The weirdest cocktail I ever encountered had a cute little flower bud sitting on top of it. The whole package looked pretty benign, like maybe it was a watered down margarita or something with too much lemon, but when I asked the bartender to give me “something different,” he looked at me like I was an asshole (I kind of am) and said, “Oh, I’ve got something different for you.”
I don’t know what I was thinking—typically, I abhor anything different. I’ve been repeatedly binge watching Chuck on Netflix for the last three years straight. If I’m drinking liquor, it’s bourbon or rye and if I’m drinking beer, it’s one of everything local on tap. Those are my parameters and I’m happy to live within them. But I was in Las Vegas and I had already had approximately 78 Red Bull and Vodkas. It was getting late which meant it was time to start transitioning to White Russians soon (for the dairy), so I needed a drink to bridge the gap. Something different. Something to cleanse the palate.
What I got was the Verbena, a cocktail that is built to showcase that little flower bud floating above the ice dubbed the “Szechuan Button.” Other names for the flower: “electric daisy,” “buzz button,” “toothache plant.”
The Verbena, at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, is as much of an experience as it is a drink. There’s a process to the thing. You’re supposed to nibble the flower, wait a minute until the flower completely takes control of your nervous system, then take a sip of the drink.
Drink the cocktail without munching the flower and it’s okay—pretty much tastes like tequila-spiked lemonade. The flower, on the other hand, tastes like a 9-volt battery. It’s electrifying and hits you on a molecular level. We’re talking nerve damage here, where your tongue and mouth actually go numb after an awkward salivating period. It’s absolutely horrible, but in a really terrific sort of way, which is confusing, kind of like when you discover you like to be spanked. Or so I’ve heard.
The idea with this cocktail, and using the Szechuan Button with food in general, is the flower acts as a sort of palate cleanser and taste intensifier. Sip the cocktail alone and it’s meh, but sip the cocktail while your mouth is still numb, and the drink is electrified. It’s like going from black and white to Technicolor. You can pick apart each ingredient in the glass—the citrus and the ginger and the tequila all stand alone, but at the same time you can see how they build on each other, layer after layer…Remember when Neo could finally see the Matrix? It was like that. It was an enlightening moment, as if I could finally understand the nuance of cocktail creation. It’s like taking acid and then listening to a Dylan album and finally understanding music. Or so I’ve heard.
Needless to say, it was tough to move on to White Russians after this cocktail experience, but I couldn’t exactly order another Verbena either. Licking a 9-Volt battery is an important part of the human experience, and I recommend everyone doing it, but I don’t recommend making a habit out of it.