Combining aspects of the locavore trend, community pride and sheer sipping pleasure, cocktails featuring local or regional spirits are stirring up sales in some restaurants and bars.
Locavore consumers favor foods produced as close to home as possible, arguing that they are more nutritious, tastier and kinder to the environment than those shipped long distances. In fact, the use of the “local” claim on restaurant menus has grown by 13 percent in the past year, according to Mintel, a market research company. It also said that 58 percent of restaurant patrons are interested in seeing more locally grown foods on menus.
The notion has spread to the bar, hence a drink like the Farmers Smash, a top-selling cocktail at Founding Farmers, an eco-friendly restaurant in Washington, D.C., that promotes sustainable agriculture and local food sourcing. Created by chief mixologist Jon Arroyo, it showcases Founding Farmers Rye Whisky, a private-label spirit from Copper Fox Distillery of nearby Sperryville, Va., along with freshly muddled orange and lemon, bitters and ginger syrup.
“We’re always trying to stay on the cutting edge for our clients by developing unique products,” said Arroyo.
Arroyo and his staff are quick to tell patrons that the house rye is an exclusive creation by master distiller Rick Wasmund, himself a frequent visitor to the bar. He distilled the small-batch spirit from a mash of two-thirds rye and one-third hand-malted barley.
“The malt is also smoked with apple and cherry wood, which is what takes our product over the top,” said Arroyo, adding that the close business and personal rapport he shares with Wasmund has contributed to the success of the private-label project.
Patrons of the Drawing Room, a culinary cocktail lounge in Chicago, rub elbows on occasion with the principals of North Shore Distillery, based in the Chicago suburbs, and Templeton Rye, from Iowa.
“There are times when I am mixing a cocktail for someone and I say, ‘The person who makes the spirit is sitting over there,’” said chief mixologist Charles Joly “That is pretty cool.”
One of the Drawing Room’s popular area sips is Burlesque L’Amour, a Prosecco-based drink layered with the flavors of North Shore Mighty Gin, Grand Marnier, North Shore Sirene Absinthe Verte and fig bitters. Another is the Drawing Room Manhattan, a distinctive melding of Templeton Rye, Punt e Mes, aromatic bitters and housemade maraschino.
“Just because something is small doesn’t make it better necessarily,” said Joly. “We are still going to use the large companies that have been making beautiful spirits for a long time. But it is fun to see the craft and boutique things come up. As long as they keep producing good spirits, we will keep playing with them and trying to make cocktails.”
Growing community pride adds to the appeal of The Brooklyn Gin and Tonic, a brisk-selling libation at Thistle Hill Tavern in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.
The drink’s two main ingredients are Breuckelen Distilling Company gin, spelled in the old Dutch manner and distilled on 19th Street in Brooklyn, and Q Tonic, an artisan tonic water also made in the borough.
Also selling well at Thistle Hill are Brooklyn Gin, which is actually made in suburban New York, and several craft beers made in Brooklyn. It is evidence of a trend of mounting interest in all things Brooklyn, said John Bush, co-proprietor and bar manager.
“People walk around with Brooklyn t-shirts and go to a Brooklyn distillery or a Brooklyn restaurant,” said Bush. “People really like to represent that they are from Brooklyn.”