Ingredients and their sources drive cocktail menus in ways unimaginable to the average tippler. Take what’s going on at the InterContinental Boston: Its fifth-floor roof deck recently became home to two new beehives for the hotel’s apiary. By early fall, the colony will grow to an estimated 120,000 bees; honey harvested in summer and fall will end up in spa treatments, culinary items and, of course, cocktails. Several drinks at the hotel's various bars/restaurants are being made with honey syrup, including L’Orange Miel at Miel Brasserie Provençale (Pierre Ferrand 1er Cru Cognac, Grand Marnier, fresh clementines and honey syrup), Honey Ginger Caipirinha at RumBa (Leblon Cachaça, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, fresh limes, ginger and honey syrup), and Lights Out Over Boston at Sushi-Teq (Milagro Silver Blanco Tequila, fresh lemons and honey syrup).
Playfulness inspires more than honey-based drinks these days. In Las Vegas, Holsteins at The Cosmopolitan offers a variety of “Bamboozled” milkshakes to go with the burger-mad menu. There’s the Drunken Monkey (banana gelato, peanut-butter crunch, malt and Frangelico) and Campfire Smores (chocolate fudge, roasted marshmallow, Graham crumble and Gosling’s Rum), as well as more predictable plays on the Grasshopper, Pina Colada and other creamy blender drinks.
Tried and true classics are open for reinvention these days as well. In Los Angeles, The Tasting Kitchen recently rolled out new brunch options, giving head bartender Justin Pike room to experiment. Along with eye openers such as, well, the Eye-Opener (Cava, coconut and bitters), he offers variants on the Bloody Mary: the classic House Bloody, featuring Monopolowa potato vodka, horseradish- and pepper-infused tomato juice and Worcestershire, with a salt-and-pepper rim and a celery, olive and caperberry garnish; the boozier 1920s-style Traditional Bloody returns the drink to its original one-part-vodka, two-parts-Tabasco-spiked-tomato-juice origins from Orléans, France. The Petite Mary is a mixture of vodka, citrus, housemade peppercorn dram and fresh celery juice, with a salt and sumac rim.
Savory is all the rage in cocktails (finally) which is where items such as Square One’s fourth organic spirit, Square One Basil, come in. The company uses four basil varieties — Genovese, Thai, Lemon and Sweet — and adds a touch of organic coriander, honeysuckle and lemongrass “to balance the spirit’s robust herbal nature with Square One’s signature soft finish.” Square One isn’t the first vodka company to tackle savory: Crop has a Tomato variety, and the late, lamented Herb’s once offered four herbal vodkas. But basil would fit very nicely in a modern Mary or even go well with honey or ice cream for that matter. Of course, menus aren’t only about ingredients.
To showcase the drinks on its menu, Chicago’s Hubbard Inn has broken drinks into two categories: “A Couple of Minutes” and “A Few Minutes,” based, I’m guessing, on the time expected to compose the beverages. Head bartender Ben Tozer and team include the English Daisy (Don Julio Resposado, lime juice, English lavender elixir) and Pimm’s Island (Pimm's No. 1, Combier, Goose Island Matilda, lime juice) among the “Couple of Minutes” drinks, while among “A Few Minutes” are the Hubbard Rose (Evan Williams Hubbard Inn 2011 Vintage, Damascan Rose elixir) and the Chicago Solstice (10 Cane Rum, raspberries, fresh basil, hibiscus elixir, port, lime juice).
A final note: What happens to all of those winning cocktail competition recipes? Do they ever make an impact? The Absolut Tea Time was good enough to win the $100,000 prize for NBC's “On The Rocks” reality TV show, earning Charles Joly of Chicago the title of “America’s Best Bartender.” Now, the Drawing Room is serving the Absolut Wild Tea-based cocktail, not available in Chicago until recently. Here’s the recipe for those doubters reluctant to engage in the sweet-tea booze movement:
Absolut Tea Time
1.5 ounces Absolut Wild Tea
3/4 ounce Plymouth Sloe Gin
3/4 ounce Grapefruit juice
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1/3 ounce agave
For the video demo, click here and select "The Final Challenge."