My partner and I established a sanity-saving tradition early on in the pandemic: We made it a point to set aside a good chunk of our late afternoons to enjoy happy hour together—with absolutely zero regard for the President’s tweets, the onslaught of work emails, or the blitzkrieg of bad news on CNN and every other news network.
In my mind, this daily (and highly restorative) ritual is all about focusing on ourselves and having a good chat about the ups and downs of the day. A sort of centering, if you will.
But after more than half a year of living in Covidland, we needed something new in terms of libations. One can only have so many by-the book margaritas or martinis or Negronis. So, I decided to reach out to some of America’s finest bartenders for inspiration—and they, of course, delivered.
My ask was simple: The recipes needed to be easy but not necessarily “quick.” They had to use six or fewer ingredients and they had to deliver us from our cocktail rut. And by that I meant they needed to be unusual and creative. So without fail, every single spirits professional delivered: Tamari, rice wine vinegar, mustard seeds, gochujang, and vegetable ash are never the norm when it comes to cocktail making—but the simple recipes below are more than stellar and most certainly worth a shot.
“When crafting this cocktail, we were aiming to satisfy the need for a new spin on a night cap that somehow differed from the traditional espresso martini. With Coffee & Coke, the warmth of the rye is balanced by the bitterness of espresso from our local roasters, Second State, with an unexpected effervescence from Coca-Cola with a hint of sweetness. This cocktail is not only a nice way to end the evening, but a perfect way to start it as the taste profile is a unique blend of chocolate, coffee, and orange.” —Juliana Fisher, bar manager at The Dewberry Charleston, SC
1 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
0.25 oz. Gran Classico
0.25 oz. Mancino Rosso Vermouth
1 oz. espresso
1 dash chocolate bitters
1 oz. of Coca-Cola, to top
Method: Add all ingredients sans Coca-Cola to a shaker tin. Shake hard for 10 seconds and double strain into a rocks glass with ice. Top with cold Coke and garnish with an orange slice.
“The silly ‘What Cocktail Are You?’ online quizzes were the inspiration behind this cocktail. Fun, sweet but packs a punch, unique, and full of personality! She may seem strange at first glance, but give her a chance and you’ll love her. That’s Anna Banana—or me as a cocktail. The dark fruit notes of the sherry play well with the bright fruit notes in Monkey Shoulder. The subtle sweetness from the crème de banane works so well with the vanilla notes in the scotch, and the honey notes in the Drambuie really make the cocktail smooth. You wouldn’t usually think that.” —Anna Mains, brand ambassador at Monkey Shoulder
1.75 parts Monkey Shoulder
0.75 parts Lustau Amontillado Sherry
0.5 part Tempus Fugit crème de Banane
Method: Stir, pour over large rock, express lemon over top of drink, drop twist into garnish. (Can be served up or on regular rocks as well.)
“One sip of this cocktail and you’ll be imagining yourself on a tropical beach watching the sunrise. The odd (but fitting) combination of refreshing coconut water and bright cold brew deliver a smooth eye opening sipper with layers upon layers of flavor.” —Vance Henderson, brand ambassador at Hendrick’s Gin
1.5 parts Hendrick’s Gin
3 part coconut water
1 part cold brew coffee
2 dashes bitters, Xocolatl
Method: Add ingredients to shaker and shake hard with ice. Fine strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with grated nutmeg and mint.
“This cocktail is an example of one of the rare times when more expensive whiskeys really shine in a sour format. We find that yuzu (a type of Japanese citrus) adds a nice level of complexity to many citrus-forward drinks, and the unusual addition of Tamari adds a small amount of salt, as well as a bit of umami, which, when used in the right drink, can add quite a bit of depth and balance.” —Joshua Novaski, bartender at High West Distillery
1 oz. High West Rendezvous Rye
1 oz. Yamazaki 12 Single Malt (or comparable single malt, such as Balvenie 12 or Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt)
0.75 oz. green tea syrup (you can purchase this on Amazon or use the simple recipe below)**
0.50 oz. lemon juice
Barspoon yuzu juice
3 drops Tamari
Star anise garnish
**Green Tea Syrup: Steep 20 grams green tea (preferably Mighty Leaf Green Tea Tropical) in 1 liter of simple syrup at room temperature for 18 hours, then strain and refrigerate.
Method: Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake with 1×1 ice. Double strain over 1×1 ice in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with a star anise pod.
“This drink is a riff on a mule, one of the most popular and easily customizable vodka drinks out there, and certainly a staple of any bar I have ever been to in the United States. I tried to put together flavors that work with the fiery kick of ginger, and I had recently made a soup with carrot and coriander. So I thought it would be great to try and make a drink that had the same earthy, vegetal flavors. Fresh juices are essential for this drink (as they always should be whenever possible) and the coriander gives an amazing fresh top note, which I think works really well. My American wife hates coriander—or cilantro as she would call it—but even she liked this drink. It might sound a little leftfield, but I urge you to give it a go!” —Gareth Evans, global brand ambassador at Absolut Elyx
3 parts Absolut Elyx
2 parts carrot juice
1 part lemon juice
1 part honey
2 sprigs coriander
Ginger beer, to top
Carrot slices, garnish
Method: Shake all ingredients with cubed ice, then strain over crushed ice in a copper mule cup. Top with ginger beer, more ice, and garnish with carrot slices.
