Cocktail enthusiasts know all of the classic iterations: the Sazerac, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Martini. But what happens when those classic cocktails are infused with lavender or rosemary? Mixed with beet juice or elderflower liquor? The answer is the latest craze in bartending and cocktails: mixology. Though the term is dated to 1948 and means “the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks,” modern connotations include an element of the unexpected, whether it be surprising yet complementary flavors, a nontraditional garnish or another experimentation.
Daniel Victory, New Orleans Magazine’s pick for Best Bartender in 2009 and a teacher at the Crescent City School of Bartending, embodies the spirit of modern mixology by stretching the imagination and the palate while still creating enjoyable drinks. “I’m very simple when it comes to (cocktails),” he says. “But there’s so much more than the Long Island Iced Tea and appealing to the masses.”
His philosophy is evident in the cocktail menu at Victory Bar, his venture with business partner Andrew Emery.
The bar features daily cocktail specials (when I was there the drink of the day was bourbon, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and honey) as well as a set menu of original concoctions and a small plates menu. Cocktail highlights include the Truffletini – gin, truffle oil and pecorino cheese olives – and the unexpectedly refreshing Beetin’ the Lime – dark rum, beet reduction, brown sugar and lime.
Victory Bar’s unofficial motto is: “Because you deserve it,” and Victory strives to create a place where the atmosphere is on par with the cocktails. “We wanted to create an experience,” he says, “a place where people can enjoy themselves.”
Though Victory was a tough act to follow when New Orleans Magazine made its 2010 pick for Best Bartender, Tiffany Soles of Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse stepped up to the plate. Her focus on fresh, quality ingredients and balance is one of the reasons customers keep coming back. “I want to respect the craft,” she says, “while appreciating what everyone around town is doing.”
Soles’ latest concoctions include a Blueberry Basil Collins, “great for late spring,” and the Long’s Lady, a tribute to Huey P. Long, which combines his favorite cocktail – the Ramos Gin Fizz – and favorite ladies: his wife and daughter, both named Rose. The cocktail is gin, an egg white, half and half, Trader Tiki’s orgeat syrup, Cointreau, grapefruit juice, champagne, rosewater and a rose petal garnish.
Soles’ ultimate goal is to provide an experience that combines “location, music, fun and drinking,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s not rocket science. We love to make people happy.”
What’s in a name? In the case of the Bombay Club’s Cheryl Charming, plenty. The former Disney World employee exudes showmanship and enthusiasm, from her love of bar tricks and magic tricks to her group cocktail classes, dubbed “edutainment.”
As for her cocktail philosophy, “You gotta have balance,” she says. “A good cocktail should be strong, weak, sour and sweet.” Her theory of balance is seen not only in individual drinks, but also in the range of the cocktail menu.
Divided by time periods, the historically accurate drinks start in 1860s and include a classic Martini and continue through the mid-1900s with the Dirty Martini, finishing through 2006 with the Cosmopolitan and more. She has a section devoted to contemporary cocktails, which includes Violet Fields, made with crème de violette. Her “Twisted” cocktails include the out-there Meat & Potato Martini, made from Chopin potato vodka and an andouille sausage garnish.
Charming plans to cultivate a garden on-site where the herbs and vegetables used in her cocktails will be grown, including fresh mint, basil and cucumbers.
Whiskey Blue in the W Hotel has also taken part in the mixology craze, creating an ever-changing line of cocktails based on seasonal ingredients. “We tailor our cocktails to please every palate, including specialties like elderflower liqueur, ginger root, fresh seasonal fruit, juices and herbs,” says Sam Skydell, one of the general managers of Whiskey Blue New Orleans.
Two notable examples include the Pure Silk, made of Belvedere vodka, elderflower liquor, fresh grapefruit juice and basil, and the Clover Club, composed of Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon juice, blackberries, raspberries, an egg white and simple syrup.
The posh cocktail and tapas bar at Coquette focuses on cocktails that are simple, refreshing and a little unconventional. “We try to keep our drinks fresh and interesting using ingredients that are seasonal, fun and sometimes unusual or even daring,” says bartender Ali Mills. “We make all of our own infusions in-house, including the ever-popular bacon bourbon and jalapeño tequila, and more traditional infusions like lemon and orange vodka.”
Two unique signature cocktails at Coquette include The Rambler, which is made of jalapeño-infused tequila, lime, blackberry liqueur and orange bitters, and The Birds and The Bees, composed of lavender-infused gin, St. Germain liqueur, Jack Daniels Tennessee honey liqueur and Peychaud’s bitters.
Murf Reeves of Sylvain tries to “make craft cocktails that match the food and vibe of the restaurant, but can also be created quickly in order to keep up with the demand without losing the quality.”
Reeves believes that New Orleans culture and mixology go hand-in-hand: “We live in one of the greatest cocktail cities in the world … and we have a high standard that needs to be maintained and taught, but with all the fun that comes with Mardi Gras and French Quarter Fest or a second-line.”
One of Reeves’ signature cocktails is the Fuzzy Nudge, which includes Tyku Soju, Rothman and Winter apricot liqueur, lemon juice, Lazzaroni amaretto and ginger syrup.
More than anything, Reeves believes passion makes a great cocktail: “It is beauty recognized through taste. Flavor, man, it is the soul of cocktails, and is what brings joy to so many people. I am lucky enough to make drinks for people for a living.”