A BOTTLE OF SPIRITS can be relegated to a supporting role beneath mixers and juice, or it can take center stage as a flavorful ambassador of a place, its agriculture and its people. As with wine, its raw ingredients are affected by the soil, weather and geography of a growing environment. But the human touch—nurture, not nature—has the greatest impact on the final product.
Spirits can differ from one country to the next despite a shared assembly of the same raw ingredients—due less to the natural environment and more to the economic and political ones. Martinique rhum agricole is distilled from fresh fermented cane juice because the market for processed sugar collapsed many years ago; bourbon is required to be aged in previously unused barrels, which created a secondary market for their use in other whiskey, rum and tequila; and sherry was first fortified to make it last longer on ships ferrying it from its native Spain to far-away ports.
And with spirits, unlike unpasteurized cheese and fresh seafood, the bottles remain easier to export outside their native lands. We don’t need Japanese-style whisky when we can enjoy actual Japanese whisky. When those bottles arrive at their destination—New York, let’s say—the human hand of the bartender again alters the experience. To wit, let’s not forget that sherry cobbler is an American drink and that sangria probably did not originate in Spain.
Thus we asked seven world-class bartenders to share recipes made with a range of international spirits, focusing not on the liquors’ places of origin but instead on how they make them their own.
THE DEAD RABBIT GROCERY AND GROG, FINANCIAL DISTRICT
The lighter-style Irish whiskey, aromatic chamomile and gentle aperitif wine in the Birthday Suit make for an elegant and delicate flavor combination. But then bartender Jillian Vose arranges them in an unexpected format. “I realized I had never really seen an Irish whiskey sazerac variation, so decided to create one,” Vose said. The drink is spritzed with absinthe to give it the requisite heft the cocktail’s inspiration demands.
1 1/2 oz TULLAMORE DEW 12-YEAR-OLD IRISH WHISKEY
3/4 oz COCCHI AMERICANO
2 DASHES BOKER’S BITTERS
2 DASHES CHAMOMILE TINCTURE
1 TSP CANE SYRUP
2 LEMON PEELS
Rinse a small Old Fashioned glass with a splash of absinthe and discard. In an ice-filled stirring glass, express oil from lemon peels and drop them into the glass with other ingredients. Stir and strain into Old Fashioned glass.
*As an alternative for the cane syrup, make a simple syrup by boiling two parts demerara sugar to water. For the chamomile tincture add 15g or 1⁄2 oz of dried chamomile to 500ml Everclear. Let sit for 24 hours and then strain.
DEATH & CO, EAST VILLAGE
“The inspiration behind this drink was wanting to work with the combination of agave spirits and St. George Green Chile Vodka,” said bartender Tyson Buhler. “The tequila provided the vegetal note to complement the raw chilies and the mezcal brought out the roasted flavor we so often associate with chilies.” The coconut cream is there, of course, to take the edge off all that heat. The drink is a literal standout in its coconut container at the very serious speakeasy-style bar. “It catches them off guard. It’s such a wonderful thing seeing the look on the unsuspecting guest’s face.”
1oz DEL MAGUEY VIDA
3/4 oz ST. GEORGE GREEN CHILE VODKA
1/4 oz JALAPEÑO INFUSED CALLE 23 BLANCO TEQUILA
3/4 oz LIME JUICE
1/2 oz COCO LOPEZ
1/2 oz VANILLA SYRUP
MINT SPRIG AND TOASTED COCONUT FOR GARNISH
Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice and strain over pebble ice in a ceramic coconut glass, should you have one available. Garnish with mint sprig and toasted coconut flakes.
*To make the jalapeño tequila, deseed three jalapeño peppers and add the skins to a bottle of tequila. Wearing rubber gloves is strongly recommended. Allow to sit for 20 minutes (or until it is as hot as you like it). Strain. Store the tequila in the refrigerator between uses.
FRESH KILLS, WILLIAMSBURG
Despite having worked in both the UK at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel and at Manhattan’s Attaboy, Tom Walker (now behind the bar at Fresh Kills) looked to Japan and the tropics for inspiration in this cocktail. “Donkey Kong was christened so by the Japanese video game company Nintendo to convey the idea of stubbornness (donkey), with Kong being inspired by the ‘King Kong’ character of the old American film; hence the reason for the ingredients,” Walker said.
2oz YAMAZAKI 18-YEAR-OLD JAPANESE WHISKY
1/2 oz GIFFARD BANANE DU BRÉSIL BANANA LIQUEUR
3 DASHES SCRAPPY’S CHOCOLATE BITTERS
Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube. Zest a lemon peel on top of the drink. (Yamazaki’s 12-year-old variant makes a fine substitute for the 18-year-old in this drink.)
