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DRINKING FROM HOUSE-MADE INGREDIENTS TO ORGANIC BOOZE, YOUR COCKTAIL, ELEVATED. BY ROBERT HAYNES-PETERSON s little as 15 years ago, even the top bars in the country relied on ingredients like store-bought sour mix, nuclearred maraschino cherries, and a variety of other chemicallaced mixers in their cocktails. Then about a decade ago, the rise of the “craft” cocktail speakeasy began. Now even your corner bartender is incorporating fresh ingredients, infusing his own simple syrup with rare vanilla bean, or adding cedar smoke to her whiskey. The elevation of the humble cocktail to a culinary work of art (and science) involves many steps: research and development, interaction with chefs, and a constant desire on the part of the bartender to explore local greenmarkets, ethnic specialty stores and century-old bar books for inspiration. “Not everything at the bar is what you can get in a store,” says Craig Ventrice, the bar manager at Kawa Ni, a Westport, Connecticut-based restaurant inspired by Japanese pubs. “There are house-made syrups and tinctures we do in the back, with ingredients Chef is using at the moment. It’s a process: it often takes a few failures to get a drink to work.” On the menu, you’ll find elements like mint-infused Campari, ginger-infused Fernet or smoked almond syrup. Even the casual Sake Bombs feature unlikely ingredients like Yuzu (an Asian citrus) or Thai chili syrup. Customizing and creativity in ingredients can approach “mad scientist” levels: At both 69 Colebrook Road in London and Booker + Dax in Manhattan, bartenders employ lab tools like rotovaps, centrifuges and high-tech heat pokers to clarify, re-distill or otherwise


manipulate ingredients. At SushiSamba London and New York, bartender Richard Woods has revitalized the Sex and the City-era drinks menu into a range of eye-catching (and delicious) “Culinary Cocktails” for the Instagram generation. Garnishes include whole peppers and Wagyu beef, while drinks are enhanced with ingredients like avocado puree and barely legal spices. “My role has always been creative,” says Woods, who gained fame as London’s “most imaginative bartender” at the bar/restaurant Duck and Waffle. “I worked with chefs at both Duck and Waffle and SushiSamba, so there is definitely a culinary element.” His delicious Tom Yam cocktail (cilantro vodka, pureed cilantro, serrano pepper, ginger and lemon, sashimi garnish), for example, is a riff on a classic Thai soup. Keeping up with the times, he recently added cold brew coffee cocktails and complex mocktails to the menu. Being creative isn’t enough anymore. A new wave of “conscientious cocktails”—featuring organic or sustainably produced spirits, locally procured ingredients or ecofriendly techniques—is spreading across the globe. In Chicago, Nandini Khaund of Cindy’s Rooftop has created the Howl at the Jun cocktail incorporating locally produced kombucha (a fermented honey tea). The cuisine at Lazy Bear in San Francisco is driven by seasonal produce from local growers, and bar manager Nicolas Torres reflects this in his drinks: a majority of the modifiers are made in-house, including black lime bitters, aquavit and a car acara shrub. Sourcing other ingredients is “all about relationships,” says Torres. “We want our suppliers to care about their craft as much as we do.”

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