A first look at the cocktails of Analogue | Bleader

A first look at the cocktails of Analogue

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Henry Prendergast (left) and Robert Haynes (right)
  • Julia Thiel
  • Henry Prendergast (left) and Robert Haynes (right) at a bar that is not Analogue
Earlier this month, Violet Hour beverage director Robert Haynes worked his last shift at the venerable Wicker Park cocktail bar. Both he and manager Henry Prendergast had been there since the bar opened, but this fall (they're aiming for October) they'll open Analogue, which combines a cocktail bar, dance club, and restaurant, in the former Las Islas Marinas space at 2523 N. Milwaukee. The chef is Alfredo Nogueira (Flipside Cafe, Rootstock), a New Orleans native who's developed a Cajun-influenced menu for the bar. Food will be served only in the early evening, after which the tables will be cleared away and that area will turn into a dance floor. In addition to the dinner tables/dance floor and bar, the 850-square-foot space will offer banquette seating in one corner, one large booth, a small back room, and possibly a tiny outdoor area in the alley if they can get a permit for it.

I'll have more details on the bar in a story in next week's paper, but last month Haynes and Prendergast offered me a taste of the type of cocktails they'll be making at Analogue. The menu is divided into three sections, the first of which will be determined by the current obsession of the bartenders who work there. Each bartender will have five to six cocktails on the menu, and Prendergast and Haynes envision it as a way to explore ideas in a way that isn't possible at the Violet Hour.

In this case, they were experimenting with a Japanese-inspired cocktail menu they dubbed "Big in Japan." It's not something that will necessarily be offered at Analogue, but an example of the way they're envisioning the menu working: in this case, they went to an Asian market to look for ingredients, played around with what they found, and came up with five cocktails.

The Ex Pat (left) and No Groni (right)

Prendergast says the Ex Pat, rum with fermented lime juice and pink peppercorn, was inspired by the fermented Thai sausage at Rainbow Cuisine; he liked the slight funk that fermenting the lime gave the drink, and used pink peppercorn syrup to add spice and brightness. It was easy to drink—almost too easy—and much less challenging than the No Groni: Plymouth gin, nori-infused Cocchi Americano, and Luxardo bitters. Soaking nori (seaweed) in Cocchi Americano infuses the Italian aperitif wine with "super umami, earthiness," Prendergast says. The result is an extremely funky, slightly bitter and salty drink (he also added a few drops of saline solution to complement the bitters).

Mule Variations

Mule Variations employed jujube honey tea and plum bitters with Kiuchi No Shizuku, a spirit distilled from Hitachino Nest Ale, and the cooked fruit flavors were nicely balanced by lemon and ginger. The People's Old-Fashioned was the most surprising and impressive drink of the bunch: it was a traditional old-fashioned, except that the whiskey (Four Roses Single Barrel) had been infused with genmaicha tea (green tea with roasted brown rice), giving it a nutty, toasted, popcornlike flavor that was both entirely unexpected and entirely appropriate. "It's a good example of how tweaking one ingredient can subtly change the entire nature of a cocktail," Haynes says.

Happy Ending, the final cocktail (shochu, red bean reduction, coconut cream, bitters) challenged him in a new way. "I do not cook. Ever," Haynes says. With the help of YouTube, though, he was able to take red beans and turn them into a sweet paste for the dessertlike drink. (He says he couldn't just buy red bean paste because that would be cheating.)

Purl with blackberry-woodruff-anise-orange peel bitters
  • Julia Thiel
  • Purl with blackberry-woodruff-anise-orange peel bitters

The second section of the menu is devoted to purls, which traditionally were beers preserved with bittering agents like wormwood. The idea came about when Haynes and Prendergast were making bitters and soda, and started topping the bitters with beer instead. They mix about an ounce and a half of bitters devised specifically for the purls—like strawberry-angelica-allspice and blackberry-woodruff-anise-orange peel—with three to four ounces of beer, and serve it over ice. The result is a carbonated, intensely bitter drink that tastes almost nothing like beer. The flavor is hard to describe, in fact, because it's completely different than anything else I've tried. It's more complex than most bitters, more bitter than most any beer. As Prendergast says, "It'll knock you on your ass."

The third section is made up of composed shots based on classic cocktails. I had one inspired by the old-fashioned cocktail and modeled after a tequila shot: you lick your hand, shake some demerara sugar on it, lick the sugar, take the shot (whiskey with a little angostura bitters in it), and then bite a slice of orange. It tasted surprisingly similar to an old-fashioned, but with a bright, sweet finish from the orange wedge. They're also working on a shot based on a Ramos Gin Fizz, one of the most famously time-consuming classic cocktails (mostly because it's traditionally shaken for up to 12 minutes). "Everyone's trying to make things huge; we're trying to make the world's smallest Ramos," Haynes says.

The beginnings of old-fashioned shots (I neglected to photograph the finished product, possibly due to the influence of alcohol)
  • Julia Thiel
  • The beginnings of old-fashioned shots (I forgot to photograph the finished product, possibly due to the influence of alcohol)

For those who think that Analogue will be another version of the Violet Hour, Prendergast and Haynes beg to differ. "We've spent six years in the center of that," Prendergast says. "Every time we see a new bartender come up, and he's got a mustache and he's just gotten into Chartreuse and is like, look at me, I'm into this . . . it's like, all right, man. That's kind of not what it's about. We won't have precious stuff."

Making the Peoples Old-Fashioned

Julia Thiel writes about booze every Wednesday.

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