Drinking in the Season
Jeffery Lindenmuth / July 2007
An advance viewing of autumnal bar programs revels classical revivals, warmth from spice as well as temperature, market freshness, and an assortment of popular flavors in newly bottled form.
With the fall harvest of flavors just around the corner, bartenders will soon be folding away their tiny drink umbrellas, just as beach denizens do with their full-sized ones, as summer refreshers like Mojitos and Gin Fizzes and frozen Daiquiris give way to robust seasonal flavors and a windfall of new products.
At The Pluckemin Inn, in Bedminster, New Jersey, Tad Carducci, bartender and beverage manager, changes his cocktail list quarterly, arriving at about 10 classic and 10 original drinks for each coming season. For fall, he's fond of classics using authentic cherry-based Maraschino, the at-once fruity, earthy, and nutty clear liqueur that is a staple of Prohibition-era favorites like the Aviation cocktail and the Hemingway Daiquiri. Also a reappearance will be the Blood and Sand, a cocktail in need of a focus group name change if ever there was one. This combination of cherry Heering, orange juice, sweet vermouth, and Scotch has gained a following at the Pluckemin. "It's a hand-sell, because of the name and the odd combination, but I get the staff turned on, and they're getting people to taste it," says Carducci.
Carducci will also be focusing on apple flavors, but there are no glowing green sour apple Martinis to be found here. "When I think fall I think about the smell of leaves and apple cider. In this area of the country, I'm able to move away from liqueurs to handmade ciders and a myriad of apple flavors. It's about highlighting more specific apple types, whether I work with Fuji or Macoun or Honey Crisp," he explains. The Smashing Pumpkin, a combination of house-made spiced pumpkin puree, simple syrup, Haitian Barbancourt Reserve rum, and Fee Brothers' Falernum served up in a glass rimmed with toasted pepitas, will also make a return.
And with Margaritas on hiatus until the heat returns, Mexican flavors will take a bold turn in Carducci's cocktails. "I like to think of the mole, earthy side and flavors that lend themselves naturally to a fall menu. I think spice in all forms, including all those hot and smoky peppers with their Scoville units, will be the buzzword," he says.
At Sushi Samba, the Latin/Asian fusion restaurant with locations in New York City, Chicago, and now Dallas, Paul Tanguay, corporate beverage director, finds plenty of inspiration while working within the company's palette of ingredients: "There's a challenge in that I'm stuck with this Latin/Asian theme, but that forces me to delve deeper. In addition to açai, I'll be working with unusual Brazilian fruits like cupuaco and infusions of Asian herbs like shiso."
Tanguay is especially fond of infusing these ingredients in Shochu, which he says health-conscious patrons enjoy for its vodka-like neutrality with lower alcohol, usually around 50 proof. September also debuts the Cocktail Revival Menu, where for one month customer favorites and greatest hits from Tanguay's seven year tenure make encore appearances. "We still have people who ask for cocktails that we no longer serve," he says, "so once a year we bring back special ingredients to make them again."
According to Drew Levinson, master mixologist at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, many of the coming fall cocktail flavors already have a firm footing, but the luxuriousness and quality of the ingredients will raise the bar as never before. "Of course chocolate and coffee will continue to be popular, but look for higher quality, darker chocolate and richer coffee flavors to be used. Consumers are more willing than ever to trade up to higher quality products at increased prices. Look for future co-branding of spirits producers and specialty sectors to fill this need and for bartenders and mixologists to use the highest quality chocolates and coffees directly in their cocktails," says Levinson.
He also says flavored spirits will continue to dominate. And there's no doubt the battery of attention-grabbing flavors continues to grow, with many of the bar chef's favorites now available in convenient bottled form, including PAMA Pomegranate liqueur, DeKuyper papaya schnapps, Van Gogh açai/blueberry vodka, and the aromatic and captivating St. Germain elderflower liqueur.
Ray Pirkle, managing partner and beverage director at Stand, Jonathan Morr's casual burger joint in Manhattan, oversees a drinks program that excels in beer, cocktails, and sodas, despite the bistro-like brevity of the list. Pirkle has created a category called "refreshments," which includes tantalizing nonalcoholic drinks like homemade ginger ale, fresh pineapple/lime soda, and a spicy orange/carrot flip. "These drinks have done really well. People are even buying them to go. I think right now everyone is in the same mindset in that we're interested in flavors that are natural and homegrown. With the refreshments, I hold back the sugar and keep the drinks simple without being boring. Basically, I use a fruit, an herb, and a seltzer," says Pirkle.
For fall he's determined to craft his own cola, a task that's proving as challenging as cracking the Coca-Cola formula. His most-wanted fruit list for fall includes persimmon and star fruit, "a very delicate challenging flavor," as well as fresh cranberries. New for fall is the Upstate, a warm drink of apple and house-made spiced cranberry compote. "There's nothing more beautiful than a steaming cauldron of a drink. But I want to stay away from the disappointment that usually follows a cinnamon stick and make this taste as good as it looks," he says.
On the West Coast, where winter spells citrus, the trendy downtown San Francisco speakeasy Bourbon & Branch, which opened in late 2006, will seize upon the season for the first time. "Since opening, we've added a new page called Market Cocktails, where we go to market and use whatever's in," says bar director Todd Smith. "I got the idea from Hatfield's in L.A., where Karen and Quinn Hatfield do a menu around what's in season at the market. I'm lucky because I have lots of friends who are chefs. I buy their cookbooks and read everything they come out with to see what flavor combinations they're using. Bartenders and pastry chefs are like best friends."
Smith says a flat of kumquats, pears, citrus, pomegranates, and especially blood oranges could inspire the drink special on any given day. And although it never gets truly cold in San Francisco, he's looking forward to adding an occasional hot drink in solidarity with the shivering Northeast: "I have a cocktail of Bourbon, organic apple cider, and cinnamon/ginger simple syrup, and I plan to offer a warm version of that in the winter."