For cocktail creativity, bartenders are turning to some old friends this summer: fire and ice.
A sampling of restaurants and bars all over the country shows that smoky and chilly cocktails have moved to the forefront. For example, Arbella, the Chicago cocktail lounge, offers the Chicago Fire Extinguisher, named after the Great Fire of 1871. Served in a globe-shaped bottle much like old-fashioned bottles once thrown into fires to control flames, the drink is made with Scotch, Luxardo Amaro Abano, and smoked Angostura Bitters, mixed in the glass globe and then pumped with smoke from wine barrel wood chips, creating a cloud inside the cork-topped bottle.
Then there’s the Scorpion Bowl at Pacific Seas at Clifton’s in Los Angeles. One of the Tiki bar’s hottest drinks, the large format, citrus-forward cocktail is set on fire with a dash of cinnamon. And in New York City, The Stinger Cocktail Bar & Kitchen is featuring the Smokin’ Sipper (created by Southern Glazer’s Nevada’s Francesco Lafranconi) in three sizes: Beehave (2 oz. for $9); Buzz (6 oz. for $18); and Sting (12 oz. for $28). Made with in-house smoked Woodford Reserve bourbon, orgeat syrup, rosemary-infused Noilly Pratt dry vermouth and Thai bitters, the drink is stirred, bottled and smoked with cherry wood, then served over a large cube of ice with fresh rosemary.
Not enough? I have one more smoky sensation (which is perhaps the most over the top) at Barton G. in Los Angeles, where nothing is too much. The Below the Belt for two ($46), created by cocktail creator and executive director of culinary development Jeff O’Neill, comes from the Below Zero Nitrogen Bar, where liquid nitrogen with a temperature of -320°F is the key element in creating cocktails. The Below the Belt is served in a miniature boxing ring and arrives at the table sealed. When the lid is removed, applewood smoke is released. The drink is made with gin or bourbon, apple cider, organic honey, citrus, rosemary, thyme, and orange zest.
Of course, all that fire needs some ice for balance, and the bartender’s bane, the frozen drink, seems to be making a comeback.
In New Orleans, where sno-ball stands do a brisk business as the hammer of heat and humidity comes down, frozen adult slushies are back. At the landmark Brennan’s, the bar team has shaved ice ready to go at happy hour for chocolate, ginger mint julep, blackberry tea and other flavors. Meanwhile, at Loa Bar at International House Hotel, a monthly rotating Granita cocktail from bar director Alan Walter kicked off with fresh Charentais melon in June, white peach and yellow watermelon for July, and plums for August. The drinks are made with housemade condensed “milk-fraîche” poured with herb and lemongrass tea over ice and rhum agricole.
Summer in NYC doesn’t reach NOLA levels of sticky, but frozen drinks are still a welocme refresher. At Añejo in Hell’s Kitchen, the Frozen Lemon Thyme Margarita created by bartender Louis Fata is made with Herradura Silver, St-Germain, lemon thyme syrup and lime juice. The Lushy Machine, whipped up by TJ Lynch who owns Mother’s Ruin, incorporates Four Pillars Gin, fresh lemon juice, red wine syrup and strawberries into the ice machine, garnished with Angostura Bitters and mint. (Lynch makes the red wine syrup by simmering 2 cups red wine with 1 cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 clove and 3 cardamom pods for 15-20 minutes.)
“The Lushy Machine is fruity yet still refreshing. A lot of times people make frozen drinks too heavy, so this is an easy example of how to keep it light,” says Lynch.
Finally, yet another wine-inspired summer slushie – the 6100 Frosé at The Chester in the infamous Meatpacking District, made with VDKA6100, rosé, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, simple syrup and peach schnapps. The drink is blended until smooth and served in a wine glass garnished with rose petals.