If that saying, “We drink with our eyes first,” holds true, then these cocktails are an ocular delight. Bartenders get creative, using tin cans, chemistry equipment, and even light bulbs for libations that wow before guests even take a sip.
Honey Bear Bottle – Bearnaise at Hank’s Cocktail Bar
Head bartender Jessica Weinstein had been sweet for a while on the idea of serving a cocktail in an empty honey bottle. Her new section of the cocktail menu, called “Food Production 101,” was inspired by traditional flavor profiles found in the kitchen, her experience working with chefs, and a favorite course in college. One of the offerings from this section combines vodka with tarragon, honey, Greek yogurt and bitters. “With its creaminess coming from the Greek yogurt, the Bearnaise pulls inspiration from the traditional sauce, which is a derivative of the mother-sauce Hollandaise,” she explains. “The honey component makes the honey-bear squeeze bottle the perfect vehicle for the drink.” Guests have been licking it up.
- 1 oz. Absolut Elyx
- 1 oz. Tarragon honey (see Note)
- 0.5 oz. Orange juice
- Barspoon demerara sugar
- Dollop Greek yogurt
- Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
- Tarragon sprig, for garnish
Add first four ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Add the yogurt just before serving (to avoid natural separation with the vodka). Strain into the honey bear bottle, top with crushed ice and bitters, and garnish with the tarragon sprig.
For the tarragon honey:
Blanche 3 ounces of tarragon and steep for 20 minutes in 1 cup wildflower honey and 1 cup hot water. Strain out solids.
Light Bulb Glass – Lychee at ROKC
Whenever owner and beverage director Shige Kabashima is at home in Japan, he combs stores and art galleries for cool finds that would make for eclectic serveware. He thought this light bulb glass (nestled in a goblet since it’s not flat on the bottom) would make a beautiful presentation for his Lychee, with infused vodka, housemade lychee juice, lime and Calpico, an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink. “People are always surprised but delighted,” he says. “The drink definitely elicits a lot of stares from other guests who didn’t order it too!”
- 1.5 oz. ginger- and cardamom-infused vodka
- 2 oz. lychee juice
- 0.25 oz. Calpico
- ⅓ oz. fresh lime juice
- 2 pieces fresh lychee, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into the light bulb glass and garnish with the fresh lychee.
For the ginger- and cardamom-infused vodka:
Combine 1 750ml bottle of vodka with a 2-inch piece of peeled, sliced ginger and 5 crushed cardamom pods in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool dark place for several days – shaking twice per day – until desired flavor is achieved. Strain out solids.
Tin Can – Gator Wrestling and Paddle-Backs at Dram & Grain
When you’ve whipped up a cocktail whose main ingredient is Green Chartreuse infused with butter-seared alligator, you can’t just pour it into a rocks glass. “The cocktail itself is supposed to be weird and fun, so why not make the vessel it's served in just as weird and out there,” asks co-head bartender Andy Bixby. (The drink was inspired by a Chartreuse-sponsored airboat ride Bixby went on last summer at Tales of the Cocktail, which culminated in the boat captain wrestling alligators in the water while the passengers sipped Green Chartreuse off a boat oar – hence the green plastic alligator garnish.)
- 1.25 oz. Cajun Gator Chartreuse Verte (see Note)
- 1.25 oz. Sweetened pineapple juice (3:1 ratio of pineapple juice to simple syrup)
- 0.5 oz. Tamarind juice
- 0.5 oz. Lime juice
- 0.25 oz. Don Ciccio & Figli Carciofo
- Plastic alligator and pineapple fronds, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a tin can over crushed ice, and garnish with the plastic alligator and pineapple fronds.
For the Cajun Gator Chartreuse Verte:
Sear 2 oz. alligator meat on medium high heat on all sides with 4 oz. of ghee. Once the meat has been browned, strain off the butter and combine it with 6 oz. Green Chartreuse in a blender, and blend on low to fully incorporate the fats. Transfer the liquid to a glass Mason jar and let it set in the freezer overnight. Run it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the butter solids, and blend the fat-washed Chartreuse with the remaining amount in the bottle (19 oz). Seal it in a vacuum bag with cayenne pepper, paprika and a little bit of garlic to taste, and sous vide it at 150 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. Strain it through a fine mesh coffee filter to remove the spices.
Gas Bubbler – Absinthe Bubbler at The Chemist
This bar in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is known for its fun and funky riffs on classic techniques. “This bubbler performs the same absinthe magic as older methods, but in a young and fresh presentation,” explains head bartender Lucky Jollye. Absinthe is poured into the bottom chamber of the bubbler, a sugar cube is tucked into the thin neck between the upper and lower chambers, and ice cubes go into the top chamber. When cold water is poured over the ice and mixing with the absinthe’s essential oils, it gets cloudy, or “louches.” “When we set the bubbler in front of them there is a big wow factor, the cameras come out, and we are all over Instagram.”
- 1.5 oz. Absinthe (you can substitute Pernod, but the drink will have a greenish-yellow color.)
- Sugar cube
- Ice water
Pour absinthe in the bottom chamber of a gas bubbler. Add a sugar cube to the thin neck between the upper and lower chambers, and add ice cubes to the top chamber. Pour ice water over the ice cubes until the vessel is full.
Art Deco Vase – Praying Osmanthus at Dirty Habit
While the traditional punch bowl no doubt has its place, head bartender Sarah Ruiz wanted something new and fresh for her sherry and shochu punch. “We opted for a more modern and angular vessel...perfect to put large, colorful bendy straws in and share as a communal cocktail,” she explains. “There are definitely some utterances of ‘what’s that drink?’ as we walk the Praying Osmanthus over to tables.”
- 9 oz. Osmanthus-infused fino sherry
- 3 oz. Shochu
- 3 oz. Orgeat
- 3 oz. Lemon juice
- 3 oz. Apricot liqueur
- 10 dashes Orange bitters
- Candied apricot, mint bush and powdered sugar, for garnish
Combine all ingredients except garnish in the vase and fill with pebble ice. Garnish with candied apricot, mint bush and powdered sugar, and serve with colored bendy straws.
Giant Flask – Hooch Punch at SoBou
Bar chef Laura Bellucci’s Hooch Punch varies depending on the season and available ingredients, but it’s always served in an oversized flask (the Big Hooch serves six to eight guests, while the Lil’ Hooch is perfect for two to four). Recently, SoBou started giving thirsty imbibers the option to purchase the flask and take it to go to enjoy at all the outdoor festivals and concerts in New Orleans (or even lunching in Louis Armstrong park, she says). “They feel quirky yet sophisticated, modern yet old fashioned, all at once, like a speakeasy from another dimension,” Bellucci points out. “Flasks never go out of style, especially in a city where taking a drink with you is the norm.” This version, dubbed Endless Aloha, is tropical and tiki-like.
- 20 drops Peach bitters, or to taste
- 20 drops Angostura bitters
- 24 oz. Orgeat
- 30 oz. Lemon juice
- 90 oz. Cold brew jasmine tea
- 24 oz. Mango puree
- 64 oz. Pineapple- and ginger-infused rum
Chill all ingredients, adding water to account for dilution, if desired. Pour into large flask and serve in glass tea cups or plastic cups.
Custom-Made Porcelain Tumbler – Bon Vivant at Travelle Kitchen + Bar
Only thirty of these white tumblers – designed by Martin Kastner from Crucial Detail in collaboration with Bryan Gentile from Moët Hennessy – were made, and only two bars have them. They are used at Travelle for a cocktail made to represent a charcuterie platter, with brown butter-infused Cognac, Nobo Whole Fruit Tea, and cheese. “Guests give us great feedback and fall in love with the vessel,” says beverage manager Tomas van den Boomgaard.
- 2 oz. fat-washed Hennessy VSOP Cognac (see Note)
- 0.5 oz. Honey syrup (equal parts honey and warm water, stirred to combine)
- 0.25 oz. Tobacco syrup
- 2 oz. Nobo Whole Fruit Tea
- Drunken goat cheese
Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into the tumbler, and serve with the tea and the goat cheese.
For the fat-washed Hennessy Cognac:
Melt a pound of butter and cook it until it becomes brown. Mix this with 1 liter Hennessy VSOP and the following spices (to taste): cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and allspice berries. Let it set in the refrigerator for a day, then strain out solids.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer,and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.