THE PALM COURT AT THE PLAZA, MIDTOWN
Bartender James Menite chose the Jamaican Appleton 21-year-old rum because, “In high-end cocktails, people don’t use rum very much. And I love that Appleton 21. It’s a little bit more robust with beautiful flavors.” The rest of the drink came together, as Menite noted, garam masala and peaches make a great combination. And white peach purée is found with champagne in the Bellini—a popular cocktail at the iconic Palm Court.
1 3/4 oz APPLETON ESTATE 21-YEAR-OLD RUM
1oz WHITE PEACH PURÉE
1/2 oz MEYER LEMON JUICE
1/4 oz GARAM MASALA POWDER
2 DASHES DALE DEGROFF’S PIMENTO AROMATIC BITTERS
1 EGG WHITE
GOLD DUST POWDER
In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients except the champagne and gold dust powder. Shake without ice to emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake again. Fine strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass, top with champagne and sprinkle the gold dust powder on top. The drink can also be made with the more affordable Appleton Estate Rare Blend 12-year rum.
DEAR IRVING, GRAMERCY
Clearly Tom Richter has a monkey on his back: this drink has followed him from The Beagle to the menu at Upland, where he consults, to the occasional order at Raines Law Room and at its drop-dead gorgeous sister Dear Irving, where Richter is now most frequently found. He came up with it after tasting the fresh grape flavor of Peruvian pisco, which reminded him of a white gazpacho made with almond milk and garnished with sliced grapes. He rebuilt the soup as a cocktail with orgeat (almond) syrup and cow’s milk. The latter ingredient “creates a foam sort of like egg white but much more delicate and ethereal,” he said.
1oz CAPURRO PISCO
1oz DOLIN DRY VERMOUTH
3/4 oz MILK
3/8 oz ORGEAT
3/8 oz LEMON JUICE
Add all ingredients except milk to an ice-filled cocktail shaker, then add the milk just before shaking to prevent curdling. Shake and strain into a coupe glass.
RIO GRANDE SOUR
SEAMSTRESS, UPPER EAST SIDE
At Seamstress, bartender Ranjini Bose was playing around with the rum sour format and swapped out the traditional molasses-based rum with Brazilian cachaça that is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice, then added the Jägermeister Spice (the herbal liquor’s variation with spiced rum flavorings) to pair with the woodiness of the cachaça. The drink would traditionally be served “up” in a cocktail glass, but Bose said Seamstress doesn’t use stemmed glassware except for wine glasses, “because we have a lot of standing room and we want people to be able to carry them around.”
1 1/2 oz NOVO FOGO AGED CACHAÇA
1/2 oz JÄGERMEISTER SPICE
3/4 oz LEMON JUICE
3/4 oz SIMPLE SYRUP
1 ORANGE SLICE
1 EGG WHITE
Muddle orange slice in a cocktail shaker, add other ingredients and shake first without ice to emulsify the egg white. Add ice and shake again vigorously. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass and garnish with freshly grated orange zest.
THE NOMAD, MIDTOWN
Bar director Leo Robitschek said the drink got its inspiration at NoMad’s sister restaurant Eleven Madison Park. “We were trying to create a pairing cocktail for an appetizer dish with caviar, crème fraîche and smoked fish. Then we changed it at the last minute.” His original version was a bottled, carbonated cocktail, but he altered the format to be more like a savory take on a sherry cobbler—one of his favorites—for the menu at both bars in The NoMad Hotel. The low-alcohol drink calls for Lustau’s acidic and mineral-forward no sherry, though Robitschek said manzanilla or other brands of no should work as well.
2 1/2 oz LUSTAU JARANA FINO SHERRY
1/4 oz GREEN CHARTREUSE
1/4 oz VELVET FALERNUM
1/2 oz PINEAPPLE GOMME
10 DROPS OF SALINE SOLUTION (20%)
1/2 INCH PIECE OF CELERY
1 SLICE OF CUCUMBER
1/2 oz LIME JUICE
In a cocktail shaker, give the celery a light muddle and the cucumber a quick tap to break it up. Add the other ingredients and ice and shake vigorously. Wrap a thin cucumber slice around the inside of a highball glass and fill with crushed ice. Strain the cocktail into the highball glass and top with additional crushed ice to reach the rim.
*To substitute for the saline solution, add a tiny pinch of salt to the drink before shaking. Robitschek uses a housemade pineapple gomme syrup for which a brand like Small Hand Foods can stand in. Or create a rich simple syrup (two parts sugar to water) and infuse it with fresh pineapple for a few days in the refrigerator.