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."