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130 + 1 = Infusing the Modifier

Infused chartreuseIn Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, I have a story about bartenders making complicated infusions.

I kept seeing bartenders infusing Chartreuse, Campari, vermouth, and bitters - things that already have dozens of ingredients (or 130 in the case of Chartreuse), and I thought to myself, "WHAT'S UP WITH THAT?"

(I always talk to myself in capslock.)

As I researched the story and interviewed bartenders, I realized that in every case it's not that they thought "Oh this Campari is missing something, I bet it would be better with cinnamon," or "Hey it's cool now to infuse complicated things." 

Instead, in each case they had a specific drink in mind and wanted to get a flavor into the cocktail. Options include infusions, tinctures, bitters, syrups, etc. Or they could have just muddled the fresh ingredients, made a tea out of the tea, or rimmed the glass with the ingredients. 

In each case, they chose to infuse the modifying ingredients in the cocktail rather than the base spirit. So I didn't actually discover a trend bartending, so much as I found that bartenders have honed their techniques. 

Here's how the story begins:

Humos locosAround the turn of the millennium, bartenders proudly displayed large glass jars of their experiments behind the bar. These infusions generally weren't terribly complex; often they would be fruit floating in vodka or light rum, destined for a flavored lemon drop or mojito.

A decade later, bartenders have refined those techniques, infusing spirits in different ways to put all sorts of vegetable (and sometimes animal) matter into syrups, tinctures, bitters and liquors.

Menus in San Francisco and around the country now list caraway-infused Campari, black-cardamom-infused Sherry, black-pepper-infused Chartreuse, clove-infused Cognac, and chai-tea-infused sweet vermouth. Despite some of these spirits purportedly containing 130 ingredients, bartenders feel compelled to add just one more.

Their reasons for these infusions vary. But everyone seems to want to fine-tune flavors for a specific cocktail.

Please go here to read the entire story and enjoy a cocktail from Joel Teitelbaum of the Starlight Room. 

Photos taken from Both by Lance Iversen for The Chronicle.

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