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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Moody Cocktails

In this episode, we sit down with New York City mixologist Jane Danger and Wine Enthusiast Spirits Editor Kara Newman to learn how bartenders serve up drinks based on your mood. Plus, clinical psychologist Matthew Del Giudice reveals what your drink choice really says about your personality.


Listen to other episodes of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Read the full transcript of “Moody Cocktails”:

Susan Kostrzewa: Hi, I’m Susan Kostrzewa, Executive Editor of “Wine Enthusiast” Magazine and in today’s episode we talk to Spirits Editor, Kara Newman, New York City mixologist, Jane Danger. Also, we’re going to be talking to clinical psychologist who’s going to give us the expert’s view on what your cocktail choices say about you. Stay tuned.

Kara Newman: I’m Kara Newman, Spirits Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Jane Danger: I’m Jane Danger, I’m the Beverage Director of Mother of Pearl and Cienfuegos in New York City.

SK: Okay, so Jane is going to be making us a cocktail called the Shark Eye, which is one of Mother of Pearl’s specialties. This is a perfect cocktail for us to be having as we have this conversation, because it comes in sort of a shark head glass. Jane what’s in it?

JD: So, the Shark Eye cocktail has fresh lemon juice with passion fruit syrup that we make in-house, a little bit of dry [Cur-sa], maraschino liqueur. We used over-proof rye, and an over-proof bourbon, a couple dashes of Bittermen’s tea bitters. So, it’s kind of a style of a whisky zombie, in a way. It’s got a lot of weight behind it.

SK: I like say it’s an aggressive cocktail. What gives it the red color?

JD: The red color is a mixture of a little bit of simple syrup, Peychauds Bitters, and couple dashes of red food coloring.

SK: So, it’s kind of like the last scene in jaws that everybody always kind of closes their eyes for. That’s what this cocktail looks like, but it’s delicious. She’s going to make it up and so, Kara, since we’re just sort of waiting for Jane to make our drinks, I think … Kara actually wrote a really great piece for last drop in the magazine. It was actually talking about martini choices and what those types of choices say about you as a person, so maybe you can talk a little bit about what you learned and whether you agree with it and then you also have to tell us about your tarot background, which-

KN: Okay, well, the article really stems from what I used to do in high school at parties. I would read tarot cards as kind of an icebreaker. I can’t say that I can read the future at all, not even close, but I’ve done pretty good at reading people just like a bartender does. So, this story really is about it’s some kind of a humor piece talking about how I can sometimes use martinis. Tell me what you drink and I’ll tell you who you are.

SK: Give me a couple of examples of the martini type and the person that typically is associated with those martini types.

KN: Okay, well we’re talking entirely about the martinis, so martinis start to finish. So, for example, someone walks into a bar and they order a gin martini, extra dry, and that means very little vermouth or sometimes it means absolutely no vermouth at all. That’s somebody who’s very particular about what they want. They’re really looking for a good stiff drink or maybe some walks into a bar and they’re asking for a 50/50 martini, so that’s half vermouth and half gin. That’s someone who’s trying to be a little more moderate. Maybe they’re on a first date. They’re trying not to get too blitzed, right off the bat. Or, someone walks in and they order maybe the garnish says a lot too … You order a lemon twist, cooling classic … You order an olive, you prefer something savory. You order both you’re indecisive.

SK: What if you ordered no garnish?

KN: You’re a purist. You’re a minimalist. If you order a handful of olives, you’re hungry. That’s what that tells you.

SK: We talk a lot about how somebody really good at these jobs, not only has to certainly know the products they’re discussing, but they also have to understand people and they’re kind of a psychologist. They also have to read a table, read a client when they come in, so Jane I’m sure that with all the experiences you’ve had this is part of your job. When you walk in and you stand behind the bar and you have people coming in. How much of the psychology is coming into the way in which you interact with people?

JD: I definitely say after professionally pouring booze in cups for almost 12 years, it’s a lot, that the psychology comes into it. The movements become your second nature and you get to really watching people and seeing what’s going on around you and you observe quite a bit of people all the time, they whisper, “Oh, I need a napkin,” or something and you hear it and you give it to them and they’re like, “How did you hear me.” It’s bartender hearing and there’s bartender sight. We see a lot.

