We live in the era of Bloody Mary and Mimosa hegemony. Our morning drinking options are scarce, reduced to a few perfectly fine (and perfectly boring) brunch cocktails that will give a pleasant enough buzz and little else. It was not always thus. In 19th-century Manhattan, sporting men would start their days with strong helpings of rye whiskey or absinthe. In 1920s London, Prohibition-fleeing ex-pats would gulp down industrial strength pick-me-ups with their bangers and eggs. To this day, Italian signores savor the bitter slap of amaro liqueurs along with their expertly drawn doppios.
Still, morning drinking is a perilous pursuit. A responsible drinker wants to be both soothed and invigorated by a pre-noon libation. He wants a cure for his hangover and a blastoff into the day. He does not, under any circumstance, want to end up in a stupor.
So how do you strike that careful balance? What cocktails best promote the joys of early-in-the-day boozing while steering clear of its ugliest excesses? In order to profile six great morning drinks, we consulted with two of the best: Jack McGarry, bar manager of New York's The Dead Rabbit, and Tom Macy, head bartender at Brooklyn's Clover Club. At last month's Tales of the Cocktail awards in New Orleans (the Oscars of the mixed-drink industry), McGarry walked away with International Bartender of the Year honors and Macy's bar was named Best American Cocktail Bar. Both can conjure the intricate, arcane drinks that populate 19th-century mixology manuals. And both know that sometimes the most satisfying drinks are the simplest, most familiar, and least pretentious.
Here, five of McGarry's and Macy's morning-cocktail picks and a wild-card choice of our own.
"A lot of people, when they have a hangover, the first thing they want is a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa," says McGarry. "The first thing I want, for sure, is a pint of Guinness." And while we heartily endorse the undeniable pleasures of a perfectly poured Irish stout to clear your mind and improve your spirits, we'd be remiss if we didn't recommend a more dressed-up take on the breakfast beer: The Michelada, a cerzeva preparada that resembles the brunch-cliché Bloody Mary, but with the added refreshing snap of a Mexican lager. The version served at the San Jose Hotel in Austin, Texas, is famed for its careful balance and spicy sharpness, combining lime juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and freshly cracked black pepper into an elegant bed over which to pour a can of Modelo Especial. For an extra flavor boost, you can use a darker beer like Negro Modelo or Brazilian Xingu black lager.
Rim a 20 oz glass with sea salt.
Fill with ice.
Pour the following ingredients:
• 1/4 inch of fresh squeezed lime juice
• Heavy splash of soy sauce
• Heavy splash of Worcestershire sauce
• Light splash of Tabasco sauce (or a heavier splash for more spice)
Credit: San Jose Hotel
Crack fresh pepper over the ice. Fill glass with a Modelo Especial (or alternate beer). Garnish with a lime.