It’s still cold back East and up North, but spring cocktail menus continue to emerge. Different cities are welcoming varying harbingers of the season. In Washington, D.C., spring means cherry blossoms and, therefore, drinks made with cherries. At the Blue Duck Tavern and Park Hyatt Washington Lounge, the new list includes the Sakura (Prairie Organic Vodka, cherry puree, cherry syrup, cherry bitters and Va de Vi sparkling wine, garnished with a cherry). Others speak of quaffing in anticipation of the coming warmth and the turn back to white spirits and bubbles: the Green Leaf (Blue Coat Gin, lime juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters and mint leaves), the Peach & Basil Collins (gin, peach puree, basil leaves, lime, peach bitters, soda water), the Fields of France (gin, Rooibos syrup, lemon juice and simple syrup), the Spritz Milano (Prosecco, Aperol, soda water and a slice of orange) and the Bubble Sour (house-made lemon-infused rum, maraschino, lemon sour, egg whites, Angostura bitters and sparkling wine). Luca Giovannini and Dmitry Popov are the cocktail creators for Blue Duck Tavern - a busy pair.
A Hanami Hibiscus Cherry Martini at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Other D.C. places have tied cherry-blossom time with the woes in Japan; head mixologist Massimiliano Matte at the Jefferson Hotel came up with the Hanami Hibiscus Cherry Martini (lemongrass-cinnamon-infused vodka, hibiscus infusion, licor 42, cherry mix, Prosecco and orange) to raise money. Bitters, potable or aromatic, aren’t often thought of as seasonal, but much of the early season produce – artichokes, cardoons, dandelions – finds its way into classic bottled bitters. The Italian mild bitter Aperol also made it onto the spring menu at the cocktail legend 21 Club in New York City in bartender Tara Wright’s take on an Aperol Spritz (Aperol, club soda, Bass ale, lime) and a Ginger Basil Daiquiri (10 Cane, lime juice, ginger syrup, basil). Of course, gin, sparkling water and wine always need a little backbone bitters like Aperol can supply, and so it’s an interesting debut in New York for the bitter-minded Amar y Amargo – a Bitters Tasting Room, another cocktail-focused venture from Ravi DeRossi, the man behind Mayahuel, Death & Co. and Cienfuegos, among others.
An Aperol Spritz at the 21 Club in New York City.
In a partnership with the Bittermens (Bittermens.com) folks, Amar y Amargo opened with springlike “Fizzy Drinks,” including a gin and tonic spiked with maraschino and Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters and the Orchard Street Cel’ry Soda, made with applejack, Genever gin, club soda and Bittermens Orchard St. Celery Shrubb and Peppercake Bitters. Basil, featured on the Blue Duck menu, now routinely is used as a drink modifier, either fresh or in infusions, and is raised easily in indoor pots this early in the season. At the Montagne Laguna Beach Hotel in California, Executive Chef Craig Strong has developed a garden that brings herbs and such to the bar as well as the kitchen. Strong’s effort to bring the garden-to-table concept to the hotel is bearing early fruit: His Brazilian Basil Spritz pairs tarragon and basil from the garden with cucumber, key lime, cachaca, St-Germain and Champagne.
Not every drink emerging this month is seasonally tied, however. In Philly, Adam Kanter’s Rum Bar has rolled out a new Tiki-focused menu – nine different Tiki creations include old favorites, such as the Painkiller and Bahama Mama, and personal takes on classic Tiki cocktails, such as the Mai Tai (Trader Vic style - aged white Demerara rum, triple sec, housemade orgeat syrup, pineapple juice, lime juice, float of Lemon Hart 151 rum), the Zombie (Don the Beachcomber style) and the Hurricane. Kanter’s original Tiki drinks include the Floating Rum Shack, the Banana Nut Bay and Hot Damn! (light Puerto Rican rum, Barenjager, cinnamon syrup, fresh lime juice, cranberry juice). It’s always spring in Tiki-town.