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“So, what do y’all know about T-Pain?”
This was the preliminary question I posed my test subjects at the dining table on a Saturday night. We’d gathered so they could review my efforts as I tried my hand at a few of the 50 recipes included in Can I Mix You A Drink?, an ornate cocktail tome compiled by the two-time Grammy-winning “rapper-ternt-sanga” T-Pain slated to drop in November.
The group consisted of my wife, her best friend, and my two sisters-in-law. The answers ranged anywhere from “I’ve never heard of him,” to basic knowledge of him being a rapper-producer, to “Oh! He does that one song, ummm … ” followed by a hummed, off-key rendition of one of T-Pain’s most popular offerings, “Bartender.”
Perfect. Let’s do this.
I began the tasting with what is easily the simplest recipe in the book, a drink called Flight School—a half a cup of English breakfast tea and two ounces of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey whiskey, served in a teacup and saucer. (I have neither, so we went with coffee mugs.) It’s meant to be a comforting, warm beverage to enjoy in front of a fireplace—a classier hot toddy, if you will. The Flight School was well received and deemed a good starter to our T-Pain-curated evening. Was it the right cocktail to have as Los Angeles goes through a pretty steady late-summer heat wave? Absolutely not. But I went for the easiest one first, and the trajectory of the recipes hits a steep incline after Flight School, both in taste and prep work.
Can I Mix You A Drink? is no stroll through the beer garden. Co-written by hospitality luminary Maxwell Britten (known for his work at New York City hot spots like Maison Premiere and the Django at Tribeca’s Roxy Hotel), the book takes great care in offering a variety of upscale alcoholic beverages and their detailed methodologies within its jet-black pages. It can be overwhelming for the novice mixer, and the photography is so picturesque that it’s intimidating. Professional terminology is used liberally. But the book is also peppered with casual, funny anecdotes from T-Pain himself that balance out the serious, instructional tone (including the hilarious story of the first time he got drunk).
Shortly after clearing the coffee mugs, I introduced the second offering of the night, a drink called Turn On the Light—a light, refreshing rum-and-lime-juice concoction livened up with simple syrup and topped off with club soda and bitters. This became the drink of the night, only two drinks in. “I want a full pitcher of this,” squealed one of my sisters-in-law. My sister’s best friend mentioned something about wanting to sell them at a lemonade stand. It was at this point that I knew the effects of the cocktails were working the magic their boozy spells intended. But apparently, T-Pain and I peaked way too early.
Named after one of T-Pain’s biggest records of all-time, a 2010 collaboration with his boisterous Floridian neighbor DJ Khaled (we had to play the song off a phone for my sister-in-law, who was not at all familiar with T-Pain), the All I Do Is Win is a frenetic blend of fresh orange, lemon, simple syrup, mint, angostura bitters, and a splash of club soda. It drew immediate comparisons to an Old-Fashioned in my now properly lubricated focus group, but didn’t quite hit the mark. Refreshing, but not something that everyone gravitated to right away like the Turn On the Light.
At this point, three drinks in, I figured it was about time to roll out the grand finale—a cocktail that I assumed would be a hit, since all four of the tasting attendees were big tequila drinkers. Page 117 of Can I Mix introduces a cocktail that calls for Espolon, vermouth, pineapple juice, and lime juice. It’s called a Suicide, and aptly so: From the reactions I received, everyone’s taste buds seemed to have perished simultaneously in a very violent manner. I drew a face with a tongue sticking out next to my wife’s name in my notes on each taster’s thoughts, and I don’t even remember doing this among all of the Suicide drama. Mind you, this drink also calls for a single, sliced ghost pepper to sit in a quart of the tequila for 30 minutes. Smartly, I skipped it. I might have been kicked out of my home if I did.
All in all, it was fun trying these out. I’d recommend making one or two of the recipes at a time and familiarizing yourself with them first instead of going the ambitious route, like yours truly did. And definitely peruse the book a couple of times before diving in headfirst; it’ll take some practice before you nail any of these. You’re dealing with rolled-up-sleeves-with-the-fancy-apron-level stuff here. Approach with divine patience and respect.
As a parting gift, T-Pain concludes the book with a section on Mix-In Cheat Codes that helps you learn “what the hell to buy at the damn store.” Here’s one that’s not included: Go crazy in the frozen food aisle at your local Trader Joe’s for all the starchy-type appetizers to soak all of this up as you imbibe. All credit to my wife for that. She saved us.