The toolbox of the contemporary cocktail bartender is ever expanding, as he or she perambulates the farmers’ market, the science lab, and the farthest reaches of the Internet in search of inspiration. The kitchens of chef colleagues are another common source, particularly for savory ideas. Unfortunately, this experimentation can sometimes come off as gimmicky if the flavor or technique, used merely for the sake of being “curiouser and curiouser,” adds nothing worthwhile to the cocktail.
Discussion of savory cocktails inevitably starts with the Bloody Mary, a brunchtime beverage that is properly more foodlike than it is refreshing and is rarely drunk after the sun goes down. Then there’s the Bullshot, a vodka-and-beef-bouillon concoction, often served warm. It’s really more of a legend than a drink, found more commonly in the pages of old cocktail books than in anyone’s actual repertoire. The savory vernacular requires a deft hand to create drinks that are light, balanced, and attractive.
Sif’s Song, at Vox Table, a new restaurant in South Austin, is such a drink. Head bartender JR Mocanu draws from the Scandinavian culinary palate, building his cocktail on aquavit, a spirit distilled from potatoes or grain and flavored by different herbs and spices, caraway being predominant among them. Mocanu infuses Krogstad Aquavit with capers, tomato, and dill, then prepares a syrup with thyme, orange peel, black pepper, and sea salt. The infused aquavit and syrup are shaken with fresh lemon juice and a bit of gin and strained into a chilled coupe that has been spritzed with the oil of an orange peel. As savory cocktails go, it is a masterwork—richly botanical, brightly acidic, subtly saline. It makes that “other” tomato cocktail seem brutish by comparison.
1 ounce infused aquavit
3/4 ounce thyme–orange peel syrup
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 ounce gin
dash Regans’ Orange Bitters
Combine ingredients in a shaker and shake vigorously with ice to chill. Strain into a chilled coupe that has been spritzed with the oil of an orange peel. Garnish with a cherry tomato, a bit of orange peel, and a sprig of thyme on a pick.
1 750 milliliter bottle of aquavit
about 9 Roma tomatoes (18 ounces), sliced
1/2 tablespoon of caper berry juice
Combine ingredients in a vacuum-sealable bag and seal the bag. Let sit for 24 hours, then strain.
2 quarts simple syrup
about 7 ounces fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons sea salt
5 teaspoons orange peel
2 teaspoons black pepper
Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to 185 degrees. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and refrigerate overnight.