Ryan Iriarte stands behind the stick - where he keeps fresh-cut fruit, cooking in jars sparked with Everclear - and ponders a tomato cocktail. It should catch the tomato's delicate, savory essence (definitely not a thick Bloody Mary, which distorts it).
"Tomatoes share the same flavor profile as strawberries," a friend told him. "They pair with the same things, like balsamic and basil."
The thought drives Ryan (who, with Lauren Holton, makes up the dynamic bar team at High Hat Café) to interpret the savory summer fruit as the "Tomatina", which hits the bar's menu today. The cocktail is refreshing, light and wildly herbaceous (and Bloody fans will be reassured by the subtle bite of black pepper).
Ryan builds the drink with a clean and crisp tomato liqueur, made by infusing grain alcohol with chopped tomatoes, cardamom and ginger simple syrup.
He combines the liqueur with a fresh wash of tomato water, pulled from tomatoes with salt and fresh herbs, then strains the water until it's pale.
How to tie them together? Ryan tried tequila and straight gin, which trampled the tomato's gentle taste; he eventually turns to Pimm's No. 1 for its low proof, medium body and softly bitter citrus.
As he assembles the "Tomatina", Ryan sprays basil tincture (in the glass, Sazerac-style, and over the finished drink) to bring out the tomato's sweetness.
If you're still clinging to spring, though, squeeze in the last drink of strawberry season: Ryan's "Seco May" is an Everclear infusion of ripe Ponchatoula strawberries, blueberries, allspice, honey-ginger simple syrup, and it's still bottled behind the bar. Here, Ryan expertly manages bitter gentian root and orange peel, keeping them front and center in this plummy palate cleanser.
This batch of "Seco May" will be ready to drink next weekend, but when it's gone, you'll have to wait until local strawberries bloom again. Such are the fleeting seasons.
What's your favorite summer fruit, and how do you like to drink it? Let's talk on Facebook; you can also reach me on Twitter @AnneBerryWrites