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A collection of curious cocktails

Eight bartenders contribute an unusual and delicious creation to our dream cocktail list.



[Reader Bar Issue]Three and a half years ago two New Orleans bartenders, Maksym Pazuniak and Kirk Estopinal (formerly of the Violet Hour), published a slim volume and accompanying blog titled Rogue Cocktails, for which they asked their colleagues—many of them working in Chicago—to contribute "unusual and exciting recipes that hopefully broke at least some of the rules of cocktail construction." Later retitled Beta Cocktails (due to the objections of Oregon's Rogue Brewery), it featured audacious potables such as the Angostura Sour, featuring a full ounce and a half of bitters, and the Lavender Cadaver, an eggy flip with peaty Islay Scotch and watermelon. These were drinks that upended the sense of complacency that the authors felt was threatening the increasingly mainstream business of craft cocktailing. In that spirit I asked some of my favorite bartenders to offer up some of their more recent challenging, unusual, and delicious creations. —Mike Sula

A Collection of Curious Cocktails

Circa 1711
Cristiana DeLucca, the Drawing Room

Nutmeg and the baking-spice notes of the Czech herbal digestif Becherovka complement each other in a 300-plus-year-old recipe for a stomachic milk punch. Lemon, orange, and grapefruit peels infuse a mixture of rye, cognac, and applejack to which lemon juice, sugar, and scalded milk are added. The milk curdles, and all but a few of the solids are strained out to produce a smooth, refreshing, shelf-stable drink with pleasing texture and body.

Caper Classic
Jenny Kessler, Masa Azul

The skewered, pickled flower buds of the caper bush provide the ideal briny endnote to a drink that combines the sweetness of Samos muscat, the grassiness of Salers Apertif gentiane liqueur, and the long-lingering, spicy smokiness of Mezcalero #4 mezcal. The ingredients roll across the palate like a cloudburst followed by a long, hot desert wind.

Chauncey Peppertooth
Griffin Elliot, Scofflaw

Nine out of ten bartenders prefer the bitter, boozy Italian bitter Fernet Branca for clearing out the cobwebs at the end of a long shift. Elliot drapes its naked aggression in a tall, cool negligee of egg white, lime juice, raspberry syrup, and apricot liqueur.

Old Salt No. 2
Eric Henry, the Whistler

The Old Salt is a fine rye whiskey drink on the Whistler's regular menu, but its off-the-books forefather is splendiferous, made from the moonless union of Lemon Hart 151 Overproof Demerara and Smith & Cross Jamaican rums, along with burnt sugar syrup and a salt-and-granulated-honey tincture that makes it taste like a smooth, slow-melting salted caramel. Stirred rum drinks don't sell well on paper, so you have to know to ask for it.

Alex Bachman, Billy Sunday

The mysterious, fragrant, and expensive sperm whale intestinal secretion known as ambergris has a long history in the cocktail arts. Bachman says it makes the Cocktail one of his more difficult drinks to execute. Its sweetish, marine aroma becomes intense when heated during the creation of the palm sugar syrup that sweetens the drink (the ambergris perfumes the syrup). And when it's mixed with malted rye and Spanish brandy, it takes a good 45 seconds of stirring to bring the drink into proper balance: a smooth, boozy, subtly floral tipple.

Hot Butter Rum
Gregg Buttera and Stephen Cole, Barrelhouse Flat

Cole wanted a hot drink that wouldn't melt the butter or lose temperature because of it. So Buttera, drawing on skills learned at the Aviary, stabilized cream and butter with carrageenan into a stiff foam that's piped atop cinnamon-syrup-sweetened Appleton VX and Lemon Hart 151 rums as a one-two punch for those who like to drink their dessert.

Short Circuit
Mike Ryan, Sable

Served in a narrow coupe, this cool, clear sipper is built on the vegetal Brazilian sugarcane spirit cachaca and tamed by Manzanilla sherry, coconut liqueur, and curry bitters for a finish that tastes like distilled massaman curry.

Savannah Witmer, Boka

A deposit of orange Aperol rests at the bottom of the collins glass like a sunrise. It's the bitter reward for sipping through the cloud of egg white foam, grapefruit-bittered gin, and jasmine-agave syrup. For instant gratification ask for a straw to stir things up.

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