SK: How accurate do you think you are at reading people when they come in? There are two things that you’re reading. One is … I think one of the great things that’s happened in cocktails and mixology is things have really opened up and people who are drinking really are experimenting and they know a lot more about all the different spirits that are out there and many different cocktails. One is, people are coming in and they’re asking you to make something, a craft cocktail, that’s sort of handcrafted for them, so you have to read them in that way, but you also have to read their mood and what type of person they are and that, I’m sure, plays into the direction that you take your drinking.

JD: Yeah, it’s definitely what people order, it says a lot about them in every aspect of their life. You find people have the finer taste in cocktails instead of a simple whisky on the rocks. Maybe they want an old fashioned or then even a variant on an old fashioned. Perhaps, in other parts of their life they’re also more adventurous with the coffee they drink, the chocolate they like, the food, music style, fashion trends. It can go into everything in their life.

SK: When you meet somebody who you, again, you get a read on them that they’re experimental. Do you sort of try to push their taste a little bit? You try to challenge them a little bit in what you make for them and open their mind about new things or do you generally stay within what they ask for? How much do you challenge your clients, your customers?

JD: The challenge is usually their’s and you can see when they want that option because of the turn that craft cocktails have taken over the last years. I think they kind of know and they’ll let you know or they’ll be like, “I’m really interested in the Shark Eye,” or “I want a whisky shaken drink.” Then, you’re like, “Maybe they kind of want that.” It gives me the view of them wanting whisky shaken, something a little more interesting. So, you already got that kind of going and you’re going to ask them, “What are you in the mood for.”

SK: So, while we’re finishing the drinks. Kara I want to ask you. I have to get personal with you now because that’s what makes this interesting. I want an insight into you. So, I’m going to throw a couple of moods out at you.

KN: Okay.

SK: And you’re going to tell me when you’re in that mood what you drink. If you just want to chill out and you’re very relaxed, don’t want to get too fussy and think too much, what’s your go-to?

KN: Gin and tonic. No matter where you are you can get a gin and tonic and usually a descent one.

SK: Okay, so maybe you are in an anxious mood. You’ve had a really rough day. You’re feeling a little nervy and you want to … I guess it’s sort of similar wanting to chill out, but what would you go for?

KN: It’s probably going to be whisky. It’s going to be something a little darker, a little moodier, definitely a little stiffer. Yeah, it’s probably going to be anything in the whisky family.

SK: There’s also you want to … You’re in a party mood and you want something that packs punch but is also fun and lively.

KN: Rum. Rum, it’s going to be a rum drink. Maybe it’s going to be a pain killer. I don’t know. Jane knows all about the pain killers.

SK: So, I’m going to ask Jane the same question. What if you’re in a great mood? What do you drink when you’re in love?

JD: Oh, what do I drink when I’m in love? Two daiquiris.

SK: Two specifically … Well, I like that it’s a pairing.

JD: Yes.

SK: Again, what do you drink when you’re in a really bad mood and want to be in a better one?

JD: Well, it would be two daiquiris if I’m in a really bad mood. If I’m in a really, really bad mood two over-proof rum daiquiris.

SK: Okay, so I see the trend here.

JD: Maybe, a shot of compere on the side.

KN: What’s your go-to?

SK: I hate to jump on the band wagon with this one, but gin and tonic for me. I think simple cocktails for me, like … It’s really true and I think it depends on my mood. There are times when I really want to be again, that’s why I asked Jane how much she sort of, in a friendly way, how much she pushes her customers, because there are a lot of times when I’ll go into a bar, a good bar and I want to be challenged. I want a drink that is really different than anything I’ve had. I want to try new spirits. Bitters are something that I’ve been getting heavily into, but my go-to is always, I love gin and tonic. I love an old fashioned. An old fashioned for me, again, the brown spirits are going to be the thing when it’s a cold night. When I feel like I need … It’s sort of like, the brown spirits to me are like a big blanket around you know-

KN: It’s warms you up from the inside.

