Let me let you in on a secret: every time you order a drink with the word “bomb” in it, a little piece of your bartender’s heart shrivels up and dies. It dies and goes to the weird, discouraging afterlife reserved for, like, children who die before they’re baptized or the love you had for your cousin who’s revealed herself to be a #Qanon follower: those tragic turns that you were always conceptually aware of, but which never really affected you until they fucking did.
Maybe that’s hyperbolic? Whatever. These are hyperbolic times.
I suppose context is needed. We bartenders live by specific and unwritten codes of behavior, and we often (somewhat) unfairly expect you, our beloved patrons, to navigate these codes and taboos without us having to explain them to you. We just think of them as the proper way to act. Deviate from these lanes and you risk our ire and judgment: no buy-backs. But there’s room for nuance here. My buddy Greg Nearhood, who tends bar at numerous hip-as-fuck joints in Brooklyn, has his caveats.
“If you’ve been drinking at the bar for a while, just ordering beers and hanging out, and you ask for a Jäger Bomb to keep you going, then yeah, cool,” he said. “It’s the people who come right in and demand Jäger Bombs that you know are a going to be assholes. And you’ll be proven right.”
I’ve certainly ordered an Irish Car Bomb in my time, but since getting wise I’ve never done it in an actual Irish pub. Plus, those things curdle and make a mess of my wash sink. We typically have to dump whatever remains of your curdled-spit-Guinness into our hands just to get the shot out. Those places where they line up all the pint glasses and balance the shots on top of said pint glasses, and then in one swoop all the shots domino into the pint glasses and all your friends down them and laugh? Yeah. The bartender is pondering his life choices right then.
But you know what? Fuck us. This is the job. This is the same as you bitching about how your boss is overly demanding when you have to compose that soul-killing spreadsheet-document-thing (you know the one). It’s work. At the end of the day, though, something about chugging booze just rubs us wrong. When you’re in my bar, drink your beer, drink the cocktail I tenderly made for you, enjoy it, talk to somebody. There’s a reason why “ice-ing” has moved from frat parties and into hip Brooklyn bars as the dumb-irony layered prank of choice. It’s because not only are you drinking something gross, you’re chugging something gross. Because of this, we laugh and rightfully call the victim an asshole.
But I’m a hypocrite. I’m a liar. Don’t believe me on anything else I say, but believe me on this. I found a bomb drink that I love. I didn’t create it, but I fell into it hard. At the New American restaurant OTB in Brooklyn, co-owner Kai Parrot-Wolfe has created a perfectly balanced blend of taste and volume, which he calls a Oaxaca Car Bomb.
“[When we were opening] I was really into sour ales and we were all ripping mezcal shots. One of the beers I picked up was Rodenbach Sour, a barrel-aged Flemish sour. I had the idea of chasing the mezcal (Vida) with the sour. The Rodenbach really stood up to smokiness and relative sweetness of the Vida.”
“I was calling it a car bomb but because the beer was in a bottle we didn’t really have a proper delivery system. Later my buddy Will from Spuyten Duyvil took me up to the Peekskill Brewery, and we drank their newly released Simple Sour. I think we got it on tap at OTB the next week. We had also started to get lighter, more vegetal mezcals, and the Simple Sour jived better with the flavor profile.”
Despite the somewhat unfortunate naming connotations, the drink—which involves dropping a shot of mezcal into a highball glass of sour ale—is clean where its Irish namesake is creamy, tidy and quick where all other bomb shots are meant to overwhelm. Its flavor profile is layered, but not complex; it’s a bartender’s drink. And it’s invigorating in all the ways you want from a Jäger Bomb, but with none of the sugar, aftertaste, or judgment.
I haven’t been able to stop ordering them. I make the great bartenders at OTB make them for me, being the very monster I just spent 700 words lambasting. It’s cool, though. Usually the bartender is taking them with me. I’ve started introducing them to other service industry folks, feeling like an apostle for some dark, new church. I’ve even risked introducing them to my bartender friends who have actual taste.
“It’s startling,” says Mark Quinlan, the be-vested man who taught me how to make a Manhattan, the same man who’d stab me in the eye if I ever ordered anything containing Red Bull. “It’s unexpectedly refreshing. You’ll want a second.”
“…and maybe a third.”