A pair of cocktails, one with pear vodka and cucumber, one with bourbon and thyme, reflect the changing seasons—and how culinary trends are elevating the art of the cocktail. Recipes below.
This week, Blue Kitchen moves from the stove to behind the bar. And since I do much better on a stool in front of the bar, I’m turning things over to my friend Michael Romane, a passionate amateur mixologist.
When I first sat down to write this article, I began to write in depth about the history of the cocktail. After a few paragraphs, I realized that I had only just gotten to the Prohibition era. At this rate, I wondered how many words it would take me to get into recipes. Maybe it was time to try a different intro…
I love cocktails.
I love the grown-up, celebratory feel of cocktails, a sense of glamour that even the best beer can’t touch. I love the traditions and trappings of cocktail making, especially in the hands of a good bartender. And I really love how, in those hands, the whole idea of cocktails is being elevated these days.
The recent culinary movement has unarguably rooted itself deeply into America’s culture. Foodies are always on the lookout for the newest culinary trend. Whether it be molecular gastronomy, food trucks, locavore dining or gourmet doughnuts, the thirst for food knowledge and experimentation has never been bigger.
It’s only natural that this curiosity would spill over into the liquid side of our meals: The cocktail.
Through mixology, the cocktail has vastly evolved from the simple formula of alcohol + mixer = drink. A growing number of inventive bartenders have opened their minds to a wide range of ingredients—many of which come from the kitchen side of the restaurant. In fact, Mike Ryan, the head bartender of Sable Kitchen & Bar, started his career as a chef. Mike worked his way up to sous chef at Chicago’s molecular gastronomy restaurant, Moto. The owner, Homaro Cantu, decided that he wanted a cook behind the bar, and Mike’s career in mixology began. Soon afterward, he moved to Violet Hour to hone his craft before finding himself heading the bar at Sable.
Using juices and purées of fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs and spices, unique bitters, infused alcohols and syrups, egg whites and bold spirits, Mike mixes some amazing drinks. It’s the combination and quality of these ingredients that makes the cocktails great—as they create a complex, nuanced drink that’s more than the sum of its parts. These cocktails aren’t meant to simply get you tipsy, though they’ll do the trick. They’re intended to be sipped, savored and enjoyed.
For me, cocktail hour usually starts by cozying up to the bar with my girlfriend—also a big fan of mixology—to browse the drink menu and see what flavors tempt our palates. This inevitably leads to a conversation with the bartender, who’s always happy to teach us about various liquors, both new and classic. Most of the time, we end up choosing a cocktail that we’ve never tried before. And almost always, it’s great.
I’ve chosen the following recipes because they’re complex in flavor and use some kitchen-inspired ingredients. The Cue-Cai Cocktail is a great drink with which to celebrate the last days of summer, and the Fedora Cocktail is, in my opinion, a bourbon gateway drink for those that don’t yet appreciate the brown liquors. And since bourbon is great spirit to pair with crisp autumn weather, the Fedora provides the perfect amount of sweetness to bridge the seasons. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: In his recipes below, Michael calls out tools you’ll need. With many of the ingredients being measured in fractions of an ounce, one tool you’ll need is the indispensable double jigger.
I reverse-engineered this recipe from one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, The Bristol. They provided the list of ingredients and I did my best to figure out the proportions. It’s a complex, refreshing drink that can sometimes go down a little too easy.
1-1/2 ounces pear vodka (The Bristol uses Grey Goose La Poire)
3/4 ounce St. Germain
1/3 ounce simple syrup (to make your own simple syrup, see Bar Notes)
2/3 ounce fresh lime juice
2 ounces cucumber juice
slice of cucumber for garnish
Shake first six ingredients and pour over rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with cucumber slice.
The Fedora Cocktail
Named for the predilection for fedoras in the current craft cocktail scene, this drink adds a pinch of salt to bring out the savory notes of the thyme, while toning down the bitterness from shaking the herb on its stem, says Chicago bartender Mike Ryan. I adapted this recipe from a cocktail Ryan did for Imbibe magazine. One change I made was to add egg white. I feel it mellows the flavors and provides a little extra texture. If it doesn’t appeal to you, feel free to leave it out of recipe.
The Fedora Cocktail
2 ounces bourbon (Ryan uses Buffalo Trace)
1/2 ounce grenadine
1/4 ounce simple syrup (to make your own simple syrup, see Bar Notes)
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme, divided
1/4 of an egg white
Tools: shaker, fine-mesh strainer
Reserve one sprig of thyme. Shake remaining ingredients and double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the reserved thyme sprig.
Making simple syrup. Simple syrup is used to sweeten both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages and is extremely easy to make. For today’s recipes, a 1:1 proportion is required—that means that you will use 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water. Bring 1 cup of water to boil and then add 1 cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar completely dissolves, then remove from heat. Let cool completely and transfer to an airtight container. Stored in the refrigerator, it can last about a month. If you add one tablespoon of vodka to the syrup, it will keep for three months.