“This cocktail combines two of my obsessions: the negroni and ice wine. Bitter, sweet, and textured, this clear-as-ice negroni variation is perfect with the botanical wormwood-finished Roku Gin. The combination of ice wine and rice wine vinegar replaces the vermouth with a balance of rich dried apricots and a crisp finish. Grapefruit, a winter citrus, evokes the coriander and yuzu notes out to play. Get lost in the snow with this one.” —Meredith Barry, beverage development at Niche Food Group
1.5 parts Roku Gin
0.75 part ice wine
0.5 part Luxardo Bitter Bianco
0.25 part rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Method: Measure ingredients and pour into mixing glass including grapefruit peel. Add ice. Stir until diluted. Strain and pour into an up glass or with a large rock in a down glass. Express grapefruit coin and use as garnish.
“When we were opening Sushi|Bar we were looking for a number of great cocktails that would complement the food. We wanted drinks that thematically were consistent with the Japanese vibe and were absolutely delicious. Since we only used spirits from Japan, our palate was very limited, but when we hit on this drink, we knew we had a winner. It’s sweet, smokey, strong, and everything you’re looking for in a great cocktail. And when you add on the salt rim it adds that fun change of pace like a great margarita! It was so great; I’ve added it into my personal rotation at home!” —Gavin Humes, food and beverage director at Scratch Restaurants Group
1.5 oz. Suntory Toki Whisky
1 oz. pomegranate juice
0.25 oz. ruby port
0.25 oz. lemon juice
0.5 oz. honey
Green tea salt (matcha powder and dried mushrooms)**
**Green Tea Salt: Combine matcha powder with salt to approximately a 50:50 blend. If you have dried mushrooms, grind those up and add a healthy pinch to the mixture. The “salt” should be salty, but with a definite bitterness from the green tea and an umami punch from the mushrooms.
Method: Run a slice of lemon around the rim of the glass and dip into the green tea salt. Combine other ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled. Double strain into the rimmed glass.
“This cocktail is both unusual and awesome because of the combination of flavors. The inspiration behind this cocktail comes from the Icelandic cuisine. The pickle brine and mustard seeds are unusual for a martini. The pickle brine adds the perfect amount of acid and complements Reyka Vodka flawlessly. The mustard seed give a burst of flavor (it’s meant to be eaten) and the dill pickle finishes with the satisfying crunch! It’s like a Nordic amuse bouche, in the form of a cocktail.” —Trevor Schneider, national ambassador at Reyka Vodka
2 parts Reyka Vodka
0.5 to 1 part kosher pickle brine
Dry vermouth, as rinse
10 mustard seeds
Kosher dill pickle and sprig of dill
Method: Combine all the ingredients into shaker with ice. Shake, strain, and garnish.
“I was inspired by the humming borough of Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD), which is a melting pot of Asian cuisines. Drawing from the thriving area of this part of town, I created a twist on the classic sour cocktail.” —Tui TeKaaho, former beverage director at Peachy’s, New York
2 oz. Starward Australian Whisky
0.75 oz. lemon juice
0.75 oz. Chinese 5-spice honey syrup**
**Chinese 5 Spice Honey Syrup: Combine 2 cups honey, ½ cup water, and 1½ tbsp. Chinese 5-spice powder in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Strain and store in a jar up to two weeks.
Method: Add all ingredients to a shaker tin. Shake vigorously, then double strain into a coupe and garnish.
“This cocktail is inspired by my neighborhood (Wellington-Harrington) in East Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I have now lived for over a decade. It’s a melting pot of Brazilian, Polish, and Italian heritage with bakeries serving pao de queijo a few doors down from ones slinging cannolis. It is a neighborhood where private clubs still abound and the restaurant owners grew up down the street. It is my community that I love and this cocktail exemplifies how something so wonderful can come from disparate cultures and ingredients melding together.” —Naomi Levy, bar manager and acting general manager at Variety Bar, Cambridge, MA
1.5 oz. Novo Fogo Silver Caçhaca
0.5 oz. Campari
0.75 oz. beet syrup**
0.75 oz. lime juice
1 sprig parsley, garnish
**Beet Syrup: Combine ½ cup granulated sugar, 3 oz. water, and ½ cup roasted beets in a blender. (I buy the beets pre-roasted from Love Beets or you can roast your own.) Blend ingredients until smooth. Strain through mesh strainer (optional, but recommended).
Method: Combine all ingredients and shake. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a parsley leaf.
“The Vamonos Riendo Mezcal has beautiful vegetal tones, so pairing slightly spicy shishito peppers that were grilled seemed like something I had to try. Mixing some unusual, savory ingredients into classic cocktails makes a surprising new twist on something you know already works.” —Jessica Stewart, beverage director at Fort Oak, San Diego, CA
2 oz. Vamonos Riendo Mezcal
1 oz. lime juice
0.75 oz. roasted shishito pepper agave syrup**
Sea salt, garnish
Vegetable ash, garnish**
Roasted shishito pepper, garnish
**Roasted Shishito Pepper Syrup: Roast Shishito peppers over wood-fired grill. Combine equal parts (by weight) water, agave syrup, and roasted peppers—then blend. Fine strain through chinois. Syrup is good stored in the fridge for up to a week.
**Vegetable Ash: Left over vegetable stocks and trimming are cooked on the grill until crisp and then blended in a spice grinder.
Method: Combine ingredients in tin, shake, and strain over fresh ice. Garnish with sea salt and vegetable ash rim, roasted shishito pepper.
“This cocktail gives vibes of enjoying a matcha latte from your favorite cafe and eating dessert after having great sushi, both with a nice gin kick. All from the comfort of your home.” —Fatima Butler, founder and CEO of Rooted in Hospitality and bartender at Pizza Lobo, Chicago, IL
2 parts Roku Gin
1 part Tyku coconut sake
2 parts coconut milk
0.75 part sesame seed simple syrup**
1 part lime juice
Bar spoon of matcha powder
Edible flowers, garnish
**Sesame Seed Simple Syrup: Combine ¼ cup toasted black sesame seeds, 1 cup water, 2 cups sugar ingredients and boil and simmer for 7 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth, coffee filter or lined mesh strainer.
Method: Shake ingredients over ice and double strain into coupe. Garnish with edible flowers.
“This is an unusual powerhouse adaptation of a Manhattan. The strong flavors of the rye whiskey and applejack fire at you, while the herbaceousness of the green chartreuse refuses to stay unheard. This is the cocktail you have after a really good week at work or a really bad one.” —Juan Fernandez, beverage director at The Ballantyne: A Luxury Collection Hotel, Charlotte, NC
1.5 oz. rye whiskey
0.75 oz. applejack (or apple brandy)
0.75 oz. green chartreuse
Method: Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, stir, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
“This is a surprisingly delicious and refreshing cocktail. The appearance of a scant amount of turmeric in this drink is the welcomed ‘unannounced’ ingredient no one would expect. Its appearance with Hendrick’s and the other ingredients contributes to a balanced complexity of dry sweetness, light spice and an extremely flavorful journey.” —Vance Henderson, brand ambassador at Hendrick’s Gin
1.5 part Hendrick’s Gin
0.5 part 100% organic powdered turmeric
0.75 part lemon juice
0.75 part agave syrup
Top with premium ginger beer
Method: Fill a highball glass with cubed ice. Combine all ingredients and give a gentle stir. Sprinkle a small pinch of cayenne pepper on top of a cucumber slice.
“A great tequila cocktail demonstrates balance between the flavors used as ingredients and the flavor profile of the tequila. The additional ingredients should complement the tequila and allow it to shine through! Tequila is a magical spirit that takes years to reach the bottle—so you don’t want to create something that covers the natural flavors of the tequila derived from the blue agave. The Batanga cocktail, created by Don Javier, the late founder of La Capilla Cantina in the town of Tequila, is a favorite around the region and has always been made with El Tequileño Blanco. The Mexican cola balances the blanco perfectly and must be stirred with a knife for added flavor!” —Steffin Oghene, VP of global marketing and business development at El Tequileño
2 oz. El Tequileño Blanco
1 whole freshly squeezed lime
Lime wedge, garnish
Method: Build over ice in a salt rimmed highball glass. Top with Mexican cola and stir with a knife to honor the drink’s creator, Don Javier of the world-famous La Capilla Cantina.
“I call this the ‘sangre sabia,’ which means ‘wise blood.’ It’s fun a variation on a Bloody Maria, with a Korean twist. (Korean and Mexican flavors have such great affinity for one another—it’s a surprise we don’t combine them more often!) Rather than using hot sauce and tomato to create the savory, spicy drink that we all recognize, this version is less heavy and more aromatic and effervescent. I use a Korean red pepper paste called gojuchang, which is becoming very popular and available at most high-end grocery chains as well as any Asian grocer.” —Alejandro de la Parra at bar director at Teardrop Lounge, Portland, OR
2 parts El Tesoro Blanco
1 barspoon of gojuchang
1 tsp. agave syrup
½ lime, cut into eighths
Method: In a shaker muddle the lime (cut into eights) with two cucumber slices. Add the El Tesoro, gojuchang, and agave syrup—and shake. Pour over ice into a tall class, top with Topo Chico. Garnish with mint, cucumber, and a chile de arbol rim.
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