The artisanal movement that has exploded on the culinary side has expanded to after-dinner drinks. As bartenders have become more savvy and creative in cocktail making, “cordials and liqueurs have seen a tremendous growth,” says Ramsey Pimentel, beverage manager of Porcao Farm to Grill in Miami.
Not so long ago, many of these bottles gathered dust on the back bar because “no one was educated about what the liqueurs were really about,” Pimentel says. “Now everything on the bar is being used.”
Porcao bartenders are trained to create new cocktails using liqueurs and cordials that may include varieties such as crème de violette, crème de cassis, King’s Ginger, Grand Marnier or Luxardo Maraschino, Pimentel says. The restaurant features new cocktail creations in-house biweekly, as well as seasonally.
“It’s a way of bringing classic and chic liqueurs back to life,” he explains. Pimentel estimates that liqueurs and cordials, including those used in cocktails, comprise 20% to 30% of total beverage alcohol sales.
One cocktail at Porcao, the King G, mixes King’s Ginger liqueur with gin, fresh lychee puree, lemongrass syrup and lime juice. The Kiss of Kao combines premium vodka, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, lime juice, acai juice, egg white and simple syrup.
A TRACE OF BITTERNESS
Sweet, after-dinner drinks such as Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur and coffee-flavored cordial Kaluha remain popular with guests. But the category leader, according to Beverage Information Group data, is Jägermeister. The herbal liqueur sold 2.4 million 9-liter cases in 2012.
There’s an increased interest in herbal, less-sweet libations, and many mixologists are using bitter spirits. Casey O’Connell, beverage manager at Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago, created several specialty cocktails for the Spanish restaurant that provide just the right amount of sweetness after dinner.
The Brillante, for example, is made with cava, apricot-infused Lillet and bitters and served in a Champagne flute with a grilled-to-order apricot at the bottom. O’Connell’s twist on the classic Sazerac is the Himica Sazerac, made with Templeton rye, hibiscus syrup, hibiscus bitters and Fernet.
O’Connell, formerly a chef, makes many of his bitters in-house. In keeping with Mercat’s Spanish concept, O’Connell often creates sherry cocktails, such as the Bebeme, which mixes sherry with ginger, basil and orange-peel infused pisco, fresh sour and ginger ale. All specialty cocktails are priced at $13.
Bitters, barrel-aged gin, vermouth, prosecco and beer are just some of the drier contents of creative mixologists’ new after-dinner repertoire that offers alternatives to more-traditional cordials and liqueurs. Some of these libations also double as before-dinner drinks.
A few restaurant bars are serving Kummel, a caraway liqueur more common in Austria and Germany than in the U.S. One of those made in America is by Chicago artisan distillery Koval, which crafts the digestif from distilled and macerated caraway seeds in a white whiskey base.
Another after-dinner liqueur that Koval distills in limited release is sunchoke brandy, a spirit that includes Jerusalem artichokes, says its president Sonat Birnecker Hart.
Slightly bitter Italian liqueurs similar to Campari continue to be popular in cocktails either before or after dinner. Shaun Mehtani, head of Mehtani Restaurant Group in Morristown, NJ, serves Casoni 1814, a liqueur slightly sweeter than Campari, at his mixology-based bar SM23. One of his cocktails mixes Casoni 1814 in a spritzer with club soda and prosecco.
Euclid Hall in Denver, which is known for its beer program, offers beer cocktails that include liqueurs or brandy. Bar manager Jessica Cann estimates that two of every 10 guests order beer cocktails, and some of them don’t normally drink beer.
Two examples are the Montezuma—Bourbon, orange liqueur, Campari and Tank 7, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale—and the Fresh Prince, containing pear brandy, mandarin-infused vodka, lemon juice and India Pale Ale.
NEW TWISTS ON COFFEE DRINKS
Tesori restaurant in the Chicago Symphony Center has created a new coffee drink for this fall and winter called the Bevanda Mattina. Mixologist Dan Scheuring describes it as a three-part interactive cocktail served at brunch. It’s made with espresso, amaretto, amaro and vanilla gelato.
Guests get involved in the mixology by pouring the amaretto-amaro blend over the gelato, which is served in a coffee cup. They then top it off with freshly brewed espresso.
Euclid Hall has a different take on a coffee-based cocktail called the Naughty Girl Scout. Served in a tulip glass, this blend contains chocolate liqueur, chocolate-flavored vodka, peppermint schnapps and iced coffee; it’s then garnished with a smacked peppermint leaf.
During cold weather, Kimpton’s Grand Hotel Minneapolis offers a Mulled Manhattan at its Six15 Room cocktail bar, says food and beverage director John Kieser. Priced at $12, this variation on the classic mixes small-batch Kentucky bourbon, an allspice liqueur, half a lemon, baked-apple bitters and a dash of cinnamon.
Berries Modena is on the drinks menu at Six15 year-round, due to its popularity with many customers as an alternative to after-dinner or after-theater liqueurs and cordials. It features house-infused, triple-berry vodka with lemongrass syrup, mint, lime juice, prosecco and balsamic glaze.
Kerri-Ann Sweeten, managing partner of the new Haven in Edgewater, NJ, says the bar features simple specialty cocktails featuring an average of three or four ingredients, preferably organic whenever possible.
Cedilla, made from Acai berries, is one liqueur Sweeten has found to be growing in popularity. Her mixologist uses it in a Caipirinha and in a Pomegranate Martini. Haven is also developing cocktails with jasmine and hibiscus liqueurs.
Wesley Kirk, sales manager/craft spirit buyer at Amanti Vino boutique liquor store in Montclair, NJ, also is a fan of jasmine liqueur. “The jasmine liqueur will take any gin martini to the next level,” he says.
Kirk believes that the rise of boutique spirits has only just begun, and others agree. St. Germain elderflower liqueur was a smashing success when it launched six years ago, Mehtani says, but people are on the hunt for the next flavor. “So many people just come in to try something they’ve never had,” he notes. “They are not as set on known flavors.” ·
Carolyn Walkup is a Chicago-based beverage and restaurant writer.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY FLAVOR TRENDS
St. Germain started the elderflower flavor craze when the liqueur was introduced in 2007. Chase Elderflower Liqueur, The Bitter Truth Elderflower Liqueur, Pür Spirits Blossom and St. Elder are a few other spirits to tap into the flavor of the white alpine flower. So what’s the next elderflower? It’s hard to say, but these are a few of the hot flavors in liqueurs.
Jasmine: Some operators, such as Henry, a new liquor bar in the Hudson New York hotel, create their own jasmine-flavored spirits. Greenbar Distillery makes Fruitlab organic jasmine liqueur; Koval craft distillery also makes a jasmine liqueur.
Rhubarb: The crimson, vegetal fruit shows up in a few new spirits. Rhuby, a Swedish liqueur, launched late last year and is made from juiced rhubarb stalks, vanilla bean and wheat vodka. Rhubarb Tea liqueur from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction combines rhubarb with beets, carrots and lemons as well as spices like coriander, cardamom and vanilla.
Cinnamon: Not the spicy, atomic-fireball candy flavor, but pure cinnamon mixed with vanilla, cream and rum—a combination inspired by the Mexican rice milk drink horchata. RumChata, launched in 2009, is one of the category leaders. Ricura Horchata Cream Liqueur is a new and similar product, while Cruzan Rum this past August released Cruzan Velvet Cinn. —MD