It's no secret that bars in every chain restaurant across the country are experimenting in all manner of cocktail theater. Part of that exploration involves the dark sorceries of syrupy sweetness. They compete in a kind of sugar-syrup arms race to try and bedazzle the taste buds of stray damsels dancing the night away purchased in $30 bunches by earnest, optimistic young bachelors. In bright, primary colors, the modern cocktail menu displays all manner of exotic fruits-liqueurs drowned in pink lemonade or flavored vodkas leaving classic, clear drinks as relics of a bygone age of black-and-white TV.
But now that arms race just went nuclear. While not the first to offer such a drink - and not even yet recognized on their national menu - TGI Friday's has offered a cocktail so immersed in sugar that we're not even sure it qualifies as a cocktail.
If you look closely at selected TGI Friday restaurants, you'll see that they have a drink on their menu called a Pink Punk Cosmo. (At the time of this writing, it's not currently on their cocktail menu as reflected on the internet, but it is mentioned on their Facebook page and in inserts in the actual restaurants.) This s a fascinating drink from just about any angle: taste, aesthetic, philosophical, you name it. It pushes the boundary on every one of these Alice in Wonderland and her growth elixirs.
Imagine a garden variety Cosmpolitan, which the excellent cocktail website Drink Swap lists as an ounce of vodka, half-ounce each of orange liqueur and lime, with a splash of cranberry juice. Opinions differ on this drink made so spectacularly famous by the HBO series Sex in the City - we like ours with a bit more vodka and cranberry - but the pink hued wonder has created countless variations and has certainly been front-and-center in the cocktail renaissance. They'll be different colors, different fruits, different presentations but some form of the Cosmo will be represented in any bar around the United States and probably the world.
Now let's turn to this new TGI Friday version; this so-called Pink Punk Cosmo this daring exploration (exploitation?) of the modern classic.
It promises California's own Skyy Vodka along with the cranberry and the lime juice. It also adds a bit of pineapple juice - interesting enough by itself and probably there to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise astringent cocktail and appeal to the very, very young crowd. But then it gets a little freaky. And it gets a little creepy. And it most definitely gets a little cheeky.
When the Pink Punk arrives, the martini glass is served completely empty and dry with nothing in it but a pile of pink cotton candy. That same cotton candy you get at the county fair. Then the bartender slowly pours the actual drink out of the shaker over the cotton candy, which instantly dissolves and leaves you at last with this pink, syrupy sweet, Pink Punk Cosmo thing.
What are we supposed to think of that?
Let's take a look at this drink first from a taste standpoint. The classic Cosmopolitan has a bit of sweetness. That sweetness comes from the natural sugars in the cranberry juice and the sugar from the orange liqueur. And that's ok. Purists and snobs will grumble a bit about how the 90s cocktail culture has ruined the classic cocktail culture by adulterating the drinks with a lot of extra sweetness but let's be realistic here. A little sweetness isn't a bad thing. It's like having a little bass groove in your music. It's a good thing.
Alcohol is, by nature, kind of astringent (dry as in the opposite of sweet). Cocktails for decades have commonly added a touch of sweetness from Drambuie in the Rusty Nail to even out the scotch, or the sweet vermouth to give a little something to the rye whiskey in a Manhattan, or even the added sugars in genevere style gins. This is to say nothing of the continuing popularity of liqueurs and schnapps of all types. A little sweetness is ok.
But it's easy to go overboard.
You've been there, sitting in your car, when the low-rider next to you comes rolling up with the bass thumping. And not merely thumping. It's rattling the speakers, rattling the car, rattling your tooth fillings, and vibrating your sternum. You've been in the club where the base is bouncing your drink across the table with the reverberations. Saying these are examples of too much bass is like saying that Bill Gates is a little wealthy.
Just like there's too much bass in some music there are times when there's too much sugar in the drink. TGI Fridays has given us a pink, spun sugar filling the volume of a largish martini glass. We think that's probably going to overwhelm the balance of the drink for most people. It's just like mixing cheap alcohol with frozen juice concentrate like lemonade and calling it a drink. That's true only in the sense that it's wet and contains alcohol. But putting lipstick on a pig doesn't make it pretty just prettier than a muddy pig.
So that's strike one against the Pink Punk. On taste: fail.
But let's take a look at this thing from an aesthetic perspective. There is an undeniable quality of theater in a cocktail. Ordering a cocktail is a statement about your culture and your preferences. Serving a cocktail is an exercise in art: just as plating is a serious aspect of food preparation and presentation, so the bartender exercises a variety of skills in the presentation of a good drink. Flairtending is the X-Games equivalent on this spectrum but it is undeniably cool to get your drink after seeing a juggling show of dexterous superhumans behind the counter.
There might be some folks who disagree with us out there. A few souls will probably rebel at the thought of what looks like a wad of housing insulation in their cocktail when it comes from the twenty-something at a TGI Friday's bar. But we say the Pink Punk is a very, very dramatic presentation. This is Tom Cruise in Cocktail sexy. This is a drink that is as cool as November and smooth as China silk (apologies to Sting - see his songRock Steady).
Setting taste aside for a second, why does one even go to a bar? It's certainly no economic bargain. For the price of a couple of two or three drinks at the bar one can usually buy a whole bottle of the good stuff and drink at home. One goes to a bar for the atmosphere; for the excitement; and to get exotic things presented in a way that can't easily be achieved at home. Not only are we unlikely to go juggling our own bottles in our own kitchens (and even more seldom more than once) but we're also unlikely to have spiral cut garnishes, purple liqueurs, 16 different varieties of infused vodkas, and the perfect white teeth of a smiling, affable bartender. One is certainly unlikely to have a bag of cotton candy laying around.
As far as a measure of aesthetic pleasure, this drink is a rousing success.
Where does this leave us? Should we run out and drink these things? Or should we turn up our nose and rail at the thoughtless excess of the new century?
This drink is kind of a vexing issue from the philosophers of spirits and drink. Here is this gloriously presented drink that tastes like something you'd get from a soda fountain at your local old-timer buffet: flat syrup. In short when observing two people out on a date and one orders a gin martini and the other a Pink Punk, what can you assume about the breeding and education of one or the other? Or perhaps more to the point, if you find yourself ordering the Pink Punk and liking it, what have you discovered about yourself? Can one also go to a fancy, $100+ per plate restaurant and order buffalo wings with dignity? (Or are you perturbed to find them on the menu?)
From our standpoint at Proof66, we can at least say one thing: don't worry about putting top-shelf vodka in this drink. But after that, TGI Friday's is not a gourmet steak house and people ought not apologize for what they like. If nothing else, the Pink Punk encourages people to explore the cocktail culture. This is undoubtedly a young person's drink (if for no other reason, middle-aged folk don't want the calories). People who have accumulated an appreciation for liquor simply will not select this drink. But younger folks trying to find their way in the world probably will give it a shot. And what's the harm in that? Liking it, they will explore other drinks. They will find their way to this site and other tastings and eventually accumulate their own perspective on good and bad liquor decisions. This is not to say that we recommend downing four or five of these things in an hour (the potential peril of these sorts of confectionary drinks) but as an act of exploration, why the heck not?
Philosophically then: no issues whatsoever. Lower your noses a bit, you snobs! Look to your own glass!. As long as TGI Friday's carries decent whiskey (and they do if you look), let the kids have their fun.