Zack Thomas knew he would need to get inventive.
When building the spring menu for Foundation, the brick-lined cave cut into a shotgun space beneath Raleigh's Fayetteville Street, he dreamed of brandy milk punch, that sweet and smooth New Orleans classic where the milk masks the strong bite of the Cognac. But by design, Foundation only serves domestically sourced spirits; and by way of health-code simplicity, the bar doesn't keep dairy products on hand. Thomas, then, wanted to serve a mix of brandy and milk in a bar that carried neither.
"There's a grape brandy from California," he says of the quest, "but it unfortunately didn't fit what we were looking for."
So he went on a Cognac-sampling tour through town and found that he favored the flavor profile of Pierre Ferrand's radiant Ambre. He memorized the taste, returned to Foundation, and began trying to mimic what he'd liked by soaking raisins (and, in early trials, extraneous spices) in rum. For a day, he'd occasionally shake the setup.
Then, voila: "It finally matched up to what I was getting off the Cognac."
But what about the milk? At Foundation, he'd made various nondairy substitutes, but rice milk confounded him. He'd been using the cheap, bleached stuff and found the result to be an underwhelming gruel. And then he remembered the legend of Carolina Gold Rice.
Before becoming Foundation's general manager, Thomas worked at Joule, a nearby coffee shop. While there, he first encountered Carolina Gold Rice, a sacred Southern staple famously brought back into circulation by the heirloom food pioneer and Anson Mills owner Glenn Roberts. It's nonaromatic, nutty, and rich with starch—perfect, Thomas reckoned, for making milk. He dumped four cups of the rice into eight cups of water, blended the grains into a coarse grind, let the concoction sit, and added a cup of brown sugar to give it the confection boost of his New Orleans inspiration.
Step to the bar at Foundation, order the Glenn Roberts Punch, and you'll soon realize the cocktail's heaviest lifting happened days earlier. A bartender drops two square ice cubes into a thick-rimmed tumbler, pours two ounces of the raisin-infused rum, and tops it with a generous pour of cold rice milk. There's a squeeze of smoked oak tincture, a touch of aromatics, and a whole dried bay leaf plucked from a cubby behind the bar.
The Glenn Roberts seems to glow, its pale orange hue much more suggestive of a spring afternoon than its thick New Orleans antecedent. And while it conjures the spiced sweetness of the brandy milk original, it's approachably light, the sort of drink you could contentedly sip on Foundation's sidewalk for hours.
Consider it the graceful end to Thomas's weeks of tedious trials.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Rice Cold"