Finding a savory cocktail today can be a maddening challenge. Even as cocktail culture soars to untold heights, bar menus across town remain dominated by tipples that skew sweet. Unpalatable to some — and likely to cause a hangover for most — the stubborn staying power of juice-laden drinks is a testament to America’s insatiable sugar addiction. But hope is near: palates are shifting, and bartenders are responding, infusing a new era of drinks with rich and piquant ingredients from bell peppers to foie gras, and we found a few to seek out this holiday season.
The most obvious antidote to all that sugar is spice. At Saxon + Parole (316 Bowery; 212-254-0350), the magicians behind the bar have assembled the “Bowery Fix” in time for autumn. It stabilizes the smokiness of an unbridled mezcal with muddled bell pepper and chili oil. The finish reveals a slight, vegetal tingle on the back of the tongue, encouraging repeated sipping.
To create a similar effect at home, Elad Zvi of Bar Lab suggests infusing Maker’s Mark bourbon with serrano peppers. The process is easier than you might imagine. Grab half a dozen of the chilies, cut off the stems, and drop them into a bottle of the famed Kentucky whisky. Cap it off, and let it sit for a minimum of two days. You’re left with a sweet and spicy spirit that’s delightful on the rocks, as well as an invigorating base on which to build something savory. Zvi mixes two ounces of the infusion with a pinch of salt, a drop of agave syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice and ice in a blender, garnishing it all with sprigs of tarragon for his bourbon tarragon cooler.
Gaining steam in the cocktail scene are tea-infused boozes. Inviting a unique ensemble of warming, earthy aromas into the glass, these drinks are optimally equipped for cold weather consumption. At RedFarm’s Decoy bar (529 1/2 Hudson Street, 212-691-9700), in the West Village, Shawn Chen serves the “Chit-Cha” toddy out of a Gaiwan-glass teacup. The heated blend incorporates award-winning Pikesville Straight Rye, Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, and fresh brewed oolong tea, topped with ginger, cloves, and mint. The eclectic ingredients collide to form a singular drinking experience.
Speaking of singular drinking experiences, hows about a foie-gras-addled rum mixer? Eamon Rockey of the Michelin-starred Betony (41 West 57th Street; 212-465-2400) in Midtown is currently the only mixologist in the city bold enough to take the French gourmet staple, shake it up with sherry, Caribbean liqueur, a raw egg, and call it a cocktail. The resulting liquid is thick on the tongue, lasting in the finish, requiring a dress code to enjoy.
But you needn’t go highbrow to embrace meatiness in a savory drink. At Le Philosophe (55 Bond Street; 212-388-0038) in the Bowery, the “Maple Dickson” is more than enough to horrify your vegetarian friends. It drops George Dickel’s sensational No. 12 Rye into a blend of espresso and house made bacon syrup to surprisingly well-balanced effect.