Not every bar has a barkeep in muttonchops stirring up faithful versions of pre-Prohibition classics. Nor does every restaurant enjoy a steady supply of ingredients for “farm to glass” cocktails. But high-quality mixers can produce similar results. Not all formulations are equal, so check labels. Don’t buy a mixer if the first ingredient is water, corn syrup or sugar. And beware of long lists with multi-syllabic scientific names—you’re not running a chem lab.
Beverage Artistry, a new line of fruit bases and blends from Perfect Puree of Napa Valley, lists recognizable ingredients. Single-flavor varietals include Banana, Cranberry, Guava, Lemon, Mango, Passion Fruit, Peach, Raspberry and Strawberry. Blends such as Classic Sweet & Sour, Mojito, Red Sangria, Rum Runner and White Sangria also boast “clean” labels. Additionally, mixologist Adam Seger consulted on the creation of three unique blends: Yuzu Luxe Sour, El Corazon and Passion Colada. Designed for bar professionals and foodservice use, the beverage bases are packed frozen in 32 fluid ounce containers, six per case. Store frozen up to two years; refrigerate after thawing for up to 21 days.
The spice trade
When bar chef Greg Seider decided to put some spice into the cocktail list at The Summit Bar in New York City, he did so—literally. Caraway seeds, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel, cinnamon and peppercorns play vital roles.
The result? Complex drinks with so many layers of flavor that you notice a new one with every sip, says Summit operations manager Hamid Rashidzada. Plus, the bar dusts spices over many of the drinks before serving, which creates a distinctive bouquet. Christmas Morning ($12) is shaken with rum, Sherry, lemon juice, whiskey bitters and egg white; nutmeg is freshly grated on top. The Gov’ner ($12) mixes Suntory Yamazaki whiskey, yuzu, orange juice and cardamom-infused agave nectar, then is dusted with cardamom.
The infusion technique is used frequently. Caraway seeds are crushed and toasted, then infused in agave syrup. Vietnamese cinnamon gets the same treatment for Charmane’s Star ($11), with vodka, cucumber, shiso leaf, lime juice and rhubarb bitters. Shu Jam Fizz ($10) combines a fennel infusion with gin. This reliance on spices means they have to be carefully sourced for freshness, adds Rashidzada.
What’s old is new again
The classic cocktail revival has mixologists rummaging around in the cellar of forgotten liqueurs. Some of these unusual cordials are enjoying a modest revival—for good reason.
Absinthe—Banned in the U.S. for nearly a century, this anise-flavored spirit has shed its bad-boy image. It goes into a number of classics, including the Sazerac and Chrysanthemum.
Amer Picon—French beverage bitters with a strong orange accent; essential for the Basque highball Picon Punch.
Benedictine—Herbal liqueur that was re-created in the 1860s from the original recipe brewed by Benedictine monks. It gives the Widow’s Kiss its lethality.
Chartreuse—A complex liqueur concocted from over 130 botanicals. Green Chartreuse gets its color from chlorophyll; the yellow version is sweeter and milder.
Creme de Violette—A cordial made from a brandy or neutral spirits base and the sweet bouquet of violets.
Falernum— More of a sweetener than a cordial; it tastes of almonds, lime, ginger and cloves. Falernum sweetens Mai Tais, Zombies and other classic rum drinks.
Herbsaint—Anise-flavored spirit created in New Orleans as a substitute for absinthe. Try it in a Herbsaint Frappe.
Maraschino—Made from Dalmatian Marasca cherries—pits and all—this strong liqueur adds a funky almondy note. Used in an Aviation as well as many Crustas.
Pimento Dram (Allspice Dram)—Rum-based liqueur flavored with the pimento berry—also the source of allspice. Tiki bars make good use of this liqueur.