Menu Focused Cocktails

Can you make a cocktail match any kind of cuisine?

The beer and wine folks have been duking it out for years over which works best as a food pairing beverage, and while I’m not much for multi-course cocktail and food matches, many of today’s customers expect at least the opportunity to see what a savvy mixologist will do with any menu.

So in Portland, on the cusp of their fifth anniversary, the owners of Kenny & Zuke’s opened Deli Bar, introducing new specialty cocktails created by Jamal Hassan, who runs the bar program at Ox, and Kenny & Zuke’s Robin Barnett. What’s a deli cocktail? How about a Manischewietz Daiquiri, made with dark rum, loganberry Manischeweitz and lime juice? I’m especially liking the sound of the NY Flip, made with Cognac, port, whole egg and chocolate – to a New Yorker, it sounds like an egg cream gone boozy. Then there’s the Cel-Ray Collins, made of course with the classic deli favorite Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, with gin and lemon. There are more traditional sounding cocktails, but then there’s the Jerky Mary – yes, a Bloody Mary garnished with a house-made pickle and pastrami jerky.

Regional Mexican restaurants are becoming more common here, especially Oaxacan style. Which means, if they are really authentic, more mezcal than usual. Now open in Chicago, with Mexican chef Manuel Bañuelos from Guadalajara, Mezcalina will serve around 70 mezcals, as well as 50 tequilas, in fresh fruit cocktails. Some mescals will be incorporated in dishes as well.

The Mexican connection with tequila or mezcal cocktails is long and strong, but Asian fare doesn’t often get beyond wine, beer and saké. In Boston, a recently opened Asian restaurant in the city’s Chinatown, Shojo, includes just that – drinks customized for the pan Asian menu. Cold Tea for Two is made from Oolong-infused vodka, peche de vigne, simple syrup and lemon, while the Lisboa Cocktail uses Earl Grey-infused gin, Lillet blanc, rose water and orange bitters. Gin and rum are prominent on the menu, fitting flavor matches for Asian dishes.

Milkshakes always get my attention – I once worked in a bar where ice cream drinks paid my salary, so I am both repelled and intrigued when I hear of a program that depends on ice cream. Maybe Red Robin has found a way to do it 21st century style – from now through Nov. 11 or so, they are offering the Samuel Adams Octoberfest Milkshake – made with soft serve ice cream, Samuel Adams Octoberfest draft, vanilla and caramel. “Nothing says Oktoberfest better than a beer, so I incorporated the fun spirit of Red Robin into this innovative milkshake,” said Donna Ruch, Red Robin’s mixologist with. “Now, our guests don’t have to choose between a beer or a shake to go with their burger.”

Since frozen is on the agenda, in Washington, DC, A BAR at Avenue Suites Hotel shows some interest in the icy drink. Now called cryo-spheres after some threatened litigation 86ed the previous idea, beverage manager Brennan Adams crafts the liquid nitrogen-frozen treats in flavors including orange rum creamsicle and dark chocolate tequila, little treats served in shot glasses. Adams also is playing with liquid nitrogen for his cryo-cocktails. For his Manhattan, for instance, Adams freezes the bourbon into an ice cube that is then added to a glass with vermouth and bitters. Shows that like other forms of drink- making, molecular mixology, not as popular these days with consumers or bartenders, can still elicit interest when done well.

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