Summer Cocktail Innovations

Judging by the slew of new restaurant and bar opening announcements that have come our way recently, it looks like 2012 will definitely be remembered as the summer of the draft cocktail – or maybe it’s the draft + bottled cocktail year. Or draft chilled spirits? Or maybe, finally, the frozen cocktail? Who knows? Anyway, we’ll see soon enough which fad customers turn into a keeper but for now let’s take a look at what’s stirring up some excitement.

How widespread is the fast-service inspired draft cocktail gimmick? Last week, the New York State Liquor Authority took notice and stopped the free-flowing taps at the best known practitioner in Manhattan, Gin Palace. As Robert Simonson reported in the NY Times, the Authority turned off the taps, declaring them illegal, according to the bar’s owner, Ravi DeRossi. He said the Authority rep who ordered the closure did so because Gin Palace was the most popular of 30 or so bars that featured the concept. Elsewhere in NYC, draft cocktails have become established in plenty of places - at Saxon and Parole, the draft Manhattan has become a hit.

Along with draft cocktails, bar owners are increasingly seeing fit to chill and tap serve straight spirits. At San Francisco’s just opened Lightning Tavern, Bulleit bourbon and Fernet Branca are chilled and draft served. They are featured on the menu as part of the “Double Fistin’” specialties - Dale's Pale and Bulleit, for instance. Here, also, are four cocktails available by the pitcher, including a Top Shelf Strong Island. Other drinks – The Hollow, made with Hangar one vodka, Carpano Bianco, grapefruit bitters and soda, and the El Guapo, made with Cuervo Reposado tequila, fresh grapefruit, St–Germain and agave nectar – also seem designed for summer quaffing.

As for bottling the drinks Chef Jose Garces’ of Garces Trading Company in Philadelphia launched beverage manager Brandon Thomas’s “hand-bottled carbonated cocktails” this month. Three seasonally-changing varieties are mixed and then bottled with carbonation. Opened, poured and garnished to order, the three current offerings are:

  • Americano (Campari and sweet vermouth with orange oil, garnished with orange peel)
  • Avenue 1111 (Tanqueray gin with house-made lime cordial, ginger beer and mint leaves, garnished with fresh mint)
  • Pepino Fresco, a version of the drink Garces’ prepared during his Tortillas and Tequila battle on “Iron Chef America,” made with Cuervo Gold and St–Germain, celery juice, cucumber juice and lemon juice, garnished with cucumber wheels

The carbonation connection is another theme that runs through this summer’s drinks. At Lantern's Keep in NYC’s Iroquois Hotel’s, sparkling Negronis and Americanos get their due now.

One area of cocktail creativity that seems to thrive in the summer, at least in the North and East, are culinary cocktails. As the bounty floods in, bartenders find new inspiration in the day’s haul. At Brooklyn’s recently opened Governor, the cocktails bar and kitchen are fairly close; drinks include:

  • Cool Hand Cuke (Crop Organic Cucumber vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh cucumber juice, mint syrup and lime)
  • Green Apple Whiskey Sour (Templeton rye, fresh green apple juice, lemon, egg white, baked apple bitters and cinnamon)
  • Strawberries & Cream (Bombay East gin, kirsch, fresh strawberry juice, house vanilla syrup, lemon and egg white).

Then there are those places still entering their summer cocktail menus. At Black Jack in Washington DC, a new collection of summer cocktails created by the mixology brothers Ari and Micah Wilder has debuted, ten original handcrafted drinks including two frozen cocktails. Newcomers on the menu include:

  • Sassafras (Bowmore Single Malt Scotch, Clear Creek Kirschwasser, black birch gomme, smoked cherry ice)
  • El Dorado (Tanteo Jalapeno tequila, Vida mezcal, habanero, lemon, pineapple, and orange bitters)
  • Bramble & Thorn (rooibos tea-infused corn whiskey, Leopold Brothers Blackberry liqueur, mint, lemon, and the Wilder Bros Blackberry Soda).

The two frozen cocktails (otherwise known as the bartender’s bane) are the Cobbler (rye whiskey, Rothman Apricot Liqueur, peach, mint and honey) and the Velvet Hour (rum, Velvet Falernum, Averna Amaro, mango, ginger and a float of Goslings rum).

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