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We’ve got to admit, when we’re choosing our next watering hole, “vegan Mexican” isn’t exactly the first descriptor that comes to mind. But Gracias Madre, with its succulent-minded aesthetic, is a delicious destination. We’ve hypothesized that the majik that goes into making something as peculiar as cashew cheese taste good might also serve the same purpose in cocktails.
It’s easy to dismiss the WeHo hotspot’s ethos as being hyper neo-hippie. As is trendy nowadays, the restaurant and bar boasts locally sourced, organic produce, and its own website is littered with fodder for cynics and skeptics (“Welcome to a seat at love’s table.”—really?) Before we roll our eyes though, how about letting the booze do the talking?
Beverage Director Jason Eisner tells us, “We make everything by hand, and we work around the clock, so obviously we love what we do, and we love working with one another.” And it shows. As Eisner is readying our drink, we see his staff join together in its preparation, squeezing lime and placing a finishing garnish atop the drink. It’s not unlike the composition of a well-done cocktail. A masterful mixologist is one who treats his ingredients like teammates, working in tandem to coax the best out of each other. A scent here, a flavor there, and the Estrella del Mar arrives at our table flushed scarlet and tasting of summer.
And what says sunshine and balmy days more than the taste of juicy watermelon? Combined with the kick of muddled jalapeno and mezcal’s potent smokiness, the Estrella is tempered with a little lime and agave nectar. A pinch of salt adds a savory finishing touch, and there you have it—summer in a coupe glass.
ESTRELLA DEL MAR
2 oz. ORGANIC MEZCAL
3/4 oz. FRESH PRESSED LIME JUICE
1/2 oz. AGAVE NECTAR
1 TEASPOON ELDERFLOWER LIQUEUR
2 CUBES OF SEEDLESS WATERMELON
2 SLICES OF FRESH JALAPEÑO
2 DASHES OF LIME BITTERS
1 PINCH OF SEA SALT
In a cocktail shaker, muddle watermelon cubes and Jalapeño slices. Add ice and build the rest of the ingredients in the shaker. Shake well. Double strain (fine strain) into a coupe glass. Garnish with homemade pickled watermelon rind.
photography RACHEL MANY
Some like bitter, others like sweet. Even in this day and age of trend complexity in cocktails, that dichotomy has guided bar managers and mixologists in the crafting of their menus to appeal to the palates of both the newb alcoholic consumptionist and the experienced drinker whose tastebuds no longer tolerate the juice-like composition of many a college cocktail. Even the most elitist of bars have a menu that varies in range from “this is how I imagine bug juice and gasoline tastes, and I like it” to “ah, saccharine nectar of the gods—I hope this still has some alcohol in it.
So how to craft a cocktail that could please both the supposed male and female palates, whatever they may be? Tradition dictates that the male favors the cocktail that lets the flavor of the liquor come through, while the female leans toward the cocktails whose sodas, juices, and syrups mask what can be perceived as an unsavory taste of alcohol. Though this gender-based dichotomy is arguably outdated, the fact still stands that crafting a cocktail that appeals to a broad spectrum of palates is no easy task.
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text VI NGUYEN
photo RACHEL MANY
When it comes to cocktails, Talmadge Lowe is all about what we’d like to phrase, “classic ingenuity.” A seemingly paradoxical term, Talmadge’s concoctions are a nod to mid-century cocktail culture, channeling the elegance and sophistication of the time, while incorporating unique ingredients like fennel and black walnut bitters, or grated nutmeg. A former actor, Lowe’s culinary chops were developed in the bowels of struggling-actor-dom, having worked almost every job in the restaurant business, he eventually ended up in catering.
Harnessing the dread of rubber chicken dinners and uninspiring cocktails alike, Lowe decided to venture into conceiving his own creations, laying the foundation for what would become Pharmacie—a roving, underground speakeasy of sorts that has now evolved into a bespoke cocktail catering service.
At the center of it all are lovingly crafted libations. You won’t find superfluous flavored spirits (“What on earth is buttered popcorn vodka?” laughs Tal). Instead, you’ll find homemade syrups and shrubs, and a menu of cocktails put together with strategic dexterity. After a consultation with his clients, Lowe goes back home and prepares. Beyond the taste of the drink itself, style and aesthetic play a critical role in all his productions, down to the glassware used, the uniforms of staff, the color and vibrance of the cocktail, and even the name of the libation itself, which, in Lowe’s eyes, should elicit a gastronomically inquisitive reaction.
Which brings us to our featured drink: Indian Summer. A smoky mezcal is complemented by the herbal aroma of Yellow Chartreuse. Homemade honey syrup mellows the drink with rich sweet notes, while lime balances the drink with some necessary acidity. Finally, says Lowe, “dashes of Angostura bitters give it a little pop and depth, like a little firecracker.” The result? A supremely refreshing drink we wouldn’t mind extending our hazy summer for.
1 ct. Honey Syrup*
1.5 ct. Yellow Chartreuse
1 ct. Lime
2 Dashes of Angostura Bitters (dash into drink before you shake and pour into glass)
1 Lime Wheel Garnish
*To make the honey syrup add water (8 oz.) and honey (8 oz.) and heat together until the honey thins out.
Always let cool to room temperature before using. Refrigerating overnight is strongly recommended.