Secret Cocktail Weapons
Put down that can of juice. Craft cocktails are all about making things from scratch. We asked a handful of the top bartenders what their bar makes exceptionally well—be it a syrup, garnish, or spice mix.
Sycamore Den's Eric Giger making their Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii tiki drink
Cinnamon guava syrup
“For our tiki cocktail—it’s untouchable,” says Eric Giger. They make a simple guava purée, boil down cinnamon sticks, and then mix the two for their Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii tiki drink, served in a Magnum, P.I. mug.
George’s at the Cove
Bartender Stephen Kurpisnky uses vanilla bean, then browns unsalted butter browned into cocoa nibs, a touch of cream, hazelnut liqueur, and Irish whiskey. “It’s really chocolatey, and it’s my thank-you to people who sit at my bar,” he says.
Vanilla Coke syrup
“I’ve taken Mexican Coke, reduced it down with vanilla beans,” says Andy Nelson. “I use it as a riff on a Cuba Libre with Bacardi 8 rum, lemon, lime, Vanilla Coke syrup, and just a touch of Luxardo amaretto.”
Puesto makes all of their michelada mixes from scratch every day. A favorite is the El Rey de Patio, a neon-green mix of cucumber and tomatillo. “It’s super refreshing,” says Lucien Connor.
For their house-made orgeat they use almond extract, rosewater, almond meal, and sugar. “It tastes like an almond cookie,” says bartender Adele Stratton. “It’s my bartender ketchup; I put it in everything.”
At the coastal Italian concept from the Whisknladle group, the kitchen cold-smokes Castelvetrano olives with hickory for about 35 minutes. The result is unbelievably good. “We call them veggie bacon,” says bartender Adam Lockridge, who uses them in a dry martini–style drink called Bavende Fumoso, with gin, sage liqueur, Carpano Bianco, and celery.
Hop-based angelica-rhubarb bitters
For Bottega's Negroni, Frankie Thaheld of Snake Oil Cocktail Co. uses beer hops to infuse his angelica-rhubarb bitters to go with Speziato Burnett’s gin, Campari, and Carpano Antica vermouth rosemary infusion.
Vanilla hot buttered rum
“We have our bakery to help us with syrups,” says bar manager Christy Spinella. “For the hot buttered, we mix an aged rum with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, then melt homemade vanilla ice cream with the butter before resetting. It’s like a hot gingerbread vanilla cookie in a cup.”
Shrubs are vinegar-based syrups that add acidity to drinks. “Specific ingredients need an acid to bring out their flavor,” says David Tye. “If you make a strawberry purée, it doesn’t come through like you want. The vinegar bumps up the flavor.” For his No Esposa, he mixes strawberry and habanero shrubs with tequila, grenadine, basil, and salt.
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