Absolut's opening masquerade party at Arnaud's set the tone for a week, when we met cocktails in fresh and sometimes startling ways:
Triple Chris. Also at the Absolut party: the brand's Chris Patino, slinging drinks with local legends Chris Hannah and Chris McMillian, and all wearing the French 75 barman's white jacket, glasses, and clean-shaven head.
That night I toured an indoor jungle and punch-flowing fountains, sipping on what looked like a French 75 but was really an herbal shake of vodka, absinthe and lemon juice, sweetened with mint simple syrup and topped with Champagne.
Cane and able. A bare week after opening as an island-style tavern, Nick Detrich and his Cane & Table team held their first Spirited Dinner. Steel drums rang in the restyled Caribbean courtyard as executive chef Adam Biderman served a whole roasted hog, papaya slaw, coconut rice and fried okra.
The spirits side, sponsored by Angostura, included their 1919 aged rum shaken with coffee syrup and coconut milk, and cut with lime juice. I was also partial to a drink that beautifully matched Angostura's rich, seven-year rum with supple, raisin-flavored sherry (see recipe below), echoing the wine-threaded rum drinks on Cane & Table's regular drinks list.
Buzzless. Whether catering to designated drivers or moms-to-be, more lists these days are featuring non-alcoholic drinks. To simulate base spirits' texture, heat and "numbing vapors", trained scientist Darcy O'Neil advises using essential oils, hot spices, carbonation, and phosphoric/citric/malic/tartaric acids. You can also use bitters to add boozy notes, but keep it below 1% ABV to make it a legally non-alcoholic sipper.
On the savory side. While Darcy also recommends using salt to boost your non-boozy drink (try a mineral water-based simple syrup), I also noticed other savory notes at Tales: Absolut's new cilantro vodka; Nathan Burdette's muddle of kumquats, hot sauce and salt (paired with beer and Disaronno, it won him that brand's Mixing Star contest); and a refreshing red cabbage cocktail at the VeeV market stand.
Spice world. Somehow I ended up meeting the Boy Drinks World blogger, a budding entrepreneur who gave me a bootleg bottle of his not-yet-retail Serrano Cocktail Spice (a tincture, really, in that Boy infuses a neutral spirit only with peppers, locally sourced). I immediately liked its bell pepper, dewy scent.
Later poolside, I floated the serrano spice by the dropperful into a glass of summer ale, giving it an earthy complexity (he also likes it with Mexican-style beer, or in Bloody Marys).
The simple exchange is what Tales is all about: chance meetings, business dreams, and always the opportunity to make a better drink.
Second act. My second great absinthe cocktail of these Tales was the Maid in Cuba, a daiquiri-mojito hybrid that adds an absinthe rinse to the familiar rum-lime-sugar-mint, sharpening and sophisticating the flavors.
While this drink came well after Harry Craddock, he gets credit for keeping absinthe alive during its nearly worldwide ban. In his 1930 cocktail book, he featured absinthe (paired mostly with gin) in a stunning 108 recipes, and kept absinthe distillers in business by stocking it at his bar at the Savoy Hotel.
Today's ultimate absinthe cocktail? A $5,000 Sazerac at the Savoy, made with Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils 1957 (the drink's original brand of Cognac), a 1950s Pernod Absinthe, and dashes from an early-1900s bottle of Peychaud's bitters.
American bartenders in Cuba. American visitors to Cuba swelled from 33,000 in 1914 to 90,000 in 1928, moved mostly by Prohibition and the near-takeover of Havana by American bar owners, restaurateurs and hoteliers. The most shocking thing I learned in this seminar? That many of those visitors came to Havana by way of open-air planes, seats flapping in the wind.
Look up...that tree is more than the sum of its bark (which produces bitters, quinine for tonic water, cinnamon), leaves and needles (bay leaves, sassafras, juniper berries, fir tips for gin), and resins (spruce for beer, bottled birch sap). Author Amy Stewart led us on a fascinating tour of trees and spirits, with a near-perfect integration of a sponsor (St. George's portfolio uses many of these ingredients in its line of gins). Want more? Buy Amy's "Drunken Botanist", a trippy read through the forest, jungle and field.
Ultraglide in Black
By Allan Katz, courtesy of Cane & Table
1.5 oz. Angostura 7 Year
0.5 oz Benedictine
.25 oz. PX Sherry
0.5 oz. maple syrup
1 oz. lemon juice
Blend together with 1 oz. crushed ice, and serve in a lowball glass. Serves 1
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