Summer Cocktail Trends

Creative quaff, Garces Trading Company's Avenue 1111 Cocktail, ready to pour.
Creative quaff, Garces Trading Company's Avenue 1111 Cocktail, ready to pour. (JASON VARNEY)
Posted: July 06, 2012

Carbonated cocktails in a bottle, punch bowls for sharing, and updated tiki drinks are the new pours this summer, as the cocktail scene in local restaurants and bars continues to keep pace with the city's food revolution.

As the temperatures rise and humidity soars, cocktails come into full blossom with talented mixologists shaking fresh, local, and handmade ingredients into inventive and, most important, refreshing sips, perfect for quenching a thirst.

Local barkeep Katie Loeb knows a little something about making cocktails with fresh ingredients. In fact, she wrote a book on it. Literally.

Philadelphia's queen of cocktails, who has been creating drinks here for 11 years, has collected her best