Your Vodka Cranberry, Updated Farm-to-Bar Style Slideshow
There aren’t many fruits that can match the tartness of cranberries, but there are plenty that try. In late fall, try quince, which was infused in vodka for Blue Hill New York’s drink, mixed with spice-infused quince simple syrup and amaro. For winter, "I would suggest winter citrus, especially blood oranges and Meyer lemons, which have a short season but a gorgeous bright flavor and color," Katie Bell of Blue Hill New York says.
Of course, citrus and pomegranate work perfectly with vodka, as both Moore and Santillana point out. "If somebody orders a vodka cranberry it’s easy to shake that up with a blood orange juice instead, or pomegranate juice or fresh pomegranate seeds," Moore says. If you happen to see blackberries in the market, as Santillana has found, make a classic Rickey (vodka, lime juice, soda water, simple syrup), muddle some fresh berries in it, and top with a lime peel.
Mo Hodges at BIG created a more savory take on the vodka cranberry, muddling seasonal pomegranate with rosemary and mixing in blood orange juice. Click here for the recipe.
Perhaps the easiest drink to jazz up, many mixologists forgo store-bought ginger ale for the real thing. Grab fresh ginger, or homemade ginger beer, and experiment. "It’s easy to make a nice syrup out of ginger," Santillana says. "What we do here is we have a juicer, we take a ginger extract and mix it up with sugar, and you make ginger beer, and it’s a lot richer than just regular ginger ale and it’s perfect for cocktails."
For a warmer drink, infuse whiskey with a spiced apple tea, Moore suggests, and serve it with a hot whiskey cider topped with cinnamon and nutmeg. On another fruity note, Bell suggests trying pears in the late fall and early winter. "Pears… complement ginger and whiskey really well, either freshly muddled or preserved in a shrub with champagne vinegar," Bell says.
Similarly, Brian Felley of BIG created a fresh, spiced-up whiskey ginger for The Daily Meal, muddling ginger with bourbon and some lemon juice, allspice dram, and Cocchi Americano. "Since we’re doing it seasonal we used some winter spices, [like] allspice, that go great with ginger," Felley explains. "As opposed to just a whiskey and ginger, we added a few components to give some layers of flavors." Click here for the recipe for Felley’s whiskey ginger.
The classic refreshing gin and tonic was a bit harder to mess with. "People drink it for the refreshing factor in the summer," Moore says, suggesting people gravitate to bottled tonic for a classier take. Similarly, Katie Bell of Blue Hill New York says, "If it's not broke, don't fix it." Get the best local gin you can find, the best bottled tonic, and call it a day.
To get another refreshing taste, however, try switching out classic cucumbers for something a bit more seasonal. "We get lots of requests for Hendrick's and tonics with cucumbers in the winter when there is not a cucumber for miles," Bell says. "Our suggestion is the bright spicy flavors of radishes, a nice alternative."
Over in produce-heaven San Francisco, however, Christian Clark at BIG found a seasonal way to make the refreshing mixed drink into a complex, layered cocktail, muddling in a fennel bulb with chartreuse and bitters. "Muddling fresh fennel is a little like using fresh cucumber," Felley explains. "You’re not going to get a ton of the fennel flavor but you’d really just brighten and lighten up the drink; it gives it a vegetative quality that rounds off the booze a little and softens the edges." Click here for the recipe for BIG’s gin and tonic.
Rum and Coke
Trying to imitate the flavors of Coca-Cola (a synthetic sugar product, basically) farm-fresh is hardly easy. You could always try it with real Mexican Coca-Cola, made with cane sugar, or try mixing nocino, a green walnut liqueur, and some coffee for a rum-and-coke-esque drink, sans synthetic soda.
Bell tells us that Blue Hill’s rum and coke twist, the Sabbatical, pairs nocino with a smoky mezcal and amaro, creating a darker rum and coke for winter nights.
Clark at BIG uses a mix of rum, falernum, Averna, and coffee liquor (not to mention crushed coffee beans), topped with a dark English ale to "spin everything out," Felley explains. "It tones down flavors; it will kind of soften everything again."As for the coffee liquor? "It’s made from lots of roots and herbs, so if we don’t have Coke, those are the natural flavors that mimic the soda’s flavors." (Click here for BIG’s rum and coke recipe.)
Or, if you just want to drink some rum, "Take whatever is seasonal and mix it with a daiquiri," Santillana suggests. "If you wanted something more savory, add honey as a modifier instead of regular sugar. It’s just going to open your mouthfeel to it, it stays with you a little longer, makes it a little more savory on the palate."
Thanks to the winter citrus boon, margaritas work surprisingly well in the winter. Try out some tequila (or gin) with blood orange juice, hop-infused honey, and garnish with a whole flower hop to mimic Blue Hill’s Noble Bee, Bell suggests. Or try using kumquats, muddling in the tiny orange-like fruit and adding agave to balance. "[Kumquats are] a great addition to any basic margarita recipe," Santillana says. "Blood oranges are, however, a little cheaper and readily available, it looks a lot nicer, the garnish is a lot nicer, and it just catches people’s eye."
BIG’s take on the margarita adds grapefruit and the seasonal Bergamot orange. "We tried to take out the lemon and lime and use different seasonal citrus fruits," Felley says, also adding in mezcal for a smoky flavor. "A margarita is very summery but we’re beefing it up a little bit," Felley says. For a bigger hit, rim the glass with salt and fresh ground black pepper (cayenne or pink peppercorns also work). "The black pepper adds a little electricity to what you’re drinking,” Felley says. "You get a little heat from the pepper and it works to give a long finish to the drink; you feel the pepper hit, take over, and clean out your palate for the next sip." Click here for BIG’s margarita recipe.
Since the Manhattan is the most spirit-forward drink, there’s not much you should add to it for a true Manhattan drinker. Blue Hill New York serves a straightforward Manhattan-like cocktail called The Kip, mixing applewood-smoked rye with sweet vermouth and crown maple syrup. But fruits? Not so much.
"People who drink Manhattans, they like the taste of Manhattans, and adding a berry to it almost seems blasphemous," Santillana says.
An easy way to make this drink more seasonal is to make your own sweet vermouth. Bell suggests drying and preserving herbs and spices from spring, as well as citrus, to customize your own sweet vermouth. "The basic recipe for sweet vermouth is very simple — white wine, aromatics and botanicals and some brandy, and a touch of caramelized sugar for sweetness," Bell says. Add in any herbs, spices, and aromatics like lavender, black pepper, cinnamon, or chamomile.
The classic Manhattan cocktail, however, can’t go wrong. Felley serves a wintry Manhattan with nocino, bitters, and garnishes with a brandied cherry or a lemon twist. Click here for BIG’s Manhattan recipe.