Mixologists go to extremes and expense to make the ultimate cocktail
When it rains, it doesn’t necessarily pour.
That was the point of a pop-up bar in London several years ago called Alcoholic Architecture. The bar, at the site of an ancient monastery, didn’t just pour drinks, but had guests wander about the club amid thick clouds of aerosolized cocktails.
The clouds were created with humidifiers using fine spirits at a 1:3 ratio of alcohol to water. The intoxicating mist entered the bloodstream through mouth, nose and even the eyeballs. Signs on the door advised, “Breathe responsibly.”
In the ever-expanding, never-dull world of mixology, taking cocktails to the extreme isn’t only a challenge, it’s a mission. Across the globe, behind-the-bar mixers bust their glasses coming up with the next showiest, most creative, most expensive and most unusual cocktails. When success comes, they move on to outdo themselves.
“The most challenging cocktail recipe I ever developed was our house recipe, the Rosewater Sour,” said Pasha Morshedi, one of the owners of Rosewater, 1606 Clear Lake City Blvd. in the Clear Lake area, and the heart of the establishment’s innovative cocktail program. “It was a struggle to develop a drink that had the pink hue I wanted without it being overwhelmed by the rose liqueur character that I wanted in the drink.”
The process was long and ongoing to find the exact color and taste Morshedi had in mind. He eventually gave up on the rose liqueur, and, surely while lightning was flashing outside the castle walls and sparks were flying in the laboratory, he tried using a scant amount of a spiced, red-wine syrup made in house.
“The slightest amount provided a lovely color and the tannins from the wine helped to balance the floral quality of the rose liqueur and gin we use,” he said. “I remember making over a dozen iterations, and my girlfriend at the time, God bless her, endured all of them until we finally settled on the current recipe.”
The extremes many bartenders have gone to, some with ample budgets, are good for the record books, but without their efforts, the world would be without some most unique sippers.
Could we indeed think we are a civilized nation had someone not invented the $10,000 diamond-infused martini at West Hollywood’s now-departed Vaucluse Lounge? It was a simple drink actually, being a perfectly made gin martini. The slight exception was the gin having been infused with diamonds, plus there were $10,000 worth of diamonds in the glass. Two famed rappers actually purchased the drink, sipped them down and left the bar with the comment, “It tastes like a Rolex.”
There is more bling at the St. Regis in Tokyo, which serves an $18,000 martini that comes with a 1-carat diamond in the glass. Sadly, the martini is made with vodka. It’s not mentioned whether there’s an extra charge to make it with gin. Back in the states, when it celebrated its 40th anniversary several years ago, The White Barn Inn in Kennebunk, Maine, created its own anniversary cocktail called the Ruby Rose. It actually wasn’t much of an over-the-top cocktail — the ingredients being pomegranate juice, Hangar 1 Vodka, St. Germain liqueur, orange juice and rosewater — but the challenge was to not choke on the 4-carat ruby at the bottom of the martini glass.
Kimberly Paul, the beverage director at Houston’s Etoile Cuisine et Bar in Uptown Park and Brasserie du Parc on Discovery Green, is an award-winning competitor both nationally and internationally in making cocktails. She understands challenging and extreme.
“There are so many crazy situations I’ve been thrust into both competing and day-to-day, but one incident that always comes to mind is when a former colleague left me a birthday party menu I was just a little unprepared for,” she said.
“On the day of the party, which he was not there for, I was told that I needed to execute 30 frozen cocktails that needed to be layered with three different flavors. If we had had three frozen machines, it would have been difficult but possible. We had one.”
Each layer had to be poured and kept cold while the machine was rinsed and filled with the next layer. The party, to her surprise, was a success.
“It was a very intense, sticky night,” Paul said.
And the colleague?
Paul set him up making Sex with an Alligator shots, hardly simple, for his 100-guest bridal event he was bartending the following week, she said.
“Yes, we’re still friends,” she said.
And on the subject of busting your glass, there’s a tale of Rosewater and the tropical lady.
“A lady came into the bar about four years ago, and she wanted something tropical and sweet,” Morshedi recalled. “’Not too sweet’, she said, ‘but kind of sweet and fruity.’ And here’s where it went off the rails. All of us, every single one of us, have a different perception of sweet. Hell, on any given day your palate can change based on what you might have just had to eat or drink.
“So, for this woman, I made her a tropical drink and increased the amount of sugar syrup by about 50 percent. This would have already started to seem unbalanced and oversweet to me, but after I slid the drink across the bar, she eagerly took a sip and winced. ‘It was too tart,’ she said. It was a slow night, so I tried three more iterations of this drink, each sweeter than the last. At some point, I refused to give up on her and kept doubling down to help her find the diabetic sweet spot she liked, even though it was inconceivably sweet to me. I would have died drinking what she ended up loving. Best part was that after all that, she accidentally spilled her drink halfway through.”
Speaking of sweet, thinking mai tai? Most people think they’ve had one, but actually, the original version of this goofy cocktail, made in 1944 by Victor Bergeron in California’s Trader Vic’s, hasn’t been available for decades — except at one location in Belfast, Ireland. So popular was his original mai tai, sales depleted the supply of the original rum, Wray & Nephew 17. The last time a bottle of it came up for auction, it sold for more than $50,000. The Merchant Hotel in Belfast, however, has a carefully guarded stash of the original rum, and for about $1,500 a drink, the original mai tai using Bergeron’s recipe is yours. The paper umbrella is extra.
Obviously, extreme drinking can be challenging, just as challenging drinks can be extreme. Both also can be very expensive.
To pursue either, it might be best to follow the advice of those who once wandered the London pop-up Alcoholic Architecture. Take a deep breath and enjoy.
This is a drink with a dash of revenge from Kimberly Paul, beverage director of Houston’s Etoile Cuisine et Bar and Brasserie du Parc. Its name comes from those who claim it will bite you like an alligator or have you wondering what you’ve done.
Sex With An Alligator
1 ounce melon liqueur
1 ounce Malibu Rum
1 ounce Midori
2 ounces pineapple juice
½ ounce Chambord
½ ounce Jägermeister
Mix the first 4 ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Drop a drizzle of Chambord and let it settle in the bottom of the glass. Float a thin layer of Jägermeister on top.