What Winter Cocktail Menus Bring

A few models of the new standard style of cocktail menu are emerging; well, not new exactly, more like an unspoken agreement that a good, balanced menu will include a nod to the classics, a splash of market freshness and an offering of seasonal. Like a three-ingredient drink, the menu style can be tweaked in a variety of ways.

The new cocktail menu at Washington, D.C.’s Bourbon Steak, created by head bartenders Jamie MacBain and Duane Sylvestre, is one example. From the past come the Brown Derby as does Donn Beach’s creation, Navy Grog (Gosling’s Black Seal, Appleton V/X, El Dorado 15 year old, fresh lime juice, grapefruit juice and honey syrup).

Bourbon Steak

Washington, D.C.'s Bourbon Steak is ready for winter with a new seasonal house cocktail list.

On the seasonal house cocktail list, there’s Skaal (Akvavit base with lime juice, celery juice and spicy cane syrup), Glaser’s Ghost (Compass Box Spice Tree and Orangerie whiskies with Aperol) and O.A.S. (for Organization of American States — pisco, lemon juice, coffee syrup and egg white. Sounds like a lovely breakfast cocktail idea!).

Cranberries (in the Cranberry Cobbler made with Ketel One, sherry, cranberry-sage syrup, macerated cranberries and citrus) and beets (in We Got the Beet made with tequila, Averno, beet juice and lime juice) are nods to market drinks. Overall, a nice balance of flavors, styles and presentations.

Other new bars take a slightly trimmer approach. In Portland, Ore., the new bar at Aviary arrives with a cocktail list including seasonal and classic beverages. Bar manager Ross Hunsinger has been tasked with working closely with Aviary’s chefs to make the cocktail list seasonal and “unique to their cuisine.”

To do that, there’s a touch of local, the Cider Press (Oregon’s Clear Creek apple brandy, apple cider, Tuaca, spices, lemon and apple juices); a bit of strong and stirred for the winter, Naughtea (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cherry Heering, lemon juice, rooibos tea and honey); a pair of wine-based drinks, the Pinkerton (Cazadores reposado tequila, grapefruit juice, sauvignon blanc, soda and simple syrup) and the Brix Layer (Buffalo Trace, Cointreau, sour mix, Angostura and cabernet sauvignon); and a trio of vodka, yes, vodka, cocktails that promise flavor provided by kafir lime leaf, fernet, vermouths, basil and sesame.

A number of bars have opened recently with more focus on classic and new strong-and-stirred drinks, and an integration of fine spirits served neat or chilled. Doing both and integrating food with the beverage menu is the latest enterprise of Nightclub & Bar's 2011 Bartender of the Year Jackson Cannon, the barman piloting Boston’s Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar. The Hawthorne, Cannon's latest brainchild located in the Commonwealth Hotel, takes a culinary approach to drinking — or maybe it’s a mixological approach to eating — whatever one calls it, finger foods menu and cheese program is meant to allow the spotlight to linger on beer, wine and cocktails.

Jackson Cannon

Nightclub & Bar's 2011 Bartender of the Year, Jackson Cannon, allows the spotlight to linger on beer, wine and cocktails at The Hawthorne in Boston.

“Our expansive list is filled with nouveau classics, rediscovered gems and daily changing creations; throughout, our tenders remain ever willing to interpret your desires with on-the-spot concoctions. For those who prefer their spirits neat, a highly-curated selection of the rarest in cognacs, tequilas, whiskey and well-aged rums are offered” goes the opening manifesto. The opening menu includes Daiquiris three ways (Up, Hemingway and the barman’s nemesis – Frozen!); Ada Coleman’s Hanky Panky (gin, vermouth and fernet, which this winter seems to have managed to muscle its way onto many cocktail menus); and the Amontillado/vermouth/bitters triumvirate Bamboo (Improved). Beer-, bubbly- and port-based drinks also make appearances, but it’s the daily changing cocktails and bespoke drinks that will probably make the Hawthorne, knowing Cannon’s skills.