Belly up to any cocktail bar in the Triangle, and you'll get a gentle nudge from a bartender pushing a list of signature craft concoctions. And while these menus usually move beyond the classics, you can trace any contemporary drink back to a tried-and-true staple. We spoke to six local bartenders about their favorite riffs on classic drinks.
DAIQUIRI, TWO WAYS
Alley Twenty Six, Durham
Bartender Colin Cushman
Don't make the newbie mistake and assume that daiquiris were invented at a Señor Frogs, packed into a Slushee machine from which you contracted a brain freeze (hopefully the only illness you picked up during your raucous spring break). The classic daiquiri, served up, is a standard recipe and jump-off point for many favorites. The basic components are what Colin Cushman calls the "Caribbean holy trinity": citrus, sugar, and rum.
Cocktail experts debate the origins of the daiquiri, but a common historical account attributes the recipe to an American mining engineer in Cuba who named it after a local town rife with lime and sugar. Cushman employs both of those ingredients—fresh lime juice and simple syrup—to make Alley Twenty Six's standard daiquiri, with white rum, as well as another version with dark rum. The first one is a summery yellow-green in hue and tastes crisp and sweet. By swapping out the rum, the drink becomes a cloudy, rusty color, picking up more on the sourness of the lime juice. If you exchange the rum for gin, you've got a classic gimlet. A switch with whiskey and lemon makes it a whiskey sour.
"The blueprint is used in different ways, and if you switch out the alcohol, it becomes a different classic," Cushman says. "All you have to do is play Mr. Potato Head with the ingredients and anything becomes a tasty drink."
2 ounces rum 1/5 ounce simple syrup
1/5 ounce lime juice
Shake with ice and double-strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel.
BARBED WIRE, A VARIATION OF THE RUSTY NAIL
Bartender Lewis Norton
The Rusty Nail is a favorite classic of Bittersweet owner Kim Hammer. But her bar is most known for its monthly gin club and extensive use of the herby liquor in its cocktail menu. Bittersweet's Rusty Barbed Wire, then, mashes the two favorites together.
"It offers us a chance to show our guests how versatile a spirit gin is," says Hammer.
In a Rusty Nail, we're acquainted with Drambuie, the liqueur based in whiskey and honey that marries perfectly with a hard scotch. For the variation, Lewis Norton, Bittersweet's bar manager, suggested trying a gin with vanilla undertones like the Few brand. "Turns out, it's amazing—even better than a Rusty Nail," says Hammer. Since the additional alcohol makes the drink a bit more potent, "it needed a stronger punch to the name," she says. Hence the Rusty Barbed Wire.
She adds: "It's a teeny nod to The Walking Dead villain Negan and his favorite weapon."
Leave the bat at home and knock back one of these drinks instead.
- Photo by Ben McKeown
- Rusty Barbed Wire
RUSTY barbed wire
1 ounce Few gin
1 ounce Dewar's White Label scotch
1/2 ounce Drambuie liqueur
Pour in a rocks glass over ice. Stir gently. Add fresh lemon twist.
BELLY WARMER, A PLAY ON PISCO SOUR
Bartender Fiona Matthews
Tart pisco, the patriotic liquor of Peru and Chile, needs an acidic citrus and sweet jolt to make a tangy drink that goes down easy. But Bowbarr co-owner Amanda Barr says pisco alone "would be boring in my book, so we added bourbon."
Ever the artist, Barr doesn't just throw bourbon into a glass. She first infuses a bottle of Bulleit with fresh sliced serrano peppers. "It has a yummy, more rich, heartier flavor," she says. "The combination of the spicy with pisco, lemon, and lime is a classic. And for some reason, with all of that, you can still take the pisco."
The Belly Warmer is a promise, a drink equal parts pisco and infused bourbon that's a cozy treat for the senses.
1 ounce Encanto pisco
1 ounce serrano-infused bourbon (see below)
Juice from half a lime
Juice from half a lemon
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/2 ounce St. Germain (or any elderflower liqueur)
Dried rosebuds, salt, and sugar for rim
For the bourbon: Cut four to five serrano peppers in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Place peppers in a 750 ml bottle of bourbon and allow to steep for four to five hours.
For the drink: Pour all ingredients over ice. Shake vigorously. Strain in a coupe already set with a rosebud, salt, and sugar rim.
ODD PERFECTION, A RIFF ON THE FLIP
C. Grace, Raleigh
C. Grace manager Matthew Bettinger says the bar's classic flip is its most popular drink, which comes as no surprise since it boasts a three-hundred-year history.
"The flip has always been one of those great categories of cocktails that fizzled out," he says.
Egg yolk (or a whole egg) gives the flip its distinguishing creamy texture, which came out of necessity at a time when bars weren't souped up with bells and whistles, nay refrigeration. "For the longest time, eggs were kept behind the bar because they didn't need to be refrigerated like cream," says Bettinger.
At C. Grace, he quickly realized the sweet appeal of egg when combined with rum, which is "not uncommon from what you would find in a meringue." Bettinger played on this idea by making C. Grace's Odd Perfection a sweeter after-dinner drink. The key is choosing a spiced dark rum with strong hints of vanilla, like Kraken. Bettinger brings out those notes with homemade vanilla syrup.
The drink worked, but Bettinger and his bartenders realized the sweetness needed to be subdued. "It drank almost like a White Russian. When we realized that, we knew it had to be finished with coffee."
Using a microplane, Bettinger dusts the drink with finely grated coffee bean. It's the first note that hits your senses when you take a sip, livening you up after dinner for a night of live jazz at C. Grace.
2 ounces Kraken dark spiced rum 1 egg yolk 1 ounce vanilla syrup 1 coffee bean
Shake the first three ingredients vigorously. Add ice and shake again, lightly. Double strain into a coupe. While drink is settling, finely grate the coffee bean on top with a microplane.