In my latest post for Details.com, I talk about the interesting trend of leafy green salad vegetables making their way into cocktails.
Shut Up and Drink Your Salad: Cocktails Embrace Spinach, Kale, and Arugula By Camper English
The West Coast style of cocktail in which bartenders muddle a cornucopia of fruits and herbs in their drinks has long been known as a "salad in a glass," but that term is taking on a whole new meaning as mixologists move to mashing leafy greens like spinach, kale, and arugula into drinks this spring.
Using goofy names for cocktails makes them less intimidating to guests.
Julian Cox measured the Brix level of the most popular cocktails, and found most of them to be around 14-15 Brix, so the perception of the more popular girlie drinks as being sweeter isn't quite true.
Cox uses sous vide for infusions with fruit and/or herbs. He says to set it on 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and infuse it for four hours or so, making sure that it doesn't go above the boiling point of alcohol at 173F.
For tea infusions, blanche the tea first to eliminate harsh tannins.
I know a lot about Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber, but I didn't know about Harry Yee until this year. I learned a bit about him at a seminar called Modern Tiki: A Pirate's Life for Me, which took place during Hawaii Cocktail Week at the Moana Surfrider Hotel. The seminar was lead by Julie Reiner (owner of the Flatiron Lounge, formerly Lani Kai, and consultant on Hawaii's Tiki Iniki) and Brian Miller (bartender for hire).
Harry Yee lived in Hawaii and was the inventor of the Blue Hawaii cocktail, shown above.
He was also the first person to use an orchid as a cocktail garnish.
He was also the first person to use cocktail umbrella garnish, according to Reiner. [The internet has a different answer - would love to find out.]
He may have created the Banana Daiquiri.
He invented the Tropical Itch as well as its garnish: a backscratcher. This drink actually kicked off a backscratcher craze. I remember always getting them at county fairs as a kid - I had no idea they were garnish.
Someone wrote on Facebook that a trend they'd like to see is smaller cocktails so they could enjoy a larger range of drinks over an evening. I also think that would be pretty cool, so I asked PR folks and Facebook folks if they knew of any.
If your bar is doing mini cocktails, feel free to add them in the comments!
Pic from Vessel in Seattle. They don't really serve them this small.
Canon in Seattle The Negroni Experiment is three Negronis: Original, Boulvardier, Right Hand
L2O in Chicago Mixologist: Allison Frey L2O’s Sazerac, served in a 4 ounce Bourbon Glass, is portioned by a bartender and then concocted tableside by the server.
Levant in Portland, OR Chamomile Whiskey or Black Lime Rum "At this point the Chamomile Whiskey is a fully developed mini cocktail. It contains house infused chamomile whiskey, honey lavender syrup and orange zest. The Black Lime Rum is just basically just a shot of appleton estate rum infused with black limes." Each cocktail is 2 ounces.
Served in antique glassware that the team has sourced, the cocktails come in at about 3 ounces. Libations include: o Bee Sting – gin, lemon, honey, peach bitters o Little Waffle – bourbon, lemon, maple syrup (the restaurant serves a larger version called the Kentucky Waffle) o Primrose – house-infused berry vodka, lemon, orgeat o Diablito – tequila, cherry, lime o Daiquirita – rum, lime, simple syrup
During Hawaii Cocktail Week at the bar The Manifest I attended a seminar lead by Takayuki Suzuki, in which Suzuki demonstrated several cocktails. It was terrific and I'll do my best to explain how so.
I think I've observed modern Japanese bartending enough now to make a few observations about their style and philosophy:
Four ingredients is a lot.
They're not afraid of artificially-colored liqueurs as we are in other countries. Green and blue liqueurs are common in high-end cocktail bars
Drink-making technique can reflect the philosophical goal of the cocktail, whereas in the US it's always just about what's in the glass at the end
Every drink has a story
But Suzuki really drove home some of these points. Let's start with ice.
