Bottoms Up: New Twists on Iconic Spirits

There's a reason spirits such as rum, gin and whisky have remained perennially popular— after all, they're the classics

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Alice Gao

The "Poinsettia Punch" at Gin Palace in New York City.

There’s a reason spirits such as rum, gin and whisky have remained perennially popular— after all, they’re the classics. But even the staples among spirits need a shake-up from time to time. Here are six inventive drinks made with iconic spirits that have cropped up in New York City this year.

“Poinsetta Punch” (Gin Palace)

Creating a gin drink that’s able to maintain the spirit’s flavor and character without letting it entirely overpower the cocktail is no easy task (there’s a reason the martini has remained a favorite for so long). Countless restaurants and bars regrettably mix their gin cocktails with ounce after ounce of fruits and juices. This isn’t a big deal if you’re not a fan of gin, but if you’d like to be able to distinguish the spirit from its clear cousin, it needs to be mixed with ingredients that enhance its flavor, rather than obscure it. The Gin Palace in New York City’s East Village is a cocktail bar dedicated almost entirely to that purpose. Frank Cisneros, the bar’s head mixologist, created the “Poinsetta Punch” to meld gin’s inherently light and fruity taste with flavors more typically associated with winter. By incorporating cinnamon syrup, lemon juice, grenadine, allspice dram and angostura bitters the drink complements the base ingredient (NOLET’S silver dry gin) instead of clashing with it. Served tall over fresh ice, the cocktail is a decidedly floral one—a refreshingly new take for the experienced gin drinker, yet an easy-sipping option for the novice.

“The Silver Port” (Mulberry Project)

Perhaps because it was once thought to relieve flu symptoms or maybe because folks just plain enjoy a warm drink on cold winter nights, the hot toddy has endured for centuries a staple of the winter cocktail canon. In recent years, heated drinks have increasingly been dismissed by up-and-coming speakeasies as unrefined and too difficult to manufacture in a limited space. Like most classic cocktails, the basic recipe for a hot toddy involves only a few key components—liquor, sugar, spice—but over the years, the so-called “standard” recipe has become more convoluted and, to the drink’s detriment, more unbalanced. That’s a trend that Scott Fitzgerald, head bartender at Mulberry Project, aims to reverse. With a scant six ingredients, the drink is something of a throwback. More crucially, it places an emphasis on balance. Apple cider is already plenty sweet all by itself, so adding in an aged rum that sits on the sweeter end of the spectrum would do little to enhance the balance of the cocktail. Instead, Fitzgerald uses Brugal 1888, one of the drier aged rums on the market. Coupled with sherry, lemon juice, raw honey and old-fashioned bitters, the cider and rum create a heated cocktail whose flavor and complexity last even after the heat begins to wear off—a perfect choice for the waning days of winter.

“Apples & Pears” (Saxon + Parole)


The “Apples & Pears” cocktail at Saxon + Parole in New York City.

Ginger is a tricky ingredient for cocktails. Too much and it consumes the entire flavor of the drink, but too little and it’s hardly worth including at all. That’s why it’s most often used in drinks with other distinct, strong flavors—rum punches, swizzles and the like. Bar manager Masahiro Urushido at Saxon + Parole chose to go a different direction. For “Apples & Pears,” he partners ginger syrup with pear brandy, applejack and lemon juice. Topped with apple cider and served tall over ice, it’s a somewhat sweet drink with an unexpected bite. The cocktail’s liquor components—especially the applejack—are far from overpowering, which means that the ginger and lemon do much of the heavy lifting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it means is that the cocktail is refreshing in an unexpected way—if you’re a fan of ginger, it’s a great option for the start of spring.

“Winter Walnut” (The Lounge at Atera)

There is likely no drink in the cocktail world that is on the receiving end of more alterations, tweaks and upgrades than the old-fashioned. At its most basic, it comprises only four ingredients: liquor (typically whiskey), bitters, sugar and water. Needless to say, it’s rare to find a bar these days that serves it so simply. Though there’s certainly value in the old-fashioned-style old fashioned, it’s difficult to be disappointed with the breadth of options currently available to the modern drinker. One such option is Atera’s “Winter Walnut,” which mixes rye with navy strength rum, walnut liqueur, honey and orange bitters. Balancing rye with rum is never an easy task, but when it comes together, it’s easy to understand why bartenders make the effort. Bartenders serve the cocktail in the traditional rocks glass over a large ice cube, and initially, the rum is the dominant force. After a few moments, however, the initial burst of spice gives way to the more subdued flavors of walnut that carry the drink through to completion. While the cocktail is a strong one, the walnut liqueur—not to mention the honey and orange bitters—enhances its drinkability to the point where it’s easy to forget how ambitious a drink has been designed. For fans of rum and rye, it doesn’t get much better than this.

“Hurricane” (Maison Premiere)

Normally when you hear the term “hurricane” in a drinking context, your mind immediately flashes to Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras and tall glasses filled to the brim with a red-tinted syrupy concoction designed to bring even the most seasoned drinker to his knees. Even at the legendary “Pat O’Brien’s,” which claims to serve “The Original Hurricane,” it is a rum-based drink designed more to inebriate the masses than to please the palate. Over at Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere, head bartender Maxwell Britten takes a different approach. Instead of the aptly named “hurricane glass,” Britten instead uses a champagne glass and mixes a Martinique rum with champagne, Appleton V/X, passion fruit and lemon. The drink, which is served over crushed ice, has a distinct peach color and is far more refreshing than its high-octane predecessor. That’s not to say Britten’s take on the classic drink isn’t a potent one (the rum used is 100 proof), but the taste of the champagne is more striking than the other flavors—especially if you’re expecting anything like what you had the last time you visited New Orleans.

“Frenchman Roulette” (Maison Premiere)

If the hurricane is New Orleans’s most notorious cocktail, then the sazerac is likely its most respected. Built in a chilled old-fashioned glass, primarily with whiskey, bitters and a dash (or rinse) of absinthe, it aims to toe the thin line between refined and refreshing. Britten embraces that underlying principle with the “Frenchmen Roulette,” which employs two types of rye, maraschino, and the traditional creole bitters in a chilled, absinthe-rinsed glass. Served neat, the cocktail has a bright reddish hue even more vibrant than that of the sazerac and the first few sips are dominated by the rye. As the chill wears off and the drink opens up, however, the flavors from the marachino and bitters come on more strongly, changing the dynamics of the cocktail. The result is a complex drink that serves as a more-than-worthy successor to the sazerac.