You’ve had a rough day at work, or maybe you’re on a hot date. Either way, you want a good stiff drink to unwind.
But do you know your pét-nat (a naturally fizzy, unfiltered white wine that can vary from bottle to bottle) from your China-China (a brand of orange-based French bitter), both of which Frenchette serves with cavalier disregard for explanation? Are you ready to argue the fine points of Batavia Arrack, a Javanese, molasses-and rice-based spirit?
Summer’s the season for goofy libations. Rooftop bars are popping up everywhere with all kinds of eerie-sounding, unidentifiable ingredients in their drinks, a phenomenon just as prevalent indoors at ground level.
I love the Polynesian’s pupu snacks and colorful, tiki cocktails served on a third-floor outdoor patio. I asked the waiter about one ingredient in the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, a $65 party drink for four people that the staff calls, simply, “Humu”: Was Clairin related to the Clarins fragrances?
Silly me! It’s a clear 108-proof, Agricole-style rum distilled directly from cane sugar in Haiti that made it to US shores only this year. As dry as it was potent, its subtle flavor dissolved in the Humu’s jolly blend of traditional rum, blue curaçao, “coconut tea syrup,” absinthe and juices.
Another conundrum is Cardamaro, which pops up in the bourbon-and cognac-based Remington Steele at Broken Shaker on the Freehand Hotel roof. Sounds like cardamom amaro! But nope — it’s a wine-based aperitif infused with ever-popular cardoon thistle and blessed thistle. (Yup, there is more than one kind.)
We once went to restaurants and bars to relax. Cocktails were the easy way out to avoid navigating endless wine lists full of unfamiliar names. Now, libation lists are full of obscure items of which you’ve never heard.
Mixologists love to challenge our spirits scholarship. Menus are diabolically worded so you don’t know whether a particular element is a type of liquor, a brand name — or neither, such as rambutan, a lychee-like fruit that’s part of a “white lightning” elixir of whiskey, lychee liqueur, Cointreau and wormwood bitters at new top-floor Ophelia at First Avenue and 49th Street.
Is “oleo saccharum” a rum? Or an herb? Neither: It’s citrus peel merged with sugar into a syrupy puddle. Thanks for the info, Union Square Cafe!
Empellón Midtown’s the place to go for the city’s La Higuera Sotol enthusiasts. It’s a brand of sotol, a mezcallike spirit from Mexico’s Dasylirion plant, which might or might not be a type of agave, depending on which botanist you believe.
Fabled Gotham Bar and Grill is known for an accessible modern-American menu. But booze is another story. Even adventurous drinkers might trip over Van Oosten. Part of a tea-and-ginger concoction called Frederick’s Zen, it’s a brand of Batavia Arrack, a harsh, funky spirit that’s not for timid taste buds.
NoMad Bar’s master mixologist Guillermo Bravo says it’s “only recommended if you can endure the hangovers.” For extra fun, Gotham misspells it “bativa,” no doubt to throw us off the track.
It’s enough to make me just have a beer — except that beer lists have become baroque as well, with unknown brews from Iceland to Patagonia.
Better make it a nice glass of house red.
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