SK: Yeah, so when I’m sort of feeling fragile and I go for the brown stuff, but definitely gin and tequila for me is my party … A really well made margarita or tequila-based cocktail for me … It’s seasonal too and I’m sure there’s a lot of that that goes into the cocktails that people choose as the season that they’re in, but just from a mood perspective tequila to me, if I’m drinking that I have good associations with being in Mexico. I feel like that’s my go-to. Tequila and I do not do well when I’m not in a good mood, or so I’m told by the people close to me.

SK: Can you remember, maybe give me two scenarios, one where you’ve really got somebody hooked on something you got a read on them, got them hooked on something, and one where you really took it in the wrong direction.

JD: Well, I can definitely say when I accidentally take someone down the wrong road with cocktails it’s usually my assumption of what their take on bitter, sweetness, acidity because that is so different in so many people. We really try to get into, “How serious of a drinker are you?” When you throw out the classics, you see if they’re like, “Oh, no. I like a little Italy. I like Manhattan variants.” You’re like, “Oh, you do now. Okay, great. So we’re going to go this way.” Sometimes, if it’s a little too vague and loose and you’re just like, “All right. I’m going to throw this at the wall and see if it sticks.” There have been a few times because sometimes with our house cocktail menu, we kind of leave the ingredients. We put those first before the spirit and some people really maybe don’t like gin and they don’t see that last part there because we leave the spirit to last and you’re like, “Oh, you knew. Not many people … This is a sneaky one. I usually get this by people.”

It can be specific things like that or just something might end up being sweet that I don’t partake as sweet and I’m like, “Oh, you really cannot have any sweetness.” Which, most of the time, I can slip a little cane syrup in there and nobody knows and then for the times when you really do hit it on the nose, you can kind of tell because people they’ll re-order, they’ll get another. They don’t want to vary, go back into the menu. They’ll keep re-ordering our tiki pea, when you’re like, “Oh, it’s a Mai Tai variant.” Scotch, it’s the time of year we want to be seasonal, but give people fun exotic tropical style drinks and they keep re-ordering and that’s a good feeling.

SK: Actually, one of the other things I was just thinking about was with men and women, because I think one of the things that happens a lot and it’s changing now in the wine and spirits industry but used to be that there was a certain association for certain wines, certain spirits. Women like this, men like that. Kara, how in your experiences you’ve been kind of covering spirits … How has that changed? Do you think that that’s sort of just been blown up by the choices that you see people making?

KN: I think it’s changed a lot. I think of an experience I had a few years ago at a whisky event. I was having a conversation with another woman. We were talking about dating and she said, “If you go out on a date and as a woman if you order whisky, it’s a very aggressive thing to do.” It gave me a pause. I stepped back for a minute and I was like, “Is that really an aggressive thing to do?” I guess it depends on the perception of who you’re having that whisky with and what your dynamic is, but I think that’s changed tremendously. I think now having whisky is just having a whisky. I don’t think it’s as loaded as it once was.

JD: Yeah, I definitely think it’s a great feeling to look down the bar and see, one full of women sitting at your bar talking about cocktails, talking about spirits, and they’re all drinking brown drinks. You look and you’re like, “There’s a Manhattan, she’s having an aged rum on the rocks, she’s having a Shark Eye … I don’t think that’s the standard anymore. All the people I’ve been around they’re only happy when I order whisky. I think it’s a good sign that you show up … My first date with my boyfriend I sat down at the bar while I was waiting for him and I had an Elijah Craig Manhattan Up. That was my go-to at the time.  I think he was happy about that. I don’t know. I don’t feel any bad judgement.

SK: I think it actually can say … I would agree, I think if you’re certainly you or the person that you’re with knows anything about spirits … I was actually, when Kara was taking about a first date, thinking that’s kind of an interesting subject as well, because if you’re going on a first date what are you ordering? What does that say about the two of you and if you both know something about spirits you could read more into that than you need to. I’ll be totally honest, I don’t know how I would feel about a guy … If my husband and I went on a first date and he ordered a cosmo … Actually I wouldn’t care, but-

JD: Frank ordered a sherry while I was waiting. I was having the whisky Manhattan and he had a sherry so it’s like-

SK: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think it has to mean anything.

