Low Octane Libations: “cocktails are balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.”

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From left to right: Amanda Boccato, Greg Best, Joaquin Simo, Kirk Estopinal

This good-lookin’ crew was my panel from Tales of the Cocktail. We had assembled to talk about “Low Octane Libations” — and although I’ve long been a fan of lower-alcohol cocktails, there’s nothing like hearing the gospel straight from the bartenders. In retrospect, I think this topic hit a sweet spot, sandwiched among seminars and tasting events that focused on vermouth, sherry and other lower alcohol options, and I’ve been tickled to see post-Tales roundups listing “lower alcohol” as a trend in the making.

Although I was preoccupied with moderating the panel, I did manage to scribble down some insightful comments from the panelists. Highlights included:

  • Amanda Boccato, brand ambassador from Lillet, noted that “historical cocktails can be reinvented using lower proof spirits as the base, such as a Lillet Julep.” Unprompted, later on in the session Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons noted that he had tried out a Lillet Julep spiked with Green Chartreuse. “It was so good,” he said.
  • This comment, from Greg Best of Holeman and Finch:  “As stewards of cocktail culture, we’re obligated to define cocktail culture endlessly. No one ever said it has to be boozy with bitters – there’s no rule.” Then he paused to define what cocktails are: “Balanced libations that bring people together to celebrate life.” The audience applauded!
  • Joaquin Simo on the rising phenomenon of Bartender’s Choice cocktails: “It’s an opportunity to bring out that coffee-infused vermouth – not Red Stag. If [guests] are giving you that much latitude, let’s not abuse it.”
  • Kirk Estopinal’s Pineau de Charentes Cobbler. All the cocktails were top-notch (and props to our Cocktail Apprentice leader, Christopher George and his team for making that so), but I especially loved how he defined the garnish:  as “good snacks on top.” His cobbler was topped with a quarter-wheel of lemon,  sprinkled with bitters and then sugar. How to get more guests at bars drinking cobblers? Here’s Simo’s idea: “Tell them the Cobbler was the Cosmo of the 1800s.”
Here’s the drink recipe:
Pineau de Charentes Cobbler  (Kirk Estopinal, Bellocq)
1 1/2 oz Ferrand Pineau de Charentes
1/2 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup (1:1)
¾ oz Calvados or Cognac
Boston Bitters-coated lemon pieces, for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Add all (except garnishes) to a tin and shake hard with big ice. Strain over crushed ice and top with garnish.

Cocktail recipe: Suppressor #7

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with “aperitif” cocktails, often made with lower alcohol levels and showcasing lovely vermouths, fortified wines, and bitter spirits like Cynar. And the July issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine includes my article on Aperitif Cocktails.

One of the most entertaining stories in aperitif-land now is in public transportation-challenged Atlanta, GA, where the bartenders banded together to find the polar opposite of the super-boozy Corpse Reviver and its brethren.

“This is a driving town,” explained Greg Best, co-owner and bartender at Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch. “It can get dangerous.” So in a grand effort to suppress alcohol levels, Atlanta’s mixologists hosted a contest to build a better, and lower-octane, cockail canon. The end result:  a new cocktail category called Suppressors.

I’d love to see every bar and restaurant have a lower-alcohol aperitif section on their menu; some “aperitifs” can be pretty darn strong. In my article, I featured Suppressor #21 (Cynar, Barolo Chinato, sherry, created by Paul Calvert of Pura Vida Tapas), as well as recipes sourced from Northern Spy in NY and OAK at fourteenth in Boulder. But here’s a second Suppressor cocktail created by Best, which had to be cut from the article for space reasons. It’s delicious, and quickly disappeared as soon as I shot this photo.

Suppressor #7

by Greg Best, Holeman & Finch

Pommeau de Normandy is a French apple brandy that’s lightened with unfermented apple cider.

1 ounce Cynar

1 ounce Pommeau de Normandy

1 ounce crisp sparkling wine, such as Cava

1 lemon peel

In a mixing glass, stir together Cynar, Pommeau and ice. Strain into a sherry tulip or riesling tulip glass. Pour in sparkling wine, then express oils from lemon peel over the top and discard the peel.