Master of the craft at Raven & Rose. (Photo: Courtesy Raven & Rose)
Think bartenders have it easy? Aside from mastering Cocktail-worthy tricks, a flirty smile and heavy hand aren’t all that’s going to keep customers coming back. Long hours of creative genius are what’s setting the bar for bars these days — and everybody is stepping up their game.
“The great cocktail renaissance of the past ten years has done much to educate the average guest on classics,” explains bartender Kevin Denton of gastro heavyweights Alder and WD-50 in New York City. “There are greater expectations to expand the repertoire — [and the] concoctions have to taste good, because we are in the business of delicious.”
What that means are increasingly unexpected, sometimes bizarre ingredients in exciting combinations.
“You will only buy a pastrami and rye cocktail once if it is a novelty that isn’t tasty,” he continues. Yep, you heard that right. Denton cheekily reimagined that Jewish-deli staple on a recent seasonal menu at Alder. Now his latest calls for Myrica Gale. (Don’t feel foolish. We had no clue what it was before publishing this thing either.)
Yahoo Travel sought out the nation’s top mixology talent to see what weird-yet-wonderful ingredients were popping up on menu this summer. The results ran a gamut from snap peas to ice made out of meat to an extract of Irish moss. Down in one, everyone!
Odd Ingredient: Green Strawberry Pickling Liquid
The Drink: Serge’s Morning Girl
The Bar: The Libertine in Clayton, MO
Pickling local summer fruits is just one fantastic way the bar staff at the acclaimed Libertine keeps St. Louis drinkers wowed. Named for Serge Gainsbourg, a French lyricist and purported ladies man, the Serge’s Morning Girl cocktail is based with Quivira Sauvignon Blanc, grapefruit juice, Aperol and then hit with a quarter-ounce of pickling brine. Shaken and double strained into a coupe glass —with a pickled unripened strawberry on the rim — it’s tart, refreshing, and has a remarkable bright sweetness. Drinking one makes you wonder why we can’t get pickled berries on everything.
Serge’s Morning Girl cocktail (Photo: Libertine)
Odd Ingredient: Meat Ice Cubes
The Drink: The Vegan Sacrifice
The Bar: Range in Washington, D.C.
While Raven & Rose is serving up moss extract for the vegans in town, Range is going the other direction and getting downright carnivorous in their cocktails, with a sprinkle of added snark in the name. Beverage director Dane Nakamura created the Vegan Sacrifice with Scotch, ginger, cayenne, and homemade meat ice. Yep. Meat ice.
And how to you make this carne asada cubage? It ain’t simple. In a pressure cooker Nakemura combines San Marzano tomato water with trimmings from the kitchen (cured meats, raw beef, unused veg) and seasonings (Old Bay, bay leaves, and a classic mirepoix of carrots, onion, celery). Once done, he cools and clarifies the stock, adds egg whites and a splash of pigs blood. The mixture is then frozen. This cocktail is not for the timid, but as the ice melts, a certain undeniably delicious, savory situation occurs that rewards those brave enough to partake.
Mixing up a Vegan Sacrifice Cocktail… with meat ice (Photo: Range)
Odd Ingredient: Beet-infused Moonshine
The Drink: Beets by Jay
The Bar: Saison in Richmond, VA
Although it’s nothing new to find beets in a glass — they often pop up in spring and summer cocktails, adding a bright hue and a perky taste — but we were smitten with barman Jay Bayer’s quirky, beet-infused moonshine cocktail. He reaches for the Virginia Lightening brand, out of Belmont Farm Distillery, and adds smoky mescal, Punt e Mes vermouth and fresh lime juice. What’s bright pink and has enough booze to put hair on your chest? This thing. Bayer’s inspiration was the classic Blood & Sand cocktail, but he veered off course in order to make a drink that would serve Saison’s menu that focuses on Southern flavors. Way to ace it, Jay.
Beets by Jay cocktail at Saison (Photo: Patrick Moran)
Odd Ingredient: Snap Peas
The Drink: The No. 55
The Bar: Windsor in Phoenix, AZ
Tucked into its namesake historic Phoenix neighborhood, Windsor is a locally loved spot, with a fantastic patio and upscale bar grub — plus an expansive cocktail menu all named by digits. The No. 55 should absolutely be on your Summer 2014 Booze Bucket List, especially if you love garden-fresh greens. The drink has silver tequila, Dolin Génépi des Alpes (a liqueur that tastes similar to absinthe or Chartreuse), fresh lime juice and their fun snap pea syrup. It’s a vibrant sugar solution made from the grassy goodness of raw snap peas. Citrusy, vegetal and served ice cold, it’s only $5 at happy hour instead of a normally affordable $9.50. (Since your mom always said to eat your veggies, have two!)
The No.55 with sugar snap pea syrup at Windsor (Photo: Upward Projects)
Odd Ingredient: Sesame Oil
The Drink: Big Trouble in Little China
The Bar: Sweetwater Social in New York City
Tucked downstairs from Bleecker Kitchen & Co., Sweetwater is a basement den of grown-up wonders: foosball, comfy leather couches, Hip Hop and classic ’80s jams on the stereo, and killer cocktails on the menu. We salute barman Tim Cooper’s love of cult-classics in a drink that features toasted sesame-infused bourbon, muddled cucumber, lemon juice, salt and club soda. Loving Big Trouble as a film might be an acquired taste, but the drink is one of the best things to happen to NYC this summer.
PRO TIP: To make the bourbon at home, pour 1-oz. of toasted sesame oil into a container, add a full bottle of good bourbon, stir and place in the freezer for at least five hours. The oil coagulates at the top, and you can simply remove it as a frozen chunk. Then strain the liquid through cheesecloth to remove any leftover oil particles, place the infused bourbon back in the bottle and — per Tim’s suggestion — label it “Delicious.” Just to be on the safe side.
Big Trouble in Little China cocktail at Sweetwater Social (Photo: Melody Melamed)
Odd Ingredient: Carrageen Moss
The Drink: The Ballycotton Toddy
The Bar: Raven & Rose in Portland, OR
Bartendress Lisa Mygrantcame up with this hot cocktail, starting with a base of Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey. She then adds in Crème de Cassis, honey syrup, lemon juice, grated cinnamon… and an extract made with carrageen moss (a.k.a. Irish moss, a type of algae), which she sources from the guys in the kitchen. It’s used as a substitution for egg whites for vegan drinkers, decently thickening and frothing up nicely. The taste is rich and full, with the whiskey up-front, softened by honey, and carried through by a bold, earthy body thanks to the moss. It does great on their brunch and dessert menus. “This is the kind of cocktail that makes you feel much better if you are fighting allergies, a cold… or your boyfriend,” says head bartender David Shenaut.
The Ballycotton Toddy with Irish moss (Photo: Raven & Rose)
Odd Ingredient: Myrica Gale
The Drink: “What’s Myrica Gale?”
The Bar: Alder in New York City
This one’s got an ingredient so unfamiliar, they just named it after the guests’ most frequent question. Creator Kevin Denton explains: “Myrica Gale is a bitter and aromatic shrub [sourced from Montreal] that historically was used as a precursor to hops in a beer called Gruit.” Denton uses it to infuse blanco tequila. To a shaker, he adds fresh carrot juice, lemon juice and Nardini Tagliatella, an Italian Amaro of grappa, cherry juice, orange, and other natural aromatic components. “The earthy sweetness of carrot, coupled with the spice of the tequila and bitter aromatics of the Myrica Gale make for a refreshing, yet beguiling combo.”
“What’s Myrica Gale?” cocktail (Photo: Alder)
Odd Ingredients: Avocados, Sriracha Ice Cubes
The Drink: The Cobra Commander
The Bar: The Pig & the Lady in Honolulu, HI
Brunch, lunch, dinner — bar manager Kyle Reutner is confident this playful sipper is a doable choice any time of the day. “The avocado-infused mezcal melds a smoky flavor with a rich mouthfeel.” To balance the intense creaminess of the avocado and agave, he adds Giffard Pamplemousse Rose, which is a red grapefruit liqueur, and some fresh lime juice, plus a pinch of salt to “make the drink pop.” As the Cobra Commander melts over Sriracha ice cubes, it really takes on a whole new life. “Our ice cubes are exactly what you think they are – sriracha hot sauce poured into water and frozen,” he winks.
The Cobra Commander cocktail (Photo: The Pig & the Lady)
Odd Ingredients: Kimchi Brine, Togarashi
The Drink: The Ace Bloody Mary
The Bar: Ace Eat Serve in Denver, CO
Ping Pong tables and fresh-pressed juices are more than enough reason to head into Ace. But by some magical wizardry of awesome, they also make damn fine cocktails. If you request their Bloody Mary (it’s always available even if it’s not listed on the menu), prepare for a Korean meal in cocktail form: vodka and soju (Korean rice spirit) stirred into a tomato-based, homemade Mary mix. “We use the brine of the kimchi to add brightness and heat to the cocktail, without using something that may be too spicy like sriracha or sambal,” explains bar manager Randy Layman. “Togarashi is a Japanese pepper blend we use in the kitchen. Using it as the rim on the glass marries flavors from our dishes with a popular cocktail for an Ace-specific experience.”
The Ace Bloody Mary (Photo: Ace Eat Serve)
Odd Ingredient: Ras El Hanout
The Drink: The Desert Fox
The Bar: Root Squared in New Orleans, LA
Ras El Hanout, a spice mix commonly found in Northern Africa, is typically a blend of cinnamon, turmeric, cardamom, cumin, but by definition vary from creator to creator and can include more than 10 spices. It’s great for rubbing on steaks, but down in New Orleans at Square Root’s new upstairs cocktail lounge, bar manager Max Messier is creating his own secret recipe and adding it to the gin-based Desert Fox. The drink also includes muddled Chardonnay grapes for a bit of acid and Dolin Blanc Vermouth to round out the sweeter notes against the distinctly Middle Eastern efforts of the spice. It’s served in a chilled coupe glass, with an expressed lemon peel.
The Desert Fox cocktail at Root Squared (Photo: Jenny Adams)
Jenny Adams is a freelance writer/photographer that’s been drinking her way around the globe as the Miami Herald’s bar columnist since 2008. You can follow her adventures on her humor travel blog, BuddhaDrinksFanta.com or visit her work on JennyAdamsFreelance.com.