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Summertime seems to be a time for sweets, at least when it comes to cocktails; a time when we most likely crave refreshing, fruity margaritas, mojitos, juleps and daiquiris.

But what about now? As the temperatures cool and our thoughts turn to pumpkin soups and hearty risottos, the time is right for savory cocktails, an unusual category that's growing in interest and intent.

"We're in the middle of a cocktail renaissance," says Greg Henry, author of the new book "Savory Cocktails." "Cocktails are becoming more sophisticated, and herbs and spices are moving from the kitchen to the bar."

His book breaks drinks into several thoughtful categories: Sour, Spicy, Herbal, Umami, Bitter, Smoky, Rich and Strong.

Henry notes that the savory trend has its roots in the Bloody Mary, a thick, spicy concoction of tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and fresh vegetables, as well as in the Bullshot, which calls for beef broth along with the vodka, celery bitters, Worcestershire and Tabasco. These kinds of cocktails have been traditionally enjoyed over brunch.

"Savory is much more than the opposite of sweet," Henry said. "It's not a good idea to just throw a cucumber and a fistful of herbs into the blender and hope for the best. You need to balance the flavor elements."

One example of this is Henry's My Word cocktail, classified under the Sour heading, a riff on the classic Last Word. It calls for Old Tom gin, a gin made in an older, drier, pre-Prohibition style; green Chartreuse, another classically historic ingredient; maraschino liqueur; an egg white; and mint and lemon to garnish.

One of the hottest ingredients in cocktails right now is drinkable vinegar. Chefs and bartenders alike are using, and making, vinegar to add a level of flavor to drinks, even barrel-aging the cocktails to add layers of creaminess and texture.

They hark back to old-school drinks like shrubs, a category of drinkable vinegars made from fruit macerated with vinegar and then cooked with sugar or honey, which fans also recommend enjoying mixed with club soda over ice.

Henry's shrub offering is Beetle Juice, filed under Herbal, a layered concoction based on gin or vodka that blends in tonic water, beets and juniper berries.

At the Alexander Valley Bar run by Medlock Ames is a cocktail made from Medlock Ames Verjus that also includes bitters, cassis, sparkling wine and pomegranate. The wine producer's verjus is produced from unripe cabernet sauvignon grapes and is non-alcoholic on its own, a vinegar-like liquid used in salad dressings and marinades.

At The Girl & the Fig in Sonoma, the Saffron Sunrise cleverly blends saffron-infused gin (the most commonly found brand is Gabriel Boudier, and saffron is among the most expensive spices in the world) with lemon-cardamom simple syrup and bitters, sweetened only by a touch of maraschino cherry juice.

At The Girl & the Fig's former sister restaurant, Estate, the specialty was Negronis. This bittersweet drink is the signature cocktail made with Campari, an Italian spirit, red in color, that is infused with a mysterious m?ange of herbs, spices, roots and peels. The traditional Negroni calls for equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.

"The Milanese theory that one must drink Campari three times before you start to like it certainly never applied to me," says spirits writer and bartender Gaz Regan, who wrote an entire book on the drink. "Campari is a given in the Negroni. It's the defining ingredient."

Another fan of the Negroni, Dan Noreen, the bar manager at The Lodge at Sonoma's Bean & Bottle wine bar, specializes in cocktails made from local spirits, such as HelloCello Limoncello and Hooker House Bourbon, and such savory cocktails as the Sweeter Side of Bitter and the Orange Drop.

The first is a take on the Manhattan, Noreen's blend of Templeton Rye Whisky, Nocino Walnut Liqueur from Napa and The Bitter Truth Xocolatl Mol?bitters.

"It's such a curious m?ange of flavors that sound like they could really fight against each other," said Noreen, "while in truth they meld seamlessly together into a fascinating, bittersweet, spicy delight."

For the Orange Drop, HelloCello Orangecello plays a big part, commingled with Charbay Blood Orange Vodka and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Lastly, Noreen's Negroni taps the wonderful botanicals of St. George Terroir Gin.

"We think that St. George gins are the ultimate in gin creativity and quality," he said. "The exotic Mount Tam herbs and other botanicals really add a vibrant edge to this classic cocktail, as does the very aromatic Vya Sweet Vermouth."

The first three recipes are courtesy of Greg Henry, "Savory Cocktails."

<b>Beetle Juice</b>

<i>Makes 1 serving</i>

2 ounces beet-infused dry gin or vodka

2 tablespoons beet and juniper berry shrub (see below)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2-3 ounces tonic water

1 pickled beet from the shrub preparation, as garnish

1 trimmed scallion, as garnish

Coarse salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste</i>

Fill an 8- to 10-ounce wine goblet or highball glass with medium ice cubes; add the beet-infused liquor, shrub and lemon juice. Gently stir until just blended. Top with tonic water and stir gently. Garnish with a pickled beet and scallion and season with a tiny pinch each of salt and pepper.

<b>Beet and Juniper Shrub</b>

<i>Makes 20 pickled beets plus 1 cup shrub</i>

20 baby beets

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1 tablespoon whole juniper berries</i>

Trim and peel the beets to a uniform size, about as big as a large olive; set aside. In a small, nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns and juniper berries; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the beets and set over high heat to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, swirling the pan occasionally and turning the beets, until the beets are tender, about 25 minutes.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beets to a small container that has a cover. Raise the heat under the saucepan to medium and reduce the liquid to 1 cup. Remove from the heat, let come to room temperature, and strain into the same container as the beets, discarding the peppercorns and juniper berries. Refrigerate the shrub and beets together, covered, for up to three weeks.

<b>My Word</b>

<i>Makes 1 serving </i>

2 ounces Ransom or other Old Tom gin

1/2 ounce green Chartreuse

1/2 ounce maraschino liqueur

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 small egg white (optional)

1 mint sprig, as garnish

1 lemon wheel, as garnish</i>

Pour the gin, Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, lemon juice and egg white (if using) into a cocktail shaker. Cover and vigorously "dry shake" (shake without ice) for about 30 seconds to combine. Uncap, fill the shaker two-thirds full with medium ice cubes, and shake vigorously again until frothy, at least 30 seconds. Using a Hawthorn strainer, double-strain the cocktail through a wire-mesh sieve over one extra-large ice cube into a double old-fashioned glass. Wait a moment for the foam to rise, then garnish with the mint sprig and lemon wheel.

<b>The Negroni</b>

<i>Makes 1 serving</i>

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce Cinzano Rosso Vermouth

1 ounce gin</i>

If served classically, then build ingredients over ice in a rocks or old-fashioned glass and stir briefly. Garnish with an orange slice. If served up, then pour ingredients over ice into a mixing glass. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist. (Recipe courtesy of the "Campari Cocktail Compendium.")

<i>Virginie Boone is a freelance wine writer based in Sonoma County. She can be reached at virginieboone@yahoo.com and followed on Twitter @vboone.</i>

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