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Cocktails with sweet heat welcome the arrival of spring

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There's already evidence that March has stormed in "like a lion," and local climate history provides reasonable optimism that it again will "go out like a lamb."

If you want to do your bit to bolster the prophecy, claim a seat at the outdoor patio of The Station, a North Person neighborhood bar and restaurant designed to take full advantage of warm weather imbibing.

The Station, owned by Niall Hanley, who recently opened his rebuilt and much-missed Hibernian Pub in downtown Raleigh, seats just 31 patrons at nine tables, plus a dozen or so more at the copper-topped bar. Another 121 customers can be accommodated outside, however. Sliding glass doors are opened on mild nights to create one lively space. On cold nights, hearty folks cluster around fireplaces set at either end of the patio.

General Manager Stefanie Baxter developed the current roster of spring-friendly cocktails with Hibernian Executive Chef Dan Yeager. There are two that deliciously complement the transitional weather with a balanced blend of sweet heat, and one that will convert tipplers who think they don't like dark liquors.

Baxter says the Mordi (short for Mordecai, the community located a few blocks north) currently reigns as the most popular beverage on its specialty cocktail menu. The gin-based drink gets its spicy pop from intense blood orange syrup, honey syrup and housemade habanero shrub bitters—the latter of which is developed as a vinegar infusion. Instead of adding soda water, the cocktail is topped with Dale's Pale Ale (served on tap) and a sprinkling of smoked paprika and sea salt.

The recipe for the Mordi is featured in the online version of this story. Baxter says it is also terrific when tequila is substituted for the gin, turning it into a savory margarita.

Tequila is the calling card of the Oakwood Heat (a nod to neighbors a few blocks south), and it was our group's favorite during a recent visit.

The cocktail's sneaky heat comes from muddled jalapeño, whose flavor somehow becomes more pronounced as melting ice gradually dilutes the drink. It is tempered with agave nectar, fresh lime juice and tangy cranberry syrup. As sip-worthy as it is now, Baxter promises it's even better when fresh, in-season cranberries can be crushed into the jalapeño.

While mixing light and dark liquors is an adventure typically reserved for those with iron stomachs, Baxter could not resist demonstrating one of The Station's most visually appealing drinks, the Whiskey & Dixie. Essentially a deconstructed bourbon and Coke, the cocktail is poured carefully to create three distinct layers of cola syrup, booze and soda water. The imbiber gets to play mixologist by stirring the ingredients into a smooth blend with a lightly sweet finish. Order multiples at your own peril, however. One too many and you'll be crawling home.

The Station's zippy Bloody Mary is available as a standard menu feature, but are a $4 special on Sundays. The bar juices about 10 gallons of its own spicy mixer every Saturday with the hope of making it through the weekend service. "It's the single-most popular item on our menu—including hamburgers," Baxter says. "It really is that good."


Oakwood Heat

2 fresh cranberries*
2 thin slices jalapeño
1.5 oz. blanco tequila, such as Don Julio
1 oz. agave nectar, such as Le Sirop de Monin
1 lime wedge, squeezed
1 slice lime

Muddle 1 slice of jalapeño and cranberries in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, then add tequila, agave nectar and lime juice. Shake well then strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with slices of lime and jalapeño.

*When cranberries are not in season, make cranberry syrup by reducing a thawed container of frozen cranberry concentrate in a small sauce pan over medium heat until reduced to the consistency of maple syrup. Cool and transfer to a glass jar or squeeze bottle. Use a half-ounce syrup in place of the two fresh cranberries.


Whiskey & Dixie

PHOTOS BY JUSTIN COOK
  • Photos by Justin Cook


The Mordi (Mordecai)

1.5 oz. gin, such as Broker’s
½ oz. blood orange syrup*
Dash of house-made honey syrup**
Dash of house-made habanero shrub bitters (or Bittermen’s Hellfire Habanero Shrub Cocktail Bitters by Fee Brothers)
1 lemon wedge
squeezed Pale ale, such as Dale’s
Dash of smoked paprika and sea salt

Place gin, syrups and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice; shake well. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with pale ale then dust with smoked paprika and sea salt.

*To make blood orange syrup: The Station uses a contrite to create its syrup but you can approximate the flavor at home. Squeeze juice from one or more large blood oranges. Add 1 tablespoon sugar per every half cup juice. Place in a small sauce pan over medium heat, occasionally swirling the pan, and reduce until the consistency of maple syrup. Cool and transfer to a glass container or squeeze bottle.

**To make honey syrup: This is a simple syrup that uses a ratio of one part honey to one part water. Warm honey in a small sauce pan over low heat. Gradually add water, whisking to fully incorporate. Cool and transfer to a glass container or squeeze bottle.

Free Spirits is the INDY's new column devoted to liquor and cocktails.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Take it outside."

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