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Springing up! Menus lighten up & classics get a twist.

Just as the weather gets warm and blossoms begin to appear, it's time to enliven cocktail menus and set the stage for the summer ahead. Flavors get lighter and fruitier in the spring and that sap-rising energy gets creative juices flowing, and pouring. Barkeeps and managers from coast-to-coast this year are going back to basics with new versions of old classics.

With all the exotic concoctions that are showing up in bars today, it's not surprising that some patrons want something a little simpler. At Kincaid's in Washington, D.C., Mark Holland, bar manager and bartender, still sees his customers wanting to experiment and try new flavors, but at least at his venue, the over-the-top drink is fading. "I don't think people want things like kumquats or what I saw recently, small octopi, in their drinks. It's just too far out," he says. "We serve probably 400 to 500 drinks a night. It's hard to pacify the gin and tonic drinkers while they wait for me to create a kumquat cocktail."

In general, Holland says customers will be looking for slight variations on the classics and that bars will move away from using purees and the like, especially at large operations.



At Kincaid's, Holland generates excitement by employing color in the drinks, but garnishes are scaled back so that guests are more likely to see a citrus twist than a wheel of kiwifruit at his bar. For example, he may serve simple Martinis (such as one made with a raspberry flavored vodka with a lemon twist) as opposed to 30 different variations using many different ingredients.

Because Kincaid's clientele tend toward having cultivated tastes, most don't really want to experiment or be educated, he says. What they want instead is something well crafted that can be made quickly. What Holland will serve this spring are the classics, with slight variations.

"My patrons want the simpler cocktails, something that can be done quickly and done well in a straightforward manner," he says.

At Nizza La Bella, a restaurant with a 40-seat bar in Albany, CA near Berkeley, guests are entertained with classic cocktails and specialty drinks made with a flourish. Evelyne Sloman, co-owner with Eleanor Triboletti, runs the front of the house and the bar with the sensibility that comes from being a former chef.

Sloman trains her bartenders the way she would train a chef. "Just like in the kitchen, when a dish is made right it has to be made right every time. I take that same energy into my bar. My bartenders are fast, and they are well trained, just as a good chef is fast," she says. Her barkeeps have researched new drinks for the spring, and they've tweaked and taste-tested a lot of cocktails to get just the right balance of sour, sweet, bitter and strength.

"The proportion is really important in any cocktail. Just a touch of sugar syrup, for example, brings out everything in a drink, and helps you taste all the elements. Sometimes a cocktail needs a little acid and sometimes, if it's mostly alcohol, you may need to back off on the alcohol. You should be able to taste all the ingredients," she says.


Part of Sloman's mission is to introduce properly made, classic cocktails to the younger generation, and newer cocktails like the French Fizz and the Cosmo to the older generation. But she thinks the proper technique, the "show" involved with making the drink is also important, no matter what time of year.

One of the techniques she has taught her bartenders is the flaming of lemon and orange twists (see sidebar). "It's such a great thing to do in front of guests. People love to watch the show, and experience the smell and the taste. Flaming the zest makes a flash and disperses the oils over the top of the drink adding to the flavor of the cocktail," she says.

One of Sloman's signature drinks is ideal for spring. In fact, she calls prime drinking time the Violet Cocktail Hour, after her cocktail the Violet, made like a Perfect Martini with Citadelle Gin, parfait d'amour (a liqueur made with orange, spices and violet petals) and dry vermouth in equal portions, garnished with a candied violet. Selling for $7 in a standard-sized Martini glass, the drink appeals to men and women alike.

"I don't serve cocktails in oversized glasses because they get too warm. There is a proper size for a cocktail. Large drinks encourage gulping. Cocktails should be sipped and savored, not belted down," Sloman explains.


Spring is the time in her restaurant for rum drinks, cocktails with fruit and drinks with fizz. "One thing we are planning to do this year is to add fruit to drinks. I see us muddling fruit and adding the liquor, and reviving drinks like Rum Punch and the Gin Smash," she says. She plans to have some flavored vodkas and rums, though Sloman is more apt to add vanilla extract or syrup to vodka if she wants a vanilla flavor.

The Kit Kat Club and Supper Lounge in Chicago is all about the show. Appealing to a younger crowd that wants to be educated and to experiment, the club offers drinks that catch attention. Co-owner Edward Gisinger has noticed, however, that even the younger crowd is starting to pick less sweet cocktails.

One is the Spring Bouquet, made with champagne, vodka and white cranberry juice with an edible flower floating on top. Another popular drink every year at this time is Somebunny Loves You (Absolut Vanilia Vodka, Liquor 43 and a dash of heavy cream garnished with a marshmallow Bunny Peep).

Mojitos are also popular with the warmer weather at the Kit Kat Club, where they are made in a variety of flavors, using a splash of peach, strawberry or mango juice. And because the fruit juices are already sweet, less sugar is added to the cocktail.

The restaurant's always-popular Sock It To Me (made with sake and Absolut with a cucumber garnish) works well in the spring, says Gisinger. Mango Martinis, Passion Martinis and Ice Tinis (Absolut infused with tea bags) come back into favor in the spring, too.


"We get a mixed crowd. The women are more likely to order the unusual drinks, but the boyfriend will then taste the drink and order it himself. The names sometimes scare the guys, but once they taste it, they want to have one of their own," he says.

The Kit Kat Club may get an edge by promoting Easter, although St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day or Mardi Gras may have their charms, as a spring drinking holiday. The club has a huge Easter brunch with an all-you-can-drink Bloody Martini Bar. An infused jalapeno-horseradish Martini with a "garden salad" garnish (cucumber, tomato and olive on a stick) placed on top is one of the special drinks at the brunch.


Latin cocktails are popular everywhere today, but get more popular starting in April. At the Cantina in Charlotte, NC, Latin drinks are taken to the upper level with a tequila- and rum-focused bar (nearly 40 different tequilas and 15 rums).

"We sell 800 Margaritas a week. It's 90 percent of our liquor sales. And South American drinks are still hot. We sell around 40 to 50 Mojitos a week as well," says Chris Prince, general manager of the restaurant. Sangria is also popular come spring at Cantina.

A more unlikely venue for Latin drinks is the Pheasant Run Resort and Spa in St. Charles, IL. The property has five different bars and while the upscale bar serves mostly Martinis, the outdoor bars used in season serve lighter and sweeter drinks.

"We try to serve the more fun cocktails at the outdoor bars, especially frozen cocktails like ChiChis, Margaritas, Pina Coladas made with tequila instead of rum, and Daiquiris," says Joe Orichiella, food and beverage director at the resort. "The nice thing about these drinks is that they can be made without alcohol which is great since we are so family oriented."

The property offers create-your-own frozen drink bars as well. The patron chooses fresh fruit from a buffet, as well as the spirit and the bartender blends the drink. "Mojitos are hot, too. Here in the Midwest, people want to pretend they are in a warmer climate. They drink them even in off-season," Orichiella says.


Whether drinks have infusions, fresh fruit or vegetable garnishes, or muddled fruit--fresh, sparkling, simple and less sweet are the buzz words this spring. As Sloman says, real flavor is what today's sophisticated audience wants. It pays to spend the time to find the right balance in your cocktails, any time of year.

RELATED ARTICLE: Flaming Citrus Twists

Dale DeGroff, King Cocktail, advises in his book, "The Craft of the Cocktail," that there's a better way to flame lemon and orange twists. Here's the expert's technique:

* Always use firm, fresh fruit; the skin will have higher oil content.

* Use large, thick-skinned navel oranges and large lemons (95 count lemons).

* Cut uniformly-sized, thin oval peels that will flame up well. Cut a peel 1/2-inch by 1 1/2-inches long, thin enough that the yellow shows all around the circumference with just a small amount of white pith visible in the center.

* Hold a lit match in one hand, and pick up the twist in the other very carefully, as if holding an eggshell; if you squeeze the twist prematurely, the oil will be expelled.

* Hold the twist by the side, not the ends, between thumb and forefinger, skin side facing down, about four inches above the drink.

* Don't squeeze or you'll lose all the oil before you flame.

* Hold the match between the drink and the twist, closer to the twist. Snap the twist sharply, propelling the oil through the lit match and onto the surface of the drink. (Be sure to hold the twist far enough from the drink to avoid getting a smoky film on the glass.)


RELATED ARTICLE: Spring Trend: Fruit Infusions

Fresh fruit will find its way into drinks in many ways this spring. While flavored alcohol has become all the rage, some venues are infusing their own flavors with great success. "What I see coming down the pike is house-made infusions," says Robert Munson, spirits and restaurant manager at Limestone Restaurant, Louisville, KY. "We have two infusions that have worked very well, and I intend to experiment with more."

Munson created a pineapple-infused vodka and a honeycomb-infused bourbon. "The honeycomb infusion was designed for our 2004 Kentucky Derby cocktail, Lincoln's Honeysuckle Rose," he says. It was named for the former master distiller of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Lincoln Henderson. It is made with 1 1/2 oz. of Woodford Reserve infused with honeycomb, 1/2 oz. Tuaca (Italian vanilla/citrus flavored liqueur) and diluted sweetened rose water served on the rocks with a lemon twist. "The key to the recipe is the rose water. We use a very small amount because too much makes the drink taste like soap."


Infusions, says Munson, take a lot of trial and error. The first time he tried to make honeycomb-infused bourbon, mashing the honeycomb made the resulting infusion too sweet. Now the honeycomb rests in the bourbon for only four days. Next up: apple caramel-infused bourbon.



RELATED ARTICLE: Three for Spring
New Old Fashioned
1 tablespoon simple syrup
5 dashes bitters
1 peach slice for
2 1/2 oz. Woodford
 Reserve Bourbon
2 peach slices
2 blackberries
splash of sparkling water

Muddle the simple syrup, bitters and 1 peach slice in the bottom of an Old-Fashioned glass. Add the bourbon, some ice cubes, 2 peach slices, the blackberries and sparkling water; stir to combine.

Ginger Tropics Martini

(Culinary Director/Owner Jim Gerbardt, Limestone Restaurant, Louisville, KY)
2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 large piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and cut into
1/8-in. slices
Cane sugar
1 1/2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
1/2 oz. ginger syrup
1/4 oz. triple sec, or to taste

For the ginger syrup, combine 4 oz. water, bourbon and 1/4 cup cane sugar in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Add the sliced ginger and increase the heat to high. Cook until the mixture comes to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the mixture is reduced to a thick syrup. Remove the ginger slices to a bowl of cane sugar using a slotted spoon and toss to coat. Let stand until cool.


For the Martini, pour the bourbon, syrup and triple sec over ice in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with 1 slice of the Bourbon Candied Ginger.
Gin Smash
2 oz. gin
1 oz. club soda
1 tsp. superfine sugar
4 fresh mint sprigs

Muddle superfine sugar with mint sprigs and club soda in an Old-Fashioned glass. Add gin over ice and stir. Garnish with lemon twist.
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Author:Backas, Nancy
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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