With the relentless battering of this winter’s weather and the endless succession of long nights, a body needs to break cabin fever, get to a place of conviviality, and imbibe some heart and soul-warming libations.
Though loaded with ice for the most part, winter cocktails are meant to give a sense of heat along with a much-needed dose of in-from-the-cold euphoria. Brown spirits and heat-inducing culinary ingredients are two components that define how local establishments are interpreting cold-weather drinks, with a large dose of creativity thrown in. Each drink is a mini vacation, transporting you to your own private getaway.
Like many other mixologists, Nick & Toni’s food and beverage director, Richard Scoffier, seems to get a kick out of both creating and naming cocktails. His update of an Old Fashioned is cleverly called a New-Fangled and switches a traditional southern-made bourbon with one from the Finger Lakes of this state, aged in chardonnay casks. Where the recipe for an Old Fashioned calls for the muddling of an orange slice and cherry, his rendition uses orange bitters from Fee Brothers, a Rochester company founded in 1863, and a sour cherry liqueur from American Fruits in Warwick, N.Y. “It’s brighter and fresher than most brown spirit cocktails,” he said, an understatement to be sure. He pickles the sour cherries himself with cognac, rye, maraschino liqueur, and bitters, and rims the glass with coarse crystals of raw sugar.
Winning the prize for the kookiest cocktail name is Fresh Hamptons, which features a happy hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m., for its If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother, a complex variation on a margarita. For a kick like a donkey’s, muddled jalapeno pepper explodes with ginger syrup and organic tequila. The restaurant, helmed by Todd Jacobs, a chef with a local provenance, offers a sophisticated take on health food. Fresh blackberry juice enriches the color and softens the punch of this drink, but only slightly. This is not for the faint of palate. All juices are made on the premises, except the cranberry.
Henri Santarem, a bartender and sommelier at the Living Room in East Hampton, has concocted a similar drink. For his Spicy Rita, he also muddles jalapenos as a blazing vehicle for Sauza tequila, but his version takes another turn with the inclusion of fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and homemade honey syrup. Instead of a dash of orange liqueur such as Cointreau he graces it with grapefruit juice so as not to “overwhelm your palate.” The zing of pepper doesn’t linger in the mouth, but travels down the throat where it’s sure to kill off any lurking microbes.
So much for heating the head. Mr. Scoffier has his wife to thank for a drink he calls a Booze Sweater that warms your cockles (whatever they are). Seems in winter she always orders a shot of bourbon with a side of hot peppermint tea. So he devised what he calls a “very Zen interactive cocktail” to incorporate those ingredients. What makes it interactive is that the customer can pour as much or as little of the tea, steeped in an iron Japanese teapot (the Zen of the equation), into the liquor as desired. The bourbon used here, Widow Jane, is made in Kentucky and finished in a Brooklyn distillery. What’s really interesting is that the water for it comes from the Widow Jane quarry, the source of limestone for the Brooklyn Bridge. Apparently highly mineralized stone-filtered water is a component of great whiskey. “It’s a seven-year bourbon that drinks like a 20,” said Mr. Scoffier. The honey used to sweeten the tea comes from the restaurant’s own hives. “I make this at home by the fire.”
Mr. Santarem has reinvented the Swedish Storm, a longtime mainstay of the Living Room’s cocktail menu. Now called the Bourbon Storm, he replaces a Swedish whiskey with Maker’s Mark, which he said “has more of a bite to it.” He starts by slicing ginger root into the glass, which he muddles with a generous wedge of lemon and Creole Bitters. A jigger of the Kentucky spirits and elderflower syrup spiked with more ginger finishes the drink. A ginger lover’s paradise, it is also just what the doctor ordered for those who thought they didn’t like bourbon. In this case, the bourbon’s mellow notes cancel out much of the ginger’s edge.
While winter cocktails may be medicine for the battered soul, at Fresh there’s also a focus on making the elixirs healthful and as local as possible. The Live Love Local cocktail incorporates LiV Vodka, a Long Island distillation made with potatoes, and a dollop of beach plum jelly from Pantigo Farm in East Hampton. “Beach plums are picked till the first frost,” said Kelly Remkus, a bartender and mixologist, and that gives the drink a seasonal bent. Tip a Dark Star is a comforting aromatic infusion of mulling spices such as star anise and cloves blended with rum. All the cocktails here pair well with items from the bar menu, which includes the crispiest calamari ever, served with a refreshing aioli, crunchy spears of baked dinosaur kale, and raw cheeses from Mecox Dairy.
For drama, the Jack Frost at Nick & Toni’s is finished by torching a marshmallow (house-made, of course) atop a concoction of house-made peppermint schnapps and the kitchen’s own hot cocoa (made with Valrhona). It is so dessert-like that it makes the ideal after-dinner cordial. Or, since it contains at least two food groups, perhaps you can skip dinner altogether.