I remember my first real cocktail. There are plenty of cocktails I don't remember, plunged into the memory abyss of drunk. But my first, I remember. Fondly. It was 2009, in Seattle, WA. I was attending PAX with a handful of friends. For most of us, this had been their first time in the city (my second) and we really didn't know what to do in it. We happened to be staying in Capitol Hill, right at Roosevelt and 15th and as it turns out just a few blocks from the bar that started my obsession with quality drinks.
It was a Wednesday night, if I recall; we were in search of a bite and some booze. As we walked south on 15th we passed a bar that looked interesting enough. Liberty. With its full bar, plush couches and sushi we really didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. We were handed a small menu by our server. She asked if we had any questions. "None yet." She said she'd be back in a few minutes to take our order.
This was my first exposure to a real cocktail menu. I don't' recall what was on the menu at that time but I remember thinking that I had no idea what most of the items on it were. My friends did not know, either. Our server returned. She asked if we wre ready. We were all confused. So, she asked a sequence of questions I've since found myself reciting on endless occasions.
"Alright, is there any sort of spirit you prefer? Gin, Whisky, Vodka?"
"Would you prefer something sweeter? How about bitter, or herbal? What do you think about citrus?"
"Tall? On the rocks? Up?"
To each of these questions I had no real answer; at least for the spirit I had a guess. Gin sounded like a good thing. Even then I didn't like vodka, and my whiskey I preferred mixed with coke. Did I want my drink sweet or herbal or citrus or bitter? Could drinks have these properties? I thought the flavors were: "boozy" or "watered down." Being the fantastic server she was, we went across this sequence with the lot of us. Some chose Vodka, others perferred sweet or citrus. Bitter? Herbal? Nah, those sounded like dangerous territory.
A short while later, our server returned, a drink in each hand. A bright green substance filled a martini glass, floating in it, a small pinwheel of lime. This would be my drink. It looked... interesting. Booze came in two colors: Brown from the coke or clear from the tonic. Things that color were Midori or pucker; Even then I didn't like those artificial flavored jokes but I took my drink; this server, she knew what she was doing; I told myself. Plus, I didn't see those ingredients on the many shelves of the bar. This was something new. She offered a description of the drink and I listened.
"Its gin based and has lime for a citrus taste."
"There is also Maraschino Liqueur and Green Chartreuse."
I knew what gin and lime were, I asked for clarification on the other ingredients.
"You said you didn't really know what you wanted, so I had them make you a drink that was sweet, herbal and citrus. The Green Chartreuse is the herbal, the Maraschino (this is different than cocktail cherries) is for a bit of sweet and a bit of tang."
I took a sip.
"Its called the Last Word."
This was not the last, it was the first. It was a drink that told me that I was going to drink these drinks. And I was going to make these drinks. And I was going to show other people what a cocktail really was.
The Last word is still one of my favorite drinks. Its complex enough to be interesting, sweet enough to be approachable, herbal enough to keep things from getting boring and fresh and crisp enough to awaken taste buds the way it did mine.
I tried more drinks that night. I don't remember them, but I do remember this one. Every time I'm in Seattle, I stop in for a drink at Liberty. At Liberty I discovered cocktails and a hobby I pursue more strongly with each tip of the glass.