Garrett McCord, cocktail connoisseur
Lucky writer Garrett McCord gets paid to dream up recipes and eat macaroni and cheese. If that isn’t enough to make you hate him, the local food author (formerly a freelance restaurant critic with SN&R) got liquored up in the best bars around Sacramento—for “research.” Now a DIY cocktail evangelist, McCord recently released an ebook, Stewards of Spirits, with recipes by Sacramento’s top bartenders. All proceeds from the book go to the local children’s nutrition nonprofit, the Food Literacy Center. Maybe we don’t hate him after all.
Let’s be honest. Did you write the book as an excuse to day-drink?
That just happened to be a side benefit. … [The photographer Callista Polhemus and I] realized that this would be a great way not only to prop up the cocktail and bartender scene here in Sacramento, which kind of takes second fiddle to, you know, chefs … The bars here are just as good, and they just don’t get that attention that the chefs in town get. … The day drinking was just a bonus.
If the donations are going all to that nonprofit, then who’s paying for you to drink all this liquor?
No one. I’m making no money on this whatsoever.
You’re clearly out of your mind.
I got to expand my writing skills in some new ways. And it was a chance to meet new people and get out and explore new parts of our own city of Sacramento.
Are we in a cocktail renaissance?
The thing is, I think it’s not so much a renaissance … we’re rediscovering something. Take Paragary’s, for instance, they were doing sort of craft cocktails in the ’80s and ’90s when people were still slinging pre-bottled sweet-and-sour. It’s just that these days, more people are now actually paying attention.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve done to make a drink?
In college, I did a bunch of stupid things … like lighting vodka or, like, high-proof corn whiskey on fire, and then you put a glass over it with a straw and you suck out the vapor and get high really fast.
Oh, my God.
Or Skittles vodka—but that was all college, so don’t judge me—which I ran through the Brita filter to make it better because it was bottom-shelf jugs.
What’s with all of the book’s pre-Prohibition drinks?
There was already a really big cocktail culture before Prohibition. It was only after Prohibition, during this long stretch when you couldn’t find anything, that we lost a lot of these great recipes. … So those we can, it’s these classics, it’s American history. In America, pre-Prohibition, we were drinking lots and lots of apple brandies and Calvados and apple liqueurs because that’s how farmers simply used to use all their extra produce … And now today, no one drinks it, those types of drinks—shrubs and cobblers and flips. … So a lot of bartenders are looking back to old recipes to bring them back.
Why should we clumsy laypersons concoct these drinks at home?
When I tell people you need to know how to cook, I generally tell them you need to learn how to roast a chicken, how to make salad dressing and how to bake, like, a chocolate cake or make chocolate chip cookies. That way, you’ve got date night covered. I would add to that you need to know how to make a good cocktail, or at least a few, preferably, because you’ll have a few people who don’t like vodka or don’t like whiskey.
Have you started impressing more people at home?
Very quickly, in the past few months, I’ve become the person in my circle of friends who now makes the good cocktails.
Party at your house.
Exactly. … We popped [Contessa cocktails] into flasks and took it to the Shakespeare festival, and it was wonderful. Paired well with fried chicken.
Do you believe in those pairings—like, how fine-tuned does that have to be?
You haven’t seen a lot of cocktail pairings for food just yet. Maybe that’s the next trend. There’s been plenty on beer and plenty on wine, but maybe it’s going to be cocktail pairings with food, which I think would be interesting because you have so much more control over the cocktail.
That’s so true! Why haven’t we thought of this?
We just did.
Will robot bartenders ever replace the human ones?
For all the obvious reasons, absolutely not. Plus, we have to prevent the robot uprising. If we let them behind the bars, soon they’ll be taking our lives.