli Raspberry and sparkling rosé.

I feel like we have a lot going on here from a drinks perspective (but also psychological disorders, which we should set aside for now.)

YM: My boyfriends are real John. Just like gluten allergies.

JdB: We started with the Sazerac idea….Let’s make a sandbag-able Valentine's Sazerac that has some elements of a French 75!

YM: Yes and let’s call it the ‘Absolutely Fabulous’!! I am very obviously addy because I have body dysmorphia and Korean and you are patsy because you’re attractive and blonde.

JdB: I have actually never seen more than like 30 seconds of Ab Fab. Anyway, here’s what I'm thinking: it’s equal parts Sazerac and French 75 and equal parts revolting and highbrow. Honestly, the connection to Ab Fab is a little tenuous but it’s month 59 of quarantine so fuck it.

YM: This is it, John. The most chaotic, anti-Valentine’s Day Valentine's drink ever. The drink for the single woman who has 10 unemployed boyfriends (one with a gluten allergy). The drink you have alone in your apartment in your pajamas because none of your boyfriends made plans with you on Valentine's Day. Ab-Fab 59. 

Ab-Fab 59

  • 1 bottle chilled sparkling wine
  • 10 oz VSOP Cognac
  • 4 oz Rose liqueur
  • 4 oz Raspberry liqueur
  • 1 oz Absinthe
  • .25 oz Peychaud’s bitters
  • 5 oz filtered water

1. Combine the Cognac, rose liqueur, raspberry liqueur, absinthe, bitters, and water in a medium bowl, stir to combine. Transfer to a container like an empty bottle and put in the freezer for at least four hours.

2. To serve, pour 2 ounces of the bottled mixture into a chilled glass, top with 2 ounces of sparkling wine, and garnish with a lemon wedge because that is the secret weapon of all bartenders.

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