Honestly, wouldn't you rather be someplace idyllic like Hawaii, the Seychelles, or Martinique? Perhaps lounging about in Cozumel, or soaking up the rays on the beaches of Mauritius? Paradise is an irresistible notion, a perfect tonic for those of us who long to escape the day-to-day. While not everyone can pull a Gauguin and jaunt off to Tahiti, sipping on a drink brimming with the captivating flavors of the tropics may be the next best thing, or the next to the next best thing.
Today mixologists are in constant search for exciting new taste sensations to add sizzle and exotic intrigue to their specialty cocktails. Increasingly they're finding the dramatic flavors they seek in tropically sourced fruit, alien-looking produce such as acai, yuzu, dragon fruit, Cape gooseberry, carambola, guava nectar, lychee, and guanabana (sweet sop).
“The tiki drinks are hip and unpretentious and they're making a furious comeback in the U.S.,” contends beverage consultant Joshua Durr of Louisville-based Molecular Bartending. “The trend is bringing with it an influx of tropical fruits and juices, such as fresh carambola, yuzu, and pressed, un-sweetened pineapple juice. I particularly like working with acai juice in cocktails because it adds a complexity and a dash of smokiness on the finish.”
Ultra-popular Nacional 27 is a Pan-Latin restaurant in Chicago with a cocktail menu that's second to none. One of the brightest stars in their firmament is the LookBetterNaked Margarita, a sensationally delicious drink with more benefits than an HMO, and prepared with products not from these parts.
“Our restaurant caters to a health-conscious clientele, and thus our objective is to create great-tasting cocktails that are also loaded with health-sustaining properties,” says Adam Seger, general manager, sommelier, and celebrated drinks authority. “This particular margarita is made with all-natural Partida Reposado 100% Agave tequila, organic acai juice, organic agave nectar, rosemary, organic egg white, and freshly squeezed lime juice. In addition to being aromatic and downright delectable, the drink is food-friendly, and features ingredients high in antioxidants, amino acids, protein, dietary fiber, iron, calcium, fructans and vitamins A, E, and C. How can you beat that?”
High on the list of “must try” specialties at New York's Aureole Restaurant is the Amalfi, an engaging, yuzu-laced cocktail created by noted mixologist Ektoras Binikos. The drink is served straight up, and prepared with Absolut Citron, Limoncé Limoncello, organic yuzu juice, lemon thyme, and fresh lime juice. The cocktail has an alluring bouquet and a lively set of citrus flavors, an ideal aperitif for summer. According to Binikos, “The yuzu juice gives the drink more depth of flavor, and adds a bit more tartness, both of which are most welcome contributions.”
When looking to invigorate cocktails with pizzazz, New York-based beverage consultant Jerri Banks agrees that tapping into the exotic flavors of the tropics is an inspired first step, but her advice comes with a caveat. “Not even the finest, most skillfully crafted vodkas can capture in a bottle the vibrancy and brilliance of fresh fruits and juices. Their delicate essential oils and luscious perfumes are mesmerizing, but they have a short lifespan. The only way to capture their fleeting essence in a cocktail is by working with the real thing.”
The result, adds Banks, is a romantic adventure in a glass. No passports required.
Robert Plotkin is a judge at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and has recently authored his 16th book, Secrets Revealed of America's Greatest Cocktails — The Hottest Spirits, Freshest Places and Coolest Drinks.