Cocktail Challenge: Dandelion | Cocktail Challenge | Chicago Reader

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Cocktail Challenge: Dandelion

Sean Patrick Riley of the Burlington crafts a G&T that's (supposedly) good for you.


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Challenged by Nandini Khaund of the app Craft Cocktail to make a drink with dandelion, Burlington bartender Sean Patrick Riley got, in his words, "esoteric," perusing Ray Bradbury's novel Dandelion Wine. It's a "great book about summer," Riley said, and that, in combination with the "soul-crushing winter" we've had, inspired him to shoot for something in between. He was after "a springlike cocktail, earthy, with lots of botanicals."

That led him to gin. In particular, locally made Letherbee Gin, which carries the slogan "Gin for health" because of the medicinal roots used in its making. Riley's research into dandelions had already revealed that the plant is said to benefit liver function—"always good in a cocktail," he deadpanned.

The weather still wasn't cooperating, but despite the utter absence of fresh dandelions, Riley hit upon two ways to employ his ingredient, the first a simple syrup he made from dandelion tea, the second an artisanal name brand, Dr. Adam Elmegirab's Dandelion & Burdock Bitters—"it has that funky flower smell to it," he said.

He'd experimented with some additional spirits, but in the end "I decided simpler is better," Riley said, "just to make sure that you can get all the notes of the dandelion." He topped off his gin-based cocktail with tonic—specifically, Fentimans Tonic Water. Made with lemongrass in addition to quinine bark, it adds another botanical dimension to the drink without overwhelming it.

He kept things simple at the end as well, garnishing with a lemon peel and, in lieu of a dandelion head, a flower petal. The result is a light and refreshing cocktail with a dose of optimism—hence the name.

Impending Bloom - PETER HOLDERNESS
  • Peter Holderness
  • Impending Bloom

Impending Bloom

11/2 oz Letherbee Gin
1/2 oz dandelion-root simple syrup
2 healthy dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters
Fentimans Tonic Water
Lemon peel, for garnish

Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and shake. Strain into a coupe and float a little of the Fentimans on top. Garnish with a peel of lemon and, if spring ever arrives, a dandelion head.

Who's Next:

Riley, who plays guitar in the septet Bloodiest, has challenged Big Star bartender (and Bloodiest drummer) Cayce Key to make a drink with smoke.

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