KN: On the other hand though, when you talk about the cosmo and pink drinks. I think of the Negroni and it’s a rosy cocktail often in a martini glass and it can look very feminine depending on who’s making it and how’s it being made, but you see men drinking Negronis all the time, though again it depends on where you are. You also have to read the psychology of the bar and the bartender. It’s often not the right place … You can’t order a Negroni every where.

SK: Right. Although more places now you can order a Negroni. Actually, Jane was telling us a story a little earlier … As a bartender you really have to know a lot of drinks. You have to be really diverse, but it was kind of a funny story. Tell us a little bit about your co-worker.

JD: Well, on my Friday nights I work at a neighborhood bar that kind of turns into a really dancy spot. When you’re in NYU, Niagara on the corner, 7th and A, so I work with a gentleman who’s a little bit older and affiliated with a motorcycle gang and he’s been in the city for quite a while and he’s kind of set in his ways. They’re these drinks that he’s never heard of a Dark and Stormy and Moscow Mule, Apple Spritz, we get a lot of calls for Negroni. The Negroni, and campari, and sodas for whatever reason that’s really coming up along with our normal martini, old fashioned Manhattan that we can make, like a neighborhood local, but this Negroni it will not fly with him. When those orders come through, I’m like, “I will make it if you can’t even understand what they’re saying, because it’s such a foreign thing to your ears,” like, “I got you. I’m going to make this drink.”

SK: I think since I have two people here who are living on the frontline of spirits. I really want to pick your brain a little bit and talk about what the trends are. Kara is great at covering some really interesting trends in the magazine, but I would like for her to talk a little bit about some of the up and coming drinks that she sees and maybe we can talk about those drinks and then also talk about the type of people that we think might drink them.

KN: In terms of drink styles, I feel like everyone is drinking everything right now. It’s hard to really point to a specific type of drink, but I’m definitely seeing more Negronis, more of the bitter and boozy stirred variations everywhere. I’m right next door to [inaudible 00:18:17] where there is an entire bar built around that concept. More rum drinks, more Mai Tais, tiki is still such a big thing and it’s really in every major city right now.

Definitely, we’re in the right place. We’re seeing plenty of Mai Tais, plenty of old fashioneds, that’s one trend that’s still going strong, lots of whisky drinks. The martini, that’s a classic that’s not going away at all.

SK: Actually, when you’re talking about those drinks. A lot of resurgence of classic drinks … One of things that I think is really interesting is how the age … What used to be sort of, again, an assumption you could make about a person based on age. Can you still do that Jane? When somebody comes into your bar who might be 40 or over or 40 or younger. It seems like what might have been an assumption you could make about taste and styles is harder to do now.

JD: It definitely can be harder to assume what people know and what their taste knowledge is, with Instagram and social media. People really want to be individuals and they love to take pictures of their food and their drinks to show like, “This is what I’m about. This is what I’m really into.” In New York, we just have so many bars so it’s just such a big part of kind of who you are or what you order, but people who are in their 40s and 50s sometimes, there is a really dark variant for cocktails and they might have experienced some of that so they have a bad taste in their mouth, perhaps. I can understand that. They are lot of liqueurs and things coming out of guns, blue drinks that were not necessarily as delicious as a blue drink could be today.

SK: It’s actually a really good point, because there are certain cocktails that you see and it’s like, “Oh God. That was not a good experience.”

JD: “That was a bad thing. That Alabama Slammer.” Everything, people are so much more thoughtful and it’s kind of fun to re-do those drinks that were just so bad.

SK: I mean, beyond the knowledge, just even the palette, again, I think that it used to be that you could make certain assumptions that somebody who is a younger drinker. Again, this all goes into the psychology as well. Younger person might have walked into a bar and you’d think, “Mmm,” probably something sweet or something strong, not necessarily … I don’t want to say not balanced because I think any good bartender will make a balanced drink, but I think that all of that is kind of gone out the window and I think that’s a very good point about just the knowledge level of people who are younger now and the internet and just their experimental nature.