Hand Carved Ice Ball and Wabi-Sabi
Ice is treated entirely differently in Japan than in other countries. In the olden days, ice was frozen in the winter in man-made ponds, then stored all year (as it was in America, except the ponds were already there). But in Japan, the ice was sometimes given as a gift in the summers, so it's still valued as something special. Bars in Japan (at least the 20 or so that I've been to) do not have their own ice machines. They have ice delivery service. And Suzuki says that even people at home don't use freezer ice - they buy it at the convenience store. So I guess ice is treated like produce.
Though wabi-sabi is an aesthetic and philosophy with a lot of parts, the one we're concerned with here is making human things that reflect the beauty of nature. (Those green and blue liqueurs tend to represent leaves and water in cocktails.)
Suzuki says that when he carves an ice cube into an ice ball, it is with the wabi-sabi concept: the round ice ball is meant to resemble a river rock worn smooth by the water passing over it, representing the concept of 'floating time.'
And here we just thought it looked cool.
Bamboo Leaf Martini
Japan has 24 mini-seasons, and many of Suzuki's cocktails are meant to reflect particular ones. The Bamboo Leaf Martini is set between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. First he seasons a cocktail glass with creme de menthe- adds some then shakes it out. The he makes a cup out of a bamboo leaf, which rests inside the cocktail glass.
Inside the bamboo leaf cup, he pours Hakushu whisky with a bamboo leaf syrup. Then outside of the leaf but inside the cocktail glass he adds the flavor of yuzu peel. Thus the drink has the ending of summer inside the bamboo leaf, and the whisper of approaching winter citrus subtly beneath it.
This cocktail represents the beginning of summer, which is signified with soft breezes. Suzuki adds a mint leaf and mint liqueur to a tall glass, then gently crushes the mint and discards the liqueur - this infuses the leaves with more mint flavor. Next he adds an ice ball to the glass, which seals it and traps the mint and its flavor beneath it.
On top of the ice ball, he adds Hakushu whisky, plus tonic and soda water at the very top with mint leaves as garnish. Thus when you first sip it, it just has the scent of mint and soda water. You don't taste the mint at first but you sense it, then as you consume the drink, eventually the mint at the bottom of the glass will mix with the liquids above it and you'll taste the mint. This represents the movement of breezes.
This cocktail is built around Yamazaki 12 year whisky. Suzuki says this whisky gives him tasting notes of apricot, tropical chewing gum, then a cacao flavor, and the essence of dried plants. When he tastes the whisky, it reminds him of taking the train to his wife's family's house near where Yamazaki is distilled; seeing the traditional Japanese houses, and thinking of the sun hitting the tatami mats inside those houses.
To recreate that, he mixes pineapple juice, apricto brandy, a touch of lemon juice, Yamazaki 12, and simple syrup in a shaker. He shakes and strains this into a cocktail glass then adds a float of dark cacao liqueur. To represent the tatami mat, he burns some dried lemongrass then adds this to the drink as garnish.
Developing Cocktails the Japanese Way
Suzuki says that when he teaches students to create cocktails, they begin with a blank sheet of paper and a base spirit. He asks them to smell and taste the spirit and draw or write the image of what the spirit reminds them of. Then he asks them in which season the image is taking place, and/or who is there or what time of day and where it is. Only then do they start to think about the other ingredients that will go into the cocktail; only after the cocktail has a story is it manifested.
Takayuki Suzuki says, "The action of mixing has to have a reason."
For some cool videos of Takayuki Suzuki demonstrating ice carving, the Mizuwai cocktail, and to learn more about wabi-sabi, check out this page.
If you'd like to learn more about cocktails and bars in Japan, here are some other blog posts I wrote about my trip last year.
Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer for publications including Saveur (Contributing Drinks Editor), FSR Magazine (Spirits Editor), Whisky Advocate, Details.com, PopSci.com, Mixology, Drinks International, and many more. Learn about Camper and Alcademics, or read clips of his published work.