"Oh, this one's a walk in the park," thought Ingi Sigurdsson on learning he'd been challenged with sweet potato by Barrelhouse Flat barkeep Mark Brinker. Sigurdsson, now head bartender at the 16th-floor Terrace at Trump, previously worked as a sous chef at the Aviary, which actually had a sweet potato cocktail on the menu at the time.
But he was wrong about its being easy.
"Everything I came up with that tasted good" was better suited to winter, he says, and he wanted to "avoid the pumpkin pie effect." Too, he found it difficult to distill sweet potatoes into a boozy form without creating "a globby mess."
He wound up infusing his base spirit—white rum—with sweet potatoes, as well as making a simple syrup with the tubers, taking care to strain both well. And instead of turning to rich ingredients like whole egg, he used plenty of lemon juice and a good handful of fresh mint. The last, he says, proved to be the key to his drink.
That and his improvised swizzle stick. The "real" ones, he told us, are made from a plant native to the Caribbean (Quararibea turbinata, aka the "swizzlestick tree," to be precise). He made do with a bar spoon.
Coming up with the name was the easy part.
View a slideshow of Ingi Sigurdsson making a sweet potato cocktail.
I Yam What I Yam
2 oz sweet-potato-infused Flor de Cana 4 Year Extra Dry Rum*
3/4 oz sweet potato syrup**
3/4 oz lemon juice
10-12 fresh mint leaves, lightly spanked
Dash Angostura bitters
1/4 oz Ron Zacapa Centanario 23 Year Aged Rum, for topping off
Combine the infused rum, sweet potato syrup, lemon, and fresh mint in a tall pilsner glass. Fill three-quarters of the way full with crushed ice and swizzle until mixed through. Add a dash of Angostura bitters, then fill the rest of the glass with more crushed ice. Top off with a quarter ounce of 23-year-aged rum and garnish with a sprig of mint.
* Sweet-potato-infused Rum
Roast four pounds of peeled sweet potatoes at 350 degrees for an hour and a half to two hours. Lightly crush them and combine in a container with a 750-milliliter bottle's worth of white rum. Refrigerate and steep for 24 hours, then strain through a coffee filter.
** Sweet potato syrup
Peel and juice four to five sweet potatoes. Let the juice sit for 20 minutes to allow the starch to settle at the bottom, then decant it. Reduce the decanted juice by half and combine with white granulated sugar at a ratio of 1:1.
Sigurdsson has challenged Josh "Sonic" Relkin of Sable with capers, an ingredient he's been thinking he could use to make a good cocktail—"if I managed to pull the saltiness out," he says.