Autumn Bringings Brown Spirits

Autumn’s moving in fast, though bar menus are hanging onto the last images of summer drinking. Seasonality and drinking, in fact, rarely go by the actual calendar, more these days by the harvest. So while we still see plenty of summery drinks, soon there will be more apples, ciders, even roasted squash and pumpkin, making their appearances on menus.

Meanwhile, there are hints of a brown spirits autumn. New York just got a new whiskey temple, The Flatiron Room, boasting 500 or more of them. And following his recent return to Chicago’s Henri as spirits director/mixologist, Clint Rogers has initiated a Spirited Dinner Series employing the skills of other Chicago barfolk.

Co-hosted by Wirtz Beverage Illinois’s beverage development manager Eric Hay, and Thomas Mooneyham, who oversees the bar program at The Gage, each dinner is dedicated to one genre of spirit, and for each, bar teams must craft five cocktails featuring the chosen spirit around which the Henri kitchen will build their menu. Whiskey’s first, followed by rum, Cognac and gin in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the afore-mentioned Mooneyham of The Gage has rolled out a new fall cocktail menu. In the mix - Fall Old Fashioned (Rittenhouse Rye, bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, cherry-orange water); The Orange Line (Bacardi Oakheart, Clement Creole Shrubb, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram), based on the classic Sidecar; and the Brooklyn Bridge (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Punt E Mes, Pernod, Cherry Heering, cinnamon). All very savory and autumnal sounding, all brown spirits based.

It’s always an interesting pleasure to find beverage menus that are coherent with the food – otherwise, the default beverage at most ethnic restaurants is beer and sometimes wine. That’s what’s interesting about the ingredients flecked through the menu at Portland’s Biwa - palm sugar in the Nikka Sour, plum wine in the Ginza, salt plum in the Yoyogi, all point to a smart adherence to culinary concept. Then there’s the Gin & Tonic (version 2) made with Tanqueray, Bonal, Tom’s shiso bitters, soda and lime, and a Vesper twist called the flcl, made with Hakutake Shiro soju, gin, lemon bitters and verbena.

Above all, though, is Biwa’s soju/sochu/shochu program – 13 “Chuhais,” or soju highballs, including the Melon-hai (soju, watermelon syrup, Fernet Branca and soda), Genmai-hai (soju, toasted rice, vanilla and soda) and Mugi-hai (soju, iced barley tea and milk). Lightly alcoholic, creative and promising refreshment – more bars could take this concept on.

Among other new menus, that of Grafton Street in Cambridge, Mass., deserves mention, if only for employing orange cream citrate, something the Bitterman’s folks who make one call their “anti-bitters.” Here, it’s used in the Orange Blossom (orange vodka, Cointreau, orange cream citrate and blood orange puree) and the Esquire Spritz (Lillet Blanc, Xante Pear, orange cream citrate and sparkling wine). Bartender Diana Morell also brings in those autumnal brown spirits notes backed with flavored simple syrups – pear syrup in the Bartlett Buck with bourbon, maraschino and ginger ale, and maple simple in the Legacy of Augustus (Bulleit Rye, house-made ginger liqueur, Peychaud’s Bitters, maple simple syrup).

Back in Chicago, the new restaurant Embeya, with a beverage program spearheaded by Danielle Pizzutillo and Griffin Lawler, tries to match the cuisine and space, “carrying over techniques and flavors from the kitchen,” they say. How so? Based on a “bite and sip” philosophy, cocktails showcase such ingredients as jackfruit (the Jackfruit Cultivar is made with cachaça, allspice, jackfruit cordial and lemon and Our Thai, made with rum, grenadine, orgeat, dehydrated pineapple and cherry dust.

Loads of brown spirits, and interesting ingredients that may or may not make a larger impact as time goes on – those are the lessons from the current crop of interesting beverage menus.

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