When talking with my fellow cocktail enthusiasts, the phrase "gateway drink" often comes up. Of course, this is a variation on the term "gateway drug", which is used to describe a fairly mild substance that provides entry to the world of illicit substances and ushers the user into a continuum of more intense offerings.
Leaving the rhetoric aside, a "gateway drink" is a means to introduce someone in a positive way to a spirit that they may have negative preconceptions about, or have only encountered briefly. For example, Tequila and whiskey often require a gateway drink, as they are considered by many to be an acquired taste and can be unforgiving to newcomers. Gin also suffers from this problem, despite having a rich history as a widely-used drink ingredient.
But really, almost any worthwhile cocktail component should have a gateway drink to support it. No one can fault a curious drinker who is skittish at the mention of an ingredient who's reputation precedes it. Likewise, if an ingredient is intensely- or distinctively-flavored, it will also likely need a gentle way to expose someone to it. As evangelists of good drinking, we should strive to introduce new things in the best way possible. The reward is opening up a spectrum of adult beverage enjoyment to someone who may never have had the opportunity to explore beyond the limits of rum & Cokes or Cosmopolitans.
Ideally, what you should be able to do is locate or create a recipe that showcases just enough of the given ingredient to give a sense of the flavor without overwhelming both the drink and the drinker. This may involve some trial and error, but eventually you should amass at least a handful of recipes that that will help put your ingredient's best foot forward.
Case in point: I personally know people who have issues with rum. Sometimes you can remedy this by selecting the right type of rum, as the enormous diversity in styles and flavors in the rum category can often allow for success by simply by sampling enough of them until you hit upon the right one. Failing that, there's always tiki-style drinks. I firmly believe that anyone who says they don't like rum is someone who just hasn't been served the right tiki drink.
By now you're probably saying, "But Doc, don't YOU ever have anything you have a hard time warming up to?" Absolutely. I run up against ingredients that hold me at bay all the time. And I try whenever possible to make a drink that will give me exactly that moment of positive awareness where I get a glimpse into why other people make such a fuss about something. Chartreuse is just such an ingredient.
Chartreuse (particularly the green version) is something my cocktail geek friends rave about. They use it often when creating original cocktails, and it's a staple in their liquor cabinets. I was never able to really embrace it, as it seemed to clobber or corrupt every other ingredient I tried to mix it with. Plus, it struck me as bitter and faintly medicinal-tasting, which was initially a big hurdle for me.
Then I remembered the rinse. Rinsing a glass with an ingredient is a great way to impart just a hint of something without risking it taking over the entire drink. I fiddled around a bit and decided that sake (another ingredient I've been experimenting with lately) and Cointreau played pretty nicely when laid over an undertone of Chartreuse. Since then, I've been using it a lot more, and in a variety of applications. I actually kinda like it now.
Turns out all I needed was a gateway.Torii
Rinse a rocks glass with Chartreuse.** Fill with ice cubes and add sake and Cointreau. Squeeze in the juice from a large lime wedge, drop it in, and stir.~ A Dr. Bamboo original creation
* I like Hakutsuru Draft for this drink- it's very light, crisp, and excellent for mixing, It's also inexpensive and comes in conveniently small 300 ml bottles.
** To rinse, pour a small amount of your ingredient into a glass and swirl until the sides of the glass have been completely coated. Pour out any excess before assembling the rest of the drink.