Artisanal Cocktails Take Flight

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Propose a toast to fall and winter with one-of-a-kind seasonal libations.

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Sea Island sommelier and beverage manager Ryanne Carrier (center) meets with a team of bartenders and sommeliers.

By Michelle Franzen Martin

Months before the temperature begins to drop, Ryanne Carrier and a team of Sea Island bartenders and sommeliers gather to create new fall- and holiday-inspired cocktails. The resort’s wine cellar becomes a hybrid bar-laboratory where the team blends trial-and-error with tried-and-true combinations. They change liquors. They update the proportions. They shake, not stir. Some drinks instantly make their way to the menu. Others take a little extra work. “It’s a lot of fun,” says Carrier, Sea Island’s sommelier and beverage manager. “When we finish the overall menu, everybody walks out of the room incredibly proud of it.”

New Inspirations
The artisanal cocktails for fall and winter are inspired by a number of things—fresh, seasonal ingredients, new spirits and trends, and the expertise of Sea Island mixologists and sommeliers who don’t shy away from creating new flavor combinations. “Crafting cocktails has become as much about technique as it is [about] the products,” Carrier says. “It’s [about] knowing when to stir versus shake, executing proper proportions with the use of a jigger and recognizing the impact on the final drink. Food and wine pairings, as well as cocktail creations, come from knowing how to cook and how everything goes together. It’s a very thoughtful process.”

One important aspect is working with fresh, seasonal ingredients, Carrier says. Sometimes it requires bringing those ingredients in from the regions or vendors that provide the best possible quality, or it can mean preserving fresh spring and summer ingredients—okra or lemons, for instance—for use later in the year. “We stay away from bottled juices and their dull flavors,” she comments. “We fresh-squeeze citrus and press ciders for an impact that brightens the drink with purity of flavor and clean acidity rather than using pasteurized juices and chemical preservatives.”

Greg Henry, a cookbook author whose latest book, “Savory Cocktails,” debuted this fall, says bartenders and mixologists often get cocktail ideas from unexpected places.

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Henry’s book, “Savory Cocktails,” debuted in late summer.
Greg Henry developed a recipe for the Salad Bowl gin and tonic.
Greg Henry developed a recipe for the Salad Bowl gin and tonic.

“You never know where your next inspiration will come from,” Henry says. “In my book ‘Savory Cocktails,’ I have a recipe for a Salad Bowl gin and tonic. It’s brimming with herbs and vegetables, and drinks like a meal. I was inspired by the perfect summer tomatoes from my local farmers market.”

For the holidays, Henry draws inspiration from traditional favorites such as sugar and spice—flavors that take him back to his childhood. “As an adult, I try to recapture those moments in the cocktails,” he says. “So when the weather cools, I turn to the warm comforts of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, caraway and even cumin. Their spirited flavors can be found in a variety of liqueurs and can heat up holiday entertaining. They lend an exotic flair to cocktails, putting folks in a festive mood.”

From Kitchen to Bar
Cocktail trends are inspired by the culinary world, and that’s especially true this fall and winter as people are experimenting with new recipes. “Overall, people have become more educated about what they are eating and drinking, and want to learn more,” Kim Haasarud, a beverage consultant and mixologist who penned the popular “101 Drinks” book series, says. “As with food, people want to experience a connection; the same is happening with beverage.”

Sometimes it’s as simple as using an ingredient already in the kitchen. Preserves, for example, are a trendy way to dress up a  simple cocktail. “You will see a lot of marmalades and jams being used,” says Haasarud, whose personal concoctions include the mango marmalade daiquiri, which combines two teaspoons of orange marmalade with two ounces of Cruzan Mango Rum, one ounce of lime juice, one ounce of simple syrup and a splash of club soda. “A simple daiquiri suddenly becomes much more complex and interesting with those flavors,” she says. The mango marmalade daiquiri is perfectly refreshing in fall and winter and, of course, with the easy availability of orange marmalade, it can be made at any time of the year.

Rum also is popular this fall and winter season—particularly darker, aged rums that play really well with flavors of spices, apples and cranberries, according to Haasarud. “A Rumhattan or a rum old fashioned [are popular] because their natural flavors, such as clove, vanilla and nutmeg, really come through in these classics,” she says.

Haasarud likes to mix dark rum with apple cider. Putting them together brings out the flavors of vanilla, candied fruits and baking spices in the rum and enhances the flavor of the apple. To really spice it up, she uses a spiced dark rum such as Cruzan 9.

Seasonal Trends
Annette Tomei, a chef who teaches wine and cocktail classes at the International Culinary Center in New York, says fresh ingredients will dominate cocktail menus, particularly in fall and winter. “Seasonal ingredients continue to influence cocktail recipe development,” Tomei says. “For the holiday season, preserved ingredients, such as whole fruits, jams and marmalades, are good choices, as well as infusions, syrups and house-made bitters.”

Although Tomei has created her own marmalade cocktail, which isn’t publication-ready just yet, she says she draws inspiration from one of her favorite places: Madam Geneva at Saxon + Parole, a bar and lounge in New York City. “Their seasonal marmalade cocktail called Madam’s Jams and Preserves is a star, and they definitely fit the profile of ‘really trendy’ in the best way,” she says. “This particular drink (made with Beefeater gin, lemon and seasonal jam) is fresh and refreshing, and the use of the seasonal product and the homemade marmalade is a special touch. Even non-gin drinkers will enjoy it.”

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Parole Whiskey from Saxon + Parole.

For her own marmalade cocktails, Tomei uses rum instead of gin and a citrus juice that matches the marmalade she has chosen. She also tries to match the type of bitters to the marmalade. “It’s usually something contrasting, not the same, such as chocolate bitters, coffee bitters or something spicy,” she says.

At Sea Island, the holiday menu is focused on heartier, warmer cocktails. One new drink, Hot Buttered Rum Raisin, is made with Atlantico Solera Rum, fresh-pressed apple cider, tawny port, fall spices such as cinnamon and clove, golden raisin butter and bitters. The cocktail is sweet and savory, invoking flavors of warm baked goods. “In fall, apples are an important ingredient,” Carrier says. “But very few apples are grown in Georgia, so we can bring in apple cider from other places or work with some of the orchards along the Tennessee border (where apples are grown) to make our own.”

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Sea Island’s Hot Buttered Rum Raisin is made with Atlantico Solera Rum, pressed apple cider, port, fall spices, raisin butter and cloves.

For Thanksgiving, the Sea Island team created Homecoming, a concoction that features  a mix of Cockspur Rum, Cocchi’s Barolo Chinato, amaretto and prosecco. Like coming home, the drink offers a sense of comfort. “There is a warmth of flavor, not of temperature, along with layers and integrated spice,” Carrier says.

One of Sea Island’s new holiday drinks is called Angel’s Wings, made with Averell Damson Gin, mulled wine and Fernet-Branca. At one time, amaros such as Fernet-Branca sat on the shelf and collected dust, Carrier says. Today, the Italian spirit is considered very trendy. The drink, too, promises to develop a following of its own. “Angel’s Wings is plummy, dry, spicy and astringent,” Carrier says. “It hits your olfactory with peppermint as a really unique flavor.”

Libation Traditions

While those celebrating the fall and winter have plenty of new, inventive mixtures to try, there is always comfort in tradition. Each holiday season, Sea Island serves milk punch. “It’s a play on eggnog,” Carrier explains. “It’s very traditional in the South. We use Catdaddy [Carolina] Moonshine, fresh cream and nutmeg. It’s incredibly simple, but delicious.”

Today’s moonshines—the once-illicit spirits that had to be made covertly, by the light of the moon—are uniquely Southern and simply delicious. The term generally refers to a white whiskey that hasn’t been aged. In 2009, Tennessee Legislature made it legal to produce moonshine in the state, and several states followed, including South and North Carolina. Thus, moonshine production has increased and many distilleries have gained popularity, among them: Ole Smoky, Troy & Sons and Catdaddy (all of which are available at Sea Island).

“Catdaddy, which comes in a tall, narrow cylinder, is modeled after the moonshine jugs that you see in cartoons,” Carrier says. “It smells like eggnog and is so incredibly delicious. It has a sweet, custardy flavor.”

Sea Island uses Catdaddy Moonshine to make a variety of cocktails, including the Grumpy Old Man featured in Southern Tide. “When you use moonshine, you have to be very careful because it has an edge to it,” she explains. “We cut it with Old Grand-Dad Bourbon and we put enough in that you get the influence of [the moonshine] without the edge. … We want people to taste it, but not have it dominate the drink.”

One Sea Island favorite is the Tennessee Tractor, a play on the Moscow Mule. It combines ginger beer and peach moonshine instead of vodka. “It’s very simple, but tasty,” Carrier says. “It’s one of our most popular cocktails. It really complements our new fall and holiday cocktail list and the fresh, unique flavors we are serving this season.”
Whether they are inspired by everyday ingredients or a 1960s Madison Avenue boardroom, this season’s artisanal cocktails are using fresh elements and trendy liqueurs that are worth raising a glass to, all fall and winter long.

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