Bar managers make the transition from winter drinks to spring refreshers 

click to enlarge Chris Barrett makes a Grinnin' Tonic at Ludivine, Thursday, March 16, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Chris Barrett makes a Grinnin' Tonic at Ludivine, Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Winter cocktails in a skilled mixologist’s hands reflect what the earth provides in the cold months. As a result, seasonal cocktails from the holidays through the first half of March can take on the olfactory and mouth-feel characteristics of comfort food: rich, thick and redolent of warmth.

In the final weeks of winter, as he started thinking of lighter and more refreshing fare for spring, Chris Barrett, bar manager at Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson Ave., was serving up broccoli beef.

Well, sort of. For February, Barrett’s special bar menu featured drinks based on American Chinese food, taking ingredients that, brought together, bore an olfactory resemblance to favorite takeout orders, and one of his original cocktails was called Broccoli Beef.

“There’s not beef in it,” Barrett said reassuringly. “The ‘beef’ in it is Beefeater gin, and then we did some sherry, some brown sugar, some orange bitters and ginger, and then for the garnish, we took a broccoli floret, rolled it in oyster sauce and toasted it.”

The result gave off the pleasing aroma of a broccoli beef dish, but with a different kind of kick to it. Meanwhile, on Northwest Expressway, bar manager Rob Lindsey of Whiskey Cake Kitchen & Bar, 1845 Northwest Expressway, consoled his customers who couldn’t make it to the Crescent City this year with a Mardi Gras specialty, the Vieux Carré.

A cousin to a Sazerac, the Vieux Carré is made with rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters. It’s a drink that can soothe displaced New Orleanians and works in either a hot humid climate or a crisp, windy one. Throughout the winter, Lindsey incorporated available produce into his drinks, combining ingredients such as freshly squeezed beet juice, rosemary and brandy to create earthy, rustic flavors.

But once patio weather hits, fresh and refreshing become the key characteristics of spring cocktails. That’s when Lindsey tries to incorporate local produce to create freshness that tastes and feels freshly picked.

“Peaches from the Tulsa area have been really fantastic,” said Lindsey, who grew up in Kansas City. “Sand plum is another one. We used sand plum jelly in a cocktail and added a deep sweetness to it. It has a rich mouthfeel where it’s not exactly creamy, but it’s substantial.”

click to enlarge Chris Barrett makes a Grinnin' Tonic at Ludivine, Thursday, March 16, 2017. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Chris Barrett makes a Grinnin' Tonic at Ludivine, Thursday, March 16, 2017.

Barrett said the difference in tastes between winter and spring drinks is a holdover from the days before refrigeration or hothouse growing.

“With winter, you’re using your spices — cinnamon, cloves, allspice — and you also use your herbal liqueurs, which are a way to preserve herbs,” Barrett said. “But when you move into spring, you start thinking about fresh herbs, cucumbers, strawberries — not your other berries like blackberries that tend to wait until summer. You’re thinking along the lines of agriculture, but also your more floral liquors like agave spirits.”

Last year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ Revolver, Barrett scheduled a monthlong menu with drinks dedicated to each song on the classic album. He’s currently mulling over a similar menu to celebrate the golden anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an album with plenty of imagery that is ripe for mixology interpretation, but that will not take place until nearly summer. In the meantime, he is working on drinks that will cure what ails you.

“Thinking herbal, I’ve kind of got an idea of a Medicine Man concept: getting some of these old books of natural home remedies and incorporating it into the drinks, like ‘To Cure Your Arthritis,’” Barrett said.

These curative tonics will feature herbs as they come back into season to cure your aches and pains or just your winter blues.

“It’s perfect for the spring season, because those are the things that you would use,” Barrett said.

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