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"My mom always told me to eat carrots when I was younger, because she wanted me to have better eyesight," says Jason Balutan, bartender at soon-to-open (Saturday, according to Facebook) Haywood Tavern, in Humboldt Park. Mike Popek of the Kitchen Chicago had challenged him to create a cocktail with the root vegetable, which Balutan says he'll eat raw but dislikes when it's cooked.
He's not a fan of carrot juice either, so he'd never considered using carrots in a cocktail. Balutan took his inspiration from mirepoix—chopped onion, carrot, and celery—which is used in cooking as the flavor base for soups, sauces, and stocks. He caramelized onions with dry vermouth and lime juice, then pureed them for the onion component of his drink. Instead of celery stalks, he used celery bitters. And for the carrot, he went with the hated carrot juice.
Balutan says that the mirepoix combination created a flavor that works with a wide range of liquors, from mezcal to vodka. He chose Letherbee gin for its botanicals, which are enhanced by the vegetal cocktail. After combining the ingredients, he topped the drink off with ginger beer (ginger and carrot go well together) and a pickled carrot.
Balutan still doesn't like carrot juice—"but at least I can drink this," he says. "What doesn't alcohol make better?"
Balutan has challenged Andy Rivera of the Publican to create a cocktail with banana ketchup, a condiment created during World War II when tomatoes were in short supply.
1.25 oz Letherbee gin
1 bar spoon onion puree*
2 oz carrot juice
2 dashes celery bitters
Pickled carrot for garnish
Fill a pint glass with ice. Add all ingredients and shake briefly. Fill a Collins glass with ice and strain mixture into the glass. Top with ginger beer and pickled carrot.
*Onion puree: Caramelize onions, add Dolin dry vermouth and lime juice, and puree.