I'm always on the lookout for a great cocktail, and these days, a great restaurant very often requires a great mixologist at the bar...not someone who can simply whip up a Cosmo, but someone who puts as much creativity in his drinks as the chef does in their dishes.
Over the years, I've created a list of cocktail recipes that bartenders have been willing to share with me, scribbled on business cards and bar napkins. Here are some from my travels...
The classic negroni is made with gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. I love negronis, and this cocktail is inspired by them. It comes from chef Tony Maws' restaurant Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (www.craigieonmain.com) It's been a decade since we dined there but the drink remains a favorite of mine. When our server communicated to the bartender that I was willing to be his guinea pig for creative cocktails, I was served this one--so new at the time, they didn't have a name for it. I took a sip and exclaimed: "Holy S*#t!" and the server laughed and said: "That's as good a name as any!"
I still call it the...
"HOLY S*#T!" COCKTAIL
1 1/2 oz. Bols Genever
1 oz. Gran Classico
1/2 oz. Punt e Mes
Add some ice to a cocktail shaker, and add the ingredients. Stir well. Strain into a rocks glass with one large ice cube.
Bols Genever is a Dutch spirit, the ancestor of gin, created from lightly distilled Dutch grains and a complex botanical mix. It is made according to the original 1820 Lucas Bols recipe which stood at the basis of the cocktail revolution in 19th century America.
Gran Classico is an alcoholic aperitif/digestif created following a recipe dating from the 1860s. It's made by soaking a mixture of 25 aromatic herbs and roots in an alcohol/water solution to extract their flavors and aromas. The maceration creates a natural golden-amber color, although many other producers, like Campari and Cynar, dye their product red.
Punt e Mes is a pleasantly bitter, slightly sweet red vermouth, the "baby brother" of Carpano Formula Antica. The formula was developed in 1870 in Antonino Carpano's bar in Piedmont, and the distinctive 15-herb recipe is still a family secret.
Cleveland, Ohio gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to food. But they've got some insanely good restaurants there, including Lola, the flagship restaurant of Food Network Iron Chef Michael Symon.
Right next door to Lola is the home of another chef that has been on many Food Network competitions over the years: Jonathon Sawyer. I sampled another negroni-inspired cocktail there, dining at The Greenhouse Tavern. (www.thegreenhousetavern.com) Crazy creative food, and this mind-blowing drink that inspired me to buy a small oak barrel and start cask-aging everything I could get my hands on at home. The OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, a key part of this cocktail, is not available here in Rhode Island. And my online source will no longer ship it! (www.thepartysource.com/oyo-stone-fruit-vodka) Store pick-up only.
OYO STONE FRUIT "NEGROSKI"
1 oz. OYO Stone Fruit Vodka
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
If you're doing it The Greenhouse Tavern way, combine large quantities of these ingredients in the right proportions and pour them into an oak cask, then let it age! Experience tells you that newer and smaller casks will mellow flavors faster than larger, older ones. But it's all about experimentation. Having a taste every once in a while is must, because you don't want to over-age it, either.
If you don't have an oak cask lying around at home, it's still delicious without it...
Combine all the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir gently, adding a splash of soda, and garnish with an orange peel.
OYO Stone Fruit Vodka gets its wonderful flavors from stone fruits: cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds. Terrific on its own, but amazing in this recipe.
Campari is a world-famous aperitif and bitters, and a must in any decent home bar.
Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is a sweet vermouth, made in Italy from the Moscato grape.