Saturday, February 16, 2008
Too Easy to Like? A Devil's Advocate View of Canton
I threw a little party for the week a couple weeks back. It's impromptu theme (her idea) was "Coffee and Cognac." Some people took it very much to heart, and one person brought as a gift a bottle of French Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, which is made with VSOP Cognac.
I had never tried it before. It's basically ginger-infused Cognac, the world's first "premium" item in that category—even though a similar drink was made for some time in the China. It was an immediate hit with the crowd, and we're lucky we were left with some. It came with a little booklet of cocktail recipes and, after the party was done I tried a couple, including the La Coloniale (2 parts Canton, 3 parts gin) and the Canton Ginger Sidecar (2 parts Canton, 3 parts Cognac, making it the most Cognacy cocktail ever!). After that, wifey took it away from me and said "Mine!"
The Sidecar was the better, offering more character, and, because of the Cognac I used, a little more kick. The Coloniale was quite smooth and enjoyable, but maybe too smooth and enjoyable. I suspect the Classic Ginger Martini (2 parts Canton, 2 parts Vodka) would be even more smooth. (BTW, how can it be classic, when Canton hasn't been around that long, and it's made with vodka? Marketing, I know, but it drives me nuts.)
Which brings me to my devil's advocate question? Before I get argumentative, two things: 1) I like Canton very much; it's terrific; and 2) I understand the ginger gives it a bit of a zesty zing, but it's still basically a smooth, easy-drinking liqueur.
My question is: Is Canton too easy to like? Furthermore, was it designed to be easy to like? As I sipped it and mixed it and enjoyed it, I started thinking: this is too unproblematic. It began to remind me of the reaction I get when I drink St. Germain, the wonderful elderflower liqueur that is also quite new on the market and which I adore. But I'm always a bit suspicious about how utterly appealing it is to my and all other palates, and I feel the same about Canton. It's like that old line: Never trust anyone who doesn't have any enemies. St. Germain and Canton appear to have no detractors. Reviews always deem them "perfect liqueurs."
A part of me thinks that Canton is part and parcel with our currently dominant vodka-drinking culture. As with the cocktail booklet that came along with the St. Germain, many of the recipes call with vodka or champagne. Sometimes gin. And most of the libations, once made, offer no resistance. They glide down the gullet like water and make you very happy. But they don't make me think much, except for maybe the thought that you'd like another. I like a simple cocktail as much as the next purist, but a good simple cocktail—one made with gin or rye or bourbon—is simultaneously complex, and evokes complex reactions. A Canton cocktail or St. Germain cocktail is about one idea: the flavor of Canton or St. Germain.
And so I'm torn about Canton. Again, I like it and admire it, and I will buy it again. But I'll probably always drink it during those tired moments of the day when I don't want to challenge my weary mind, and only want to relax. For many people, this is exactly what they want from an alcoholic drink. I guess I'm just a little more demanding.