Shooters that aren't sophomoric

Woo. Hoo.

I begin with those two syllables because this column is about shooters. And as everyone knows, when people are about to drink shooters they must first shout "Woo hoo!" Which is, of course, one of many reasons why bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts hate shooters.

I know, I know: You dislike them, too. Shooters remind you of a bad night in college. Shooters have awful, obscene names that involve body parts and sex acts that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. Shooters are unsophisticated, immature, irresponsible. Shooters are not for respectable citizens who have to work in the morning.

I don't disagree. Shooters are completely silly, and they're meant to be. The heyday of the shooter (late 1980s through early 1990s) coincided with my own formative drinking years. In those days, it seemed as though not an evening passed without the invention of a new shooter: Mind Eraser, Dirty Girl Scout Cookie, Gorilla Snot, Irish Car Bomb, Freddy Krueger.

I clearly remember the most disgusting shooter ever served to me. It was called a Cement Mixer and involved a shot of Baileys Irish Cream and a shot of lime juice. I was told by a friend to take the Baileys into my mouth, then take the lime juice into my mouth, then mix the two by shaking my head rapidly. What this friend did not tell me was that the concoction would quickly congeal (yes, like a ball of cement). And then this joker laughed hysterically as I was left trying to figure out how to discard the congealed ball as the bar crowd, snickering, looked on.

Woo. Hoo.

That era has long passed, and since the late 1990s we have been living in the era of Booze + Energy Drink. Ask the bartenders at popular clubs what they serve all night, and they'll tell you: Vodka Red Bull. All I can say is: Ugh. Next to something like Vodka Red Bull, the Cement Mixer (or a Buttery Nipple or an Alabama Slammer) seems like a masterwork of inspired, unbridled creativity. Call me a nostalgic old man, but now when I happen to find myself in a club filled with young people (which is not so often) I actually pine for the days of the shooter.

So it warmed my heart this past summer to hear James Meehan, cutting-edge bartender of New York's PDT and Gramercy Tavern and contributor to Food Wine, suggest that shooters might be on their way back. "Cocktails have been getting more and more serious lately. It's gotten to a sort of rarefied place," he said at a panel discussion in New Orleans in July. "What shooters bring to mind is the fun that cocktails should be." With more chefs offering shooters as an amuse bouche or pairing courses with a shot glass of fine spirits, I see the trend potentially taking hold.

I decided to revisit the shooter. These days, the only thing I drink in a shot glass is a little 100 percent agave tequila, preferably reposado (slightly aged), served neat with a chaser of tomato juice or sangrita. I needed a refresher. I reached for Paul Knorr's "Big Bad-Ass Book of Shots" (Running Press, 2004), whose subtitle says it all: "Over 1,400 Recipes to Get the Party Started."

So many recipes in Knorr's book call for peach or peppermint schnapps, amaretto or Jagermeister. But what really struck me was that more than 200 of them called for some sort of coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua. Even more surprising was that an Irish cream, such as Baileys, played a role in 300 recipes &

far more than any other spirit.

To me, Baileys Irish Cream and Kahlua are cloying and insipid. If shooters are ever to come into the 21st century, those two spirits have to get the boot. And inside Knorr's book I found new inspiration in the Rhino, which calls for layers of coffee liqueur, Amarula and Cointreau.

I've lately been enjoying Amarula, a South African cream liqueur made from ripe marula fruit, with notes of butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. On the African savanna, marula fruit is famously coveted by elephants, which sometimes even get a little tipsy eating the fruit that's been sitting (and fermenting) in the sun.

My variation on the after-dinner Rhino is to add a new tequila-and-coffee liqueur called Patron XO Cafe, which is much drier and has a more balanced taste and sophisticated kick than all other coffee liqueurs.

I also recommend the traditional shot of South African rugby supporters, the Springbok, which calls for Amarula layered over green creme de menthe. This shooter, according to some British tabloids, is the favorite drink of Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry's Zimbabwean girlfriend.

It certainly requires a "woo hoo" before tippling.

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