JD: Yeah, it’s so spot on. It’s hard. The pallets are varied and you do see a younger drinker, but there is a resurgence, I don’t know if it’s branding, but sipping these dark spirits for young women and men. It’s coming quicker than it was before where they had to work up 21, 26, 27 they’re drinking whisky sours, vodka sodas, and maybe it’s just a more specific thing and they want to be more grown up and more refined so they’re ordering rye on the rocks and things that I never saw in the neighborhood bars before, but it’s having the real resurgence of all these weird old spirits and young people, like I said ordering Negronis and old fashioneds where the vodka sodas are before.

SK: I’m going to … I kind of did this with both of you as far as your own personal taste, but I’m going to give you a couple of scenarios and I’ll ask Kara first. Then, I’m going to ask Jane … Scenarios of people either whether they’re at your party or they’re coming in to the bar. Them coming in for a special occasion and again, obviously, you have to read them as people, but the occasion too I would think.

Kara, say you’ve got some friends coming over to your place and they’ve just celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. What’s a celebratory drink that you would love to give two people who’ve been together for 20 years and they’re super happy about it?

My instinct is to break out something with bubbles.

KN: Yeah, either we’re going to break out the champagne or it’s going to be maybe a French 75 if I’m feeling fancy. Something with bubbles for sure.

SK: Okay. Somebody is coming into the bar and they’ve just broken up with their boyfriend of 10 years. So, what are you doing for them?

JD: We’ll probably do a shot together, maybe a little Fournet and be like, “All right,” because that warms you up and all those herbs makes you feel good. Then, something probably spiritist, boozy, you know, just let them dull the pain.

SK: Actually, one other questions which I think is the psychology of how people drink. There’s also a cultural aspect to that. So, I would think working in a city like New York where you have so many people coming through from different cultures, different backgrounds. What’s that like? How do you get a read? Actually, how do you make decisions when you’re not necessarily working with people who have the same pallet or knowledge of spirits in American client would have?

JD: I find when we’re working with different people behind the bar, coming up with cocktails, there’s always a nice happy medium you can come to where somebody likes to drink with a quarter ounce of cane syrup, someone else likes to drink with three quarter. We’re going to have to kind of find a middle there and we’re like, “We’ll do half an ounce,” then if we can’t decide what the part of that drink should be. As far as guests go, it’s fun to surprise them by using just really interesting ingredients. I really like food ingredients like lots of spices and herbs, oregano, it’s really fun to surprise people who are like, “Oh, I never even thought my grandmother put oregano in all of her sauces and I never even thought to put it in a citrus cocktail.” I’m like,”I don’t know, it’s just fun.”

SK: It’s interesting because I think people … I talk about wine in this way often, but there’s a comfort level with food in this country that we haven’t gotten there quite yet with our drinks, with our wines and our spirits and I always say in a way, cocktails and wine are food in a glass. If you know what you like in a dish, then you certainly can know what you like in a cocktail or what you like in wine. You just have to deconstruct it in the same way that you would do a dish. I always say if pasta is in front of you and has too much garlic you know that, so it’s the same for a cocktail. If there’s something that’s overpowering in a way that doesn’t feel right, you have that knowledge. You don’t need to necessarily have all the lexicon to describe that it’s there.

Jane, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the psychology of cocktails with us and Kara it was great seeing you as always.

KN: Good to see you too. You have to drink your drink.

SK: I know, I’ve been really busy talking and I need to actually finish by drink, but Jane thanks again.

JD: Oh, thank you cheers.

Matt Del Giudice: I’m Matt Del Giudice [Ju-dus] and I’m a licensed clinical psychologist.

SK: We are talking today about drink choices that people make at the bar and what that might say about their psychological state. I’ve talked to some mixologists, I’ve talked to our Spirits Editor, Kara Newman about this, and we’ve all agreed that the choices that you make in your wine and your food and your cocktail selections really can say something about where your mind is, where you are mentally.

One of the things that I think would be helpful is if we talk through some drinks that people typically might order. I’ve chosen four that I think are sort of classic and pretty common. I thought it would be fun for you to tell me a little bit about what you think the person who orders this drink might be all about or kind of what state they might be in.

MGD: Sure.

SK: The first drink is an old fashioned. An old fashioned has whisky, sometimes bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, and a sugar cube in it. What would you say about the person who orders that drink?

MGD: Interesting and that’s a classic, right?

SK: Yes, exactly.

MGD: I heard you said there’s bitters in this drink. That might be perhaps the strongest ingredient. I can say I came across some research that shows that people who a more bitter palette tend to be very calculated and even skilled kind of in the are of manipulation, so you might expect the old fashioned drinker to be the quiet strategist with something up their sleeve. Maybe in their spare time, these are the folks who like playing chess or doing puzzles or hatching their next scheme.

SK: Wow, that is really spot on. I feel like I’ve just run through every friend of mine who orders an old fashioned and that is completely who they are. Okay. So, next one is a Mai Tai. Mai Tai has rum, lime juice, orange curacao and orgeat which is an almond liqueur. I think of that as sort of an exotic drink, but I will not lead you anymore than that so what do you think about that person?

MGD: My immediate association to the Mai Tai drinker is like a fun loving and high energy person. I’m thinking of Richard Simmons, the famous exerciser.

SK: Yeah.

MGD: But, actually is interesting. You know there’s a recent study showing that people who enjoy sweet flavors, which are characteristic of this cocktail, tend to be a bit more agreeable and compassionate than the average person. My take away would be not to write off that Mai Tai drinker as a flake because he or she might be your shoulder to cry on when the bartender says it’s last call.

SK: This is your compassionate drinker. So, the old fashioned person is maybe the one you want to build a business strategy with and the Mai Tai person is the one you want to talk about your emotions and your relationship issues with.

MGD: Yeah, I think that’s a great summary.

SK: Okay. The next one is a champagne cocktail. This one has gin or sometimes cognac in it, sugar, and champagne. So, this is your bubbly drink, but it has a little kick to it. It’s got some gin in there so what do you think about that one?

MGD: No research to back me up on this one, but I say that the lover of this cocktail would probably be a free spirit, someone who’s willing to [inaudible 00:29:09] convention and maybe even a bit of a hot mess. They’re taking champagne, which is a meticulously made premium drink and choosing to add a bunch of other stuff to it that compromises its natural flavors.

SK: You’re a purist.

MGD: Who see the world differently and maybe these are the types of people who find meaning in those abstract art paintings that the rest of us just don’t get.

SK: Right. That’s a good one too. Okay, last one is the classic martini which is quite simple, you have gin and dry vermouth, so you’re not talking about a lot of ingredients here and pretty strong flavors. What’s your take on the classic martini drinker?

MGD: Yeah, people with a dry palette tend to be stable, stable and likely to be perceived as interesting and open minded and complex people. So, it sounds a bit like James Bond, I guess the original martini poster boy.

SK: Right.

MGD: Exactly. The martini can kind of be a statement drink in social settings, so your suave factor goes up a few points when you’re holding a martini glass. My best guess would be that martini drinkers would be pretty image conscious.

SK: That’s interesting and when you were just saying that I was just thinking of all the women I know, as well, who love martinis, but it’s a certain personality type that will order them and drink them. I hate to genderize any drink, but I think that’s it’s going to be somebody who’s pretty serious and definitely somebody who is … Not concerned with their image, but certainly is conscious of their image. Some cases for women when they’ll order the martini, a stronger drink like that, it’s a power play a little bit to show that they can kind of hold their own with that drink and be taken seriously so it’s kind of interesting. I have to ask you, Matt. Do you have a favorite cocktail that you drink?

MGD: You’re actually right on topic, my favorite cocktail is the martini.

SK: All right. Well, there you go. Do you think you’re an image conscious person?

MGD: I like the way I feel when I’m holding the martini glass if that answers your question.

SK: Ha! I like that. Okay. Well, I am a classic daiquiri drinker. So, I’m not sure what that says about me because it’s a combination of sort of what we just talked about with the Mai Tai so it has a little bit of that, but it’s also pretty dry and my palette tends to be pretty dry, so what does that say about me, I guess I’m a mixture of what?

MGD: Mm? I’m definitely picking up the on the empathy from you so I think that would align with what we talked about with the Mai Tai and maybe with a little bit of the description for the martini I just described.

SK: Yeah. That’s probably right. Matt, thank you so much this was super interesting and I know myself I will be thinking about what I’m drinking when I sit at the bar from now on in ways I never was before. Thanks a lot.

MGD: You bet, this was really fun.

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