Cocktail News - Nov 4, 2013

00:00 November 04, 2013
By: David Vicari

Craft cocktails pop up at Purloo. You want to make a Creole Cocktail but can't source a key ingredient - in this case, the bitter orange Amer Picon, which isn't imported in the U.S. If you're bartender Amy Bissell, you just ask Chef Ryan Hughes to make satsuma marmalade, which he does, from the citrus grown in his neighbor's yard in Algiers.

More bartenders may be wandering into their chefs' kitchens for fresh produce to make up juices, syrups and garnishes, but Amy goes a step further, creatively, with her Creole Cocktail: besides the marmalade infusion, she's made an oregano-orange syrup to bring in the herbal notes, replacing the original's Benedictine.
The bourbon-based drink includes sweet vermouth, and was meant to pair with Ryan's Creole-inspired menu for a recent Purloo pop-up dinner.

Anticipating a future Spanish-themed dinner, Amy also crafted saffron syrup for her King's Highway cocktail, preferring to mix it with a single-malt Speyside Scotch. These whiskies, especially in recent bottlings, tend to be more delicate and sweet than Scotch from other regions.

The creamy saffron-Scotch pairing reminds me somewhat of a Rusty Nail; Amy then adds heat with ginger purée syrup and spiced bitters, shaken in with the other ingredients to give a lasting, earthy cinnamon bite.
The King's Highway (a reference to the early spice trade) makes a worthy transitional sipper into fall. Look also for tea-based cocktails, inspired by Amy's year-long stint behind the stick in London.

High Hat Café's fig amaro cocktail. It's simple to make your own amaro, though the most elusive ingredient could be patience. "You can watch children become adults during this process," quips High Hat manager Ryan Iriarte, who writes different amaros behind the stick, switching out various fruits and flavors with the season.

These liqueurs get their name from the Italian word for "bitter" and are made by infusing a neutral-grain spirit or wine with bittering agents, like gentian root and orange peels.

Ryan used four pounds of local figs to make his late-summer amaro, "cooking" them in Everclear with lemon peels, rosemary and sultry, hand-ground spices like coriander and cardamom.

Three weeks later, he fine-strained the mixture, then added gentian root and bitter orange peel. After soaking in the high-proof spirit for a week, he fine-strained the fig-flavored Everclear a final time, then stirred in honey simple syrup.

Like many high-volume craft bars, Ryan pre-batches what he can. He's bottled the fig amaro with a dry riesling and amaretto liqueur, which adds a touch of sweet almond. Together, they give off a perfume that's similar to that of Fernet Branca, though more subtle and approachable. It compares to lighter, more citrus-forward amari.

Once it's all shaken with fresh sour mix (a daily-made squeeze of lime, orange and lemon), it becomes Son House Punch (named for the long-lived bluesman) that's figgy and dry, with a tart finish. Texturally, the drink becomes almost creamy as the ice melts (a factor, Ryan says, of the figs).

Don't be intimidated by the process if you make your own amaro, but you'll want something in your hands while you wait - and for that, you should pull up to Ryan's ever-changing bar.

Maïs Arepas' refreshing refajo. If - like me - you had to warn your cultured friends that you'd be wearing white (and possibly shorts) well into autumn, then you won't mind extending your shandy drinking as well.
You'll find a shandy-style cocktail at Maïs Arepas - the refajo is a simple beer-and-soda pairing native to Colombia, where Chef David Mantilla is from. Refajo (which translates to "petticoat" or "slip") commonly relies on Colombiana, which is earthier and fizzier than your typical cream soda. It's almond-scented, with a vanilla-orange taste that's more dry than tart.

At Maïs Arepas, they blend one part Colombiana with three parts Budweiser, and you'd be staying within tradition to add a shot of aguardiente, a sugarcane-based, anise-flavored liqueur.

At home, you can make your own refajo with any pale lager; I tried it with a fruity blond ale, which tames the soda's sweetness and is less vibrant.

As for the soda, Chef Mantilla directed me to Norma's Bakery in Mid-City, where you can buy a six-pack of Colombiana for $5.

Glazer's Star Hodgson showcased shrub cocktails at Slow Food NOLA's pickled dinner. Star Hodgson was making seasonal cocktails as early as 2007, when she began her turn as Loa's general manager. "We didn't even know to call them craft cocktails then," says Star, whose trips to San Francisco kept her on the leading edge of the blossoming drinks movement. (These days, she's the Louisiana bartender for beverage distributor giant Glazer's.)

And she was a natural choice to create cocktails for Slow Food NOLA's Slow Pickle dinner in September. To go with the night's fermented foods, Star lengthened her cocktails with drinking vinegars, or shrubs.
"The secret to making shrubs is time and patience," she says, forgoing faster direct heat for a more flavorful slow method of macerating local, fresh-cut fruit in vinegar for about 10 days. She then stirs sugar into the captured juices.

In a cocktail, the vinegar adds acidity, "so there's no need to use citrus for tartness," says Star.
For the Slow Pickle dinner, she paired spirits from Glazer's broad portfolio with her own raspberry or blackberry shrub, as well as a peach shrub she put up earlier this summer, when local peaches were at their best.

As a preview for the dinner, Star made me a lovely ginned-up raspberry shrub, topped with prosecco. Here, fruit softens the sparkling, and gin's florals are a perfect match.

She also shook up a peach shrub cocktail, two ways: the shrub sharpens and sweetens silver rum, while adding almost buttery notes to rye whiskey. Try any one of these drinks, and you'll find that the base spirit shines through beautifully.

"And shrubs keep almost forever," she says, which lets you extend your favorite season.

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