Challenged with Madras curry powder by Micah Melton of the Aviary, Graham Elliot Bistro bartender Dave Michalowski initially thought of doing a tiki-style cocktail. That changed once he got a whiff of the spice blend in full flower. His "awakening moment"? It smelled like maple syrup.
He'd made a tincture with the curry powder, steeping it for several days in a 192-proof neutral grain spirit, then straining it through a coffee filter. In the process the curry became "exponentially spicier," but when he sniffed it, there was that smell—like pancakes. He set out to make a cocktail with a similarly layered mix of sugar and spice.
Zaya Gran Reserva 12-year rum, from Trinidad, provides some sweetness and a little vanilla, with "a barley note in the background," he said. Sherry is another key, adding some dryness as well as a nutty, citrusy flavor. Michalowski upped the ante when it came to maple, using "Sweet Autumn"-flavored artisanal syrup from Moosewood Hollow. Cardamom bitters and the Madras curry tincture itself keep the spicier elements in the fore.
To prep the glass he used a tip he picked up from a bartender while working the front of the house at the Aviary. Using a dropper, he "rinsed" the rim of the glass with the curry tincture, which is so high in alcohol that it evaporates almost immediately, leaving behind an aroma he accentuated with a garnish of fresh basil.
The name of the drink comes from the last line of the sonnet "Prayer," written by the 17th-century metaphysical poet George Herbert, a compatriot of John Donne.
Slideshow Step-by-step instructions for making a Graham Elliot Bistro bartender's Madras curry cocktail14 slides
View a slideshow of Dave Michalowski making a Madras curry powder cocktail.
The Land of Spices
2 oz Zaya Gran Reserva 12-year rum
3/4 oz Lustau "Don Nuno" Dry Oloroso Sherry
1/4 oz Moosewood Hollow Sweet Autumn maple syrup
Strong dash of Scrappy's cardamom bitters
3-4 drops Madras curry tincture
Fresh basil, for garnish
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. With a dropper, rinse the rim of a rocks glass with an additional dose of curry tincture. Strain the drink over a large ice cube in a rocks glass and garnish with a basil sprig.
Michalowski has challenged the source of his tip for using tinctures: Jason Cevallos of the Office, the private bar in the Aviary's basement. "Jason excels in pulling essential flavors from ingredients," said Michalowski, quoting another former coworker. "I would love to see what he could do with an ingredient that doesn't have a ton of flavor." Hence dragon fruit, which despite its exotic looks doesn't taste like much at all.