Culinary cocktails are far from new (think Scott Beattie’s garden-fresh cocktail innovation a decade ago in Sonoma that led to his book, Artisanal Cocktails). Utilizing garden and kitchen ingredients has been a welcome challenge for bartenders throughout the cocktail renaissance. These days, there’s an elevated selection of culinary cocktails around the country from bar managers who often weave complicated techniques into drinkable cocktails.
Umami & Mint (Mourad, San Francisco)
With Mourad recently getting a Michelin star and a new bar manager, Anthony Parks’ cocktail menu is full of “wow” moments, as he crafts cocktail elements like salted pistachio syrup and Thai coconut lychee milk (both in his fantastic Curry & Milk cocktail). Umami & Mint may be the one to go down the easiest, as a bright blend of Plata tequila, agave, cucumber, mint and the lushly nutty, intriguing surprise of toasted sesame oil.
Apostate (The Up & Up, New York City)
In the intimate, welcoming Up & Up, talented Chaim Dauermann (head bartender) and Matt Piacentini (owner) turn out cocktails where pink peppercorn and chanterelle mushrooms intermingle. Dauermann’s Apostate pulls on the spirit of a classic Julep, served over crushed ice, but combines Cutty Sark Scotch whisky and Yellow Chartreuse with Worcestershire sauce and lime oil to savory, tart, silky effect.
New Yorkers Chad Solomon and Christy Pope bring a dose of London-style, lab-esque, Tony Conigliaro experimentation via their hidden lab at Midnight Rambler, stocked with the likes of a rotovap and centrifuge. Their drinkable-yet-complex cocktails hold many delights, but it doesn’t get much more “culinary” than a Pho-King Champ “shot,” a mix of wheat vodka, Oloroso sherry, aromatized beef stock and a cilantro leaf.
Hanoi High Five (Sanctuari, Houston)
Cocktail destination Sanctuari (inside the restaurant Triniti) is glamorous in golds, tans and blacks. The bartending team of Blake Jorgenson, Andrew Taake and Reginald Tucker showcase complex, umami flavors in house favorites like the well-balanced Hanoi High Five, a mixture of Thai-chili-infused Green Chartreuse, gin, lemon, lime, lemongrass, ginger and—wait for it—green curry and fish sauce.
Gutter Sparrow (The Gin Joint, Charleston, South Carolina)
Inside the romantic, intimate Gin Joint, beet syrup, caraway and smoked honey are ingredients you’ll find deftly woven into the cocktails. Gutter Sparrow is a classic flip with a whole egg and subtle softness, exhibiting silky texture from smoked butternut squash combined with Zaya 12-year rum, orgeat and barrel-smoked maple syrup, seasoned with Angostura bitters, nutmeg and Bulls Bay smoked salt.
Intelligent Life in the Universe (Fairweather, San Diego)
Overlooking Petco Park, open-air bar Fairweather, focused on agave spirits and rum, feels like perpetual vacation. Bar manager Ken Lindstrom nods to Carl Sagan’s search for “exobiology” in Intelligent Life in the Universe, a glowing green sipper featuring Green Chartreuse and blanco tequila, vibrant with house verdita, combining pineapple, serrano pepper, mint and cilantro.
Ornamental Tonic (Acorn, Denver)
A house smoker and modern Southern dishes already make Acorn a Denver destination, but the bar, stocked with small-batch spirits, keeps up. A crisp Ornamental Tonic pulls from the kitchen, enlivening Beefeater gin and St. George pear liqueur with lemon, yuzu and Chinese five-spice, topped with Fever-Tree tonic and an anise pod.