With summer on the way, bar professionals are shaking up a new round of specialty cocktails to drive balmy-weather sales.
For a restaurant concept born of sultry climes, the summer drink season may never end. That’s the case with SushiSamba, the six-unit, New York-based casual chain that takes its cues from Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisines.
"Our restaurant fits around cultures in the tropics, so our season is pretty much year round," said corporate beverage director Jason Ferris. "Whenever you walk into SushiSamba, we want to transport you to a tropical paradise where it is Carnival all the time."
In that vein are new summer cocktails at SushiSamba Rio in Chicago like the Caliente, a combination of cachaça, the Brazilian sugar cane liqueur, mango and passion fruit juices and syrup flavored with aji panca, a Peruvian pepper. Each is priced at $12.
"People are very excited about the Caliente," said Ferris. He likened the flavor of the aji panca syrup to the spicy, fruity dipping sauce that goes with duck spring rolls.
Another new cocktail is the Beijo, which gets its unique bouquet and flavor from rum, elderflower and ginger liqueurs and muddled raspberries. A final float of cava adds sparkle and balances the sweetness of the drink. In another newcomer, the Kumori, made with nigori sake, shochu, gin and muddled cucumber, Ferris rims the glass with a mixture of nori shavings and salt for a refreshing "oceanic influence," as he put it.
At Boka, a fine dining restaurant in Chicago, a drink called the Spring Paloma segued into the season and hinted at what may come when head mixologist Benjamin Schiller unwraps his market-based summer cocktails.
The drink is built with three separate infusions of tequila: one with hibiscus blossoms, which lends a pink hue and floral aroma, another with damiana, the blossoms of a Mexican flowering shrub, which adds herbaceous notes and the third with vanilla beans, for the perfume. The three infusions are shaken with elderflower liqueur and lime juice and topped with fresh grapefruit juice to finish the libation, which is priced at $12.
"It's floral, sweet and herbaceous, with good acidity," Schiller said. "The flavors go in a lot of directions, but somehow they stay on track and people like them."
Schiller said he will frequent the Green City Market for fresh local produce to supply the bars of Boka and its sister restaurants in Chicago, Perennial and Landmark Grill & Lounge. "In each of our restaurants, we will have a cocktail in a fizz or sour format combined with ingredients from the market that captivate us," Schiller said. "It will be very spontaneous. We could use anything, like herbs or even really fresh eggs from a farm."
At Junnoon, a modern Indian restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., bar manager Joseph Bonnenfant said he will be working this summer with ingredients like berries, watermelon, tamarind, yogurt and jaggery, unrefined brown sugar, in drinks like the Tipsy Lassi and the Mumbai Mojito.
The Tipsy Lassi is a creamy Indian-style yogurt drink flavored with passion fruit and mango and spiked with mango rum. “A lot of Indian food has some heat on the back end, and this drink tames it nicely,” said Bonnenfant, who noted that it is also popular sans alcohol. The Mumbai Mojito melds lemon rum, fresh ginger, jaggery, lime and mint. "Mixing a little jaggery with ginger and fresh lime brings out the freshness of the drink and helps combat the heat," Bonnenfant added.
At the first Iron Bartender Masters of Mixology competition in Galveston, Texas, first-place finisher Alexander Gregg, a bartender at Brennan's of Houston, wowed the judges with a summery if unusual cocktail of rum and avocado topped with silky orange meringue. The latter was made by shaking orange liqueur, orange juice, vanilla ice cream and egg white. Gregg dubbed the drink the Jean LaFitte after the notorious French pirate who terrorized local waters in the 19th century. "It's definitely a summertime, cool-down, relax-by-the-pool kind of drink," he said.
Using avocado in the cocktail was a gamble that paid off. "I think the judges saw it as a good, creative use of ingredients," Gregg said.