Remember the good old days when one could follow a satisfying restaurant meal with a great brandy and cigar? That tradition has gone the way of the dinosaur. Smoking laws prohibit the ritual, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get around it with some creativity.
At Bottlefork in Chicago, head barkeep Brandon Phillips has created a terrific cocktail menu that includes a drink called Brandy and Cigars. The drink consists of St. Germain, Robin Craft Method Brandy, Crème De Cacao a La Vanille and Cocchi Barolo Chinato. A large brandy snifter is placed over the drink and the smoke from a Honduran robusto cigar is propelled under and into the snifter. After a bit, the snifter is lifted and the smoke is allowed to escape. The drink is then poured into the snifter.
“The cigar smoke does not overwhelm the drink because its presence is basically a light film on the snifter,” says Phillips. “It’s about as close as you’re going to get to the real thing.”
Phillips, who acquired a lot of his chops while at Chicago’s vaunted The Drawing Room, has a lot more tricks up his sleeve. Consider, for example, a drink called Smoke of the Day. Bottlefork has a smoker where lamb ribs, steaks and even fish are cooked daily. Phillips collects the fat at the bottom of the smoker and does a quick fat wash with a chosen spirit. Basically, fat is added to the spirit for a few hours at room temperature and then it’s placed in a refrigerator. The fat solidifies and is skimmed off. The flavor of the fat is infused into the spirit. It’s one of several ways Phillips works with the kitchen to develop drinks that are compatible with menu items.
Another intriguing item on Bottlefork’s cocktail menu is a $35 drink called Bill Brasky, which is based on a blowhard, salesman-type character from Saturday Night Life. The drink contains rye whiskey, moonshine, bourbon, blended scotch, vermouth, orange bitters and “the aftershave Brasky used to woo your wife.” The last ingredient is actually rose water. The drink contains a giant ice cube with a vintage nudie card frozen inside. Hey, if you’re going to base a drink on an obnoxious character, then you’ve got to go for it. And boy does Phillips go for it.
This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-drink amounts to about three drinks, which is why customers are limited to only one a night. In the hands of an amateur, it could be a disaster. At Bottlefork, it’s a masterpiece of high-quality ingredients and perfect balance. What’s better than a barkeep with a great sense of humor and the talent for serious concoctions? Well done, Mr. Phillips!