As the speed of life picks up and everyone wants everything now, but bars across the country are slowing things down. They’re serving drinks that are months in the making, creating beverages that are an exquisite blend of flavors.
A favorite drink at the bar at Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County, N.J., is the Whiskey Peddler, which takes about two and a half months to come to fruition.
Mixologist Stephen Thomas starts with Orange County Distillery Bourbon (which comes from about 15 miles away) and a pluot (for those not in the know this is a hybrid of a plum and an apricot). He immerses eight pluots into the whiskey and seals it with a Cryovac machine, then leaves it for a month in the sun, in the pantry.
“When you create a vacuum and take away the presence of oxygen you increase the boiling point of a liquid, so you’re almost boiling the bourbon at room temperature,” he says.
After a month he removes the pluots and seals them, using the Cryovac machine, in a separate bag, and places them in the refrigerator. Then he infuses mint into the bourbon and again seals it and leaves it for another month.
Once this process is completed, Thomas pours the frozen bourbon into 16 pre-portioned Cryovac bags, and adds a half pluot to each one (the mint remains in). “It can stay there indefinitely and just infuses more,” says Thomas. “It’s like aging wine.”
When a customer orders a Whiskey Peddler, the bag is cut open and the liquid—which has the consistency of a slushie—is squeezed into a small pitcher. The server places the pluot into a small stainless steel dish and, tableside, pours liquid nitrogen over it so it freezes instantaneously. The server pours the bourbon into a double rocks glass and drops in the pluot, which is effectively the ice cube.
For the final piece of this tableside theater, a server brings over a small plate with a knife and fork so customers can eat their pluot once they’ve consumed the drink.
The bar serves the Whiskey Peddler year-round, but can only make the drink when it’s able to get pluots in house, late summer and early fall. Each drink costs $18.
Nickel & Rye pub in Dallas, Texas, makes its own bitters.
“Bitters essentially are made up of a blend of barrel-aged tinctures—a tincture is an intense infusion that takes two to four weeks to make,” says general manager and bartender Mike Hamilton. “One of the tinctures is traditionally a 'bittering agent', such as wormwood, gentian or quassia, and the goal when making your own bitters is to blend these extremely potent flavors at your own discretion so one to three drops in a cocktail transforms its entire character."
There are two methods of making the tinctures, Hamilton says. You can throw your liquor(s) and the products you’re infusing in all together “hoping they infuse at the same rate, which we all know isn’t going to happen,” he says. Or you can make several different tinctures and treat each one individually.
Hamilton has opted for the latter and recently infused:
- Lemon peel
- Orange peel
- Lime peel
- Fennel seed
- Cocoa nibs
- Cinnamon stick
- Whole cracked nutmeg
- Black pepper
- Star anise
- Coffee beans
- Black cherry
- Whole cardamom pods
“We tested each individual infusion about every three days after the first seven, so we could remove the infusing items when it reached desired potency,” Hamilton says. “In the case of the fruit peels and the black cherries, we removed them after they were opaque and replaced them with more, so the tincture could become stronger.”
Generally, he says, the ingredients that infused faster were those with stronger flavors and with a high oil content. Clove, whole cracked nutmeg and cinnamon were all done within five to seven days, while cocoa nibs and lemon peel took just over two weeks.
After about four weeks, he had each one at its desired potency. The next step was taking a wooden barrel and filling it with Syrah for a couple of days, so the oak could take on the jammy red fruit flavors and the tannins from the wine, he says. “We were looking for the tannins from the wine to dry it out but we do get that from the wormwood too. You want to really dry it out; you don’t want any sweetness in bitters.”
Next came the tasting. Hamilton took two ounces of each tincture and mixed them together and tasted the result.
“We then added an additional quarter ounce of everything except clove which was the strongest, so then it was balanced out, then we added a bit more orange. That process was a little tedious. We kept adding to it and had our ratio and then made up about two cups of bitters in the barrel. Since you only use a tiny bit, we could get about 40 drinks out of that.”
Once the bitters were completed (they are kept in old bitters bottles or tiny jars with eye droppers) the barrel has additional uses since it’s now infused with the flavor of the bitters. The most recent beverage Hamilton’s made in it is a Mole Old Fashioned with knob creek rye, crème de cocoa, cinnamon and Ancho Reyes (ancho chili liquor).
“You get chocolate, chili and cinnamon, the foundation of a good mole, and the rye whiskey. And it’s still picking up in the barrel a little bit of red wine from the Syrah, some of the oak, and some of the characteristics of the bitters—the barrel is doing it for us so we don’t add any additional bitters,” Hamilton explains
He’ll age that cocktail in the barrel for about two weeks, keeping it refrigerated but removing it every night during service. “It ages a bit more rapidly and it imparts so much more flavor this way, since it absorbs it and expels the flavors as the barrel changes at different temperatures.”