What do 60,000 bees, a hollow egg of ice, a vacuum sealer and a tray of banana consommé have in common? They all currently contribute to a night out for cocktail lovers across America. Think being a bartender isn’t a real job? These men and women are giving it their all, pushing the envelope when it comes to your next libation.
The Furious George
The Woodsman, Portland, OR
If you are blessed enough to sit down in front of barman Evan Zimmerman and request a Furious George, let him know you appreciate the effort he put in before your arrival. This cocktail is born days before you drink it, when Zimmerman begins a process called “freeze filtering.” He takes six bananas and three cups of water, adds citric acid, and shoves it all through a chinois. He then adds gelatin to the leftover liter of liquid, heats it, and then freezes it in a pan overnight. Still with us? OK. The frozen slab is then wrapped in cheesecloth and set on a rack above a collection pan inside of a walk-in. The liquid drips slowly through the cloth, collecting in the pan. According to Zimmerman, he ends up with “a hunk of gelatin banana goo on top and clear banana consommé below.”
That consommé is stirred into Willet 5 Year Rye whiskey with four drops of pungent clove oil and served in a chilled coup.
The Almost Home
The Columbia Room, Washington D.C.
At the Columbia Room, head bartender and bar beekeeper Katie Nelson puts her neck (as well as her forearms, calves and hands) on the line, all in the name of a great cocktail. Nelson heads upstairs daily to speak soothingly with her 60,000 bees that buzz around the bar’s rooftop apiary. A few times a year, she extracts the comb and scrapes the honey into a bucket. Back downstairs in the bar, it’s run through a fine mesh strainer to separate the wax. For the Almost Home libation, she uses the honey and freshly picked lavender blossoms to create a floral, sweet syrup and then adds two ounces of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, a small dose of Yamazaki 12-year Japanese whiskey, and garnishes the results with the aromatic oils from a peel of fresh grapefruit.
Note: This drink is good for what ails you – particularly if what ails you is a bee sting.
The Gun Metal
Demi Monde, New York City
Inside this Financial District newcomer, the term cryovac applies, not to the kitchen, but to the cocktails. A collaborative creation of bartenders Alex Day and Scott Teague, this drink begins in the back of the house with a bottle of Dolin Blanc Vermouth, finely chopped fresh watermelon, a small pinch of salt and some citric acid. Everything goes into a vacuum machine, the air is sucked out in a process that’s repeated three times. The resulting watermelon vermouth is stirred against the lovely juniper notes of Beefeater gin, a dash of orange bitters, and it’s then strained into an absinthe-rinsed glass. The taste? Cool and soothing. It evokes that summertime, childhood nostalgia for biting into slice of fresh watermelon, only with the kick of your adult playmates, vermouth and gin. Dodgeball anyone?
The Gun Powder Punch
Rob Roy, Seattle
“I got the idea from old folklore,” offers bartender/owner Anu Apte, of her latest punch. “Sailors would test the proof of rum by adding a bit of gunpowder and lighting it on fire. If it exploded, it was high proof. If it just sizzled a bit, it was drinkable. Of course, being drunken sailors, they didn't want to waste rum. So they would drink the rum with the gunpowder in it.”
Her truly “antique” punch begins with an Oleo-saccharum (a.k.a. citrus oil soaked sugar) made from lemon and grapefruit peels. Rhum agricole, London Dry gin and a blended, aged rum make up the booze contingent. The sweet-and-spice of it comes from demerara syrup, lemon juice, pepper, clove and allspice. Then, without pomp or circumstance, Apte tosses in a teaspoon of antique black gunpowder that she sources from a dealer on the Internet. Never fear, it’s totally safe to drink this in a teacup, but maybe refrain from lighting your buddy’s birthday candles too close to the punchbowl.
The Unbridled Julep
Manifesto, Kansas City, MO
Ryan Maybee has been tinkering with the smoldering essence of smoke for many, many years in drinks, using a Polyscience Smoking Gun. He forces the smoke directly into the spirit of choice, his favorites being Kentucky bourbon or whiskey. His latest cocktail, The Unbridled Julep, was one he and fellow barman Beau Williams designed as a competition entry for the 2012 weeklong cocktail festival, Tales of the Cocktail, held each July in New Orleans. It’s a take on the classic mint julep, only Maybee imbues the sweetness of classic Grand Marnier with Applewood smoke. The bitter notes of Campari and the must-have bite of mint give this one great balance – as well as a beautiful nod to Kansas City’s knack for BBQ.
In the Rocks
When you crack open the menu at the Aviary, the cocktail options read like a science experiment – if said experiment were humorously devised in a collaboration between Tim Burton and Mr. Wizard. There’s lavender vapor in one. Liquid nitrogen in another. Our pick, however, was the drink that allowed you to get involved in your drinking experience beyond merely sipping and cooing to your girlfriend about pretty garnishes. In the Rocks arrives as an egg-sized, egg-shaped piece of frosty ice. It’s beautiful to behold, nestled in its perfectly polished glass with cold smoke wafting off the orb ever so slightly. You are then handed a tiny slingshot and instructed to destroy it. Your slingshot skills result with the hollow egg cracking open and spilling forth a rich, classic Old Fashioned, made from Eagle Rare 10-year bourbon, demerara syrup and Angostura bitters. The drink is timeless. The delivery fresh and fun. How do they make the ice egg, you ask?
Tradition, San Francisco
It’s a talented set of bartenders that can reinvent a great classic. At Tradition, instead of making their Old Fashioned “new,” they opted to make it “older.”
The bar owners sourced barrels from the Gibbs Brothers Cooperage in Arkansas. They washed one barrel in Ardbeg 10-year-old Scotch, emptied it and then filled it with Zacapa 23-year-old rum. While the rum aged inside the Scotch-infused vessel for three to five days, they filled a second barrel with Angostura bitters. Sealed up similarly, those bitters rested for roughly one week. When both components met bartender approval in an individual taste test, they were stirred together with a barspoon of house-made vanilla syrup to create Tradition’s mighty Blunderbuss. It’s a drink named after an 18th-century shotgun. Like the name, this libation’s both serious and offbeat. It’s also seriously worth ordering the next time you are in San Francisco.
Broken Shaker, Miami
Broken Shaker was a pop-up bar concept in Miami in 2012, which means it opened with the intent of only being around for a few months. Well, it was so beloved and bombarded with happy customers, Broken Shaker is re-opening in a permanent space this September. Its lasting impression came in the form of carefully reinvented classics like the bar’s version of a frozen Painkiller cocktail, using Southeast Asian fruits and American vinegar.
Barman Gabe Orta begins by creating a coconut-vinegar syrup using a bottle of Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, the flesh from three Thai coconuts, fresh ginger juice and agave nectar. He then adds that syrup to a blender alongside the Asian durian fruit, which he sources from the organic, local Glacier Farms. The spirit quotient is a double dose of rums - Atlantico Platino and Smith & Cross – and then the Tiki staples of pineapple juice and bitters. It’s a milky, frozen, sweet-with-a-bite concoction that’s clearly aided in making this pop-up permanent.
The Bottle-Conditioned Paloma
“The problem with most Paloma cocktails is that the soda has a cloying taste, the tequila gets lost, and that sweet, sour, slightly salty balance is difficult to nail,” explains Anvil owner/bartender Bobby Heugel. While it’s probably not a problem that keeps most up at night, it was Ambien-necessitating for Heugel - who’s made a name for himself being one of the first to bring Houston a now rapidly expanding cocktail scene. He picked up a copy of "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Ellix Katz and began experimenting with creating carbonation in a bottle via natural fermentation.
This take on the Paloma starts with funneling grapefruit juice, lime juice, simple syrup, salted water, and champagne yeast into an old-fashioned swing-top bottle. Heugel allows that mixture to ferment in a warm, dark place for 36 hours, after which he slowly releases the pressure and adds tequila. The boozed up brew is allowed to ferment for an additional 36 hours, in a refrigerator to slow the fermentation. What's the hardest part of making a perfect Paloma? “The sugar content in grapefruit can vary dramatically,” explains Heugel. “So, one has to beware of exploding bottles and adjust the recipe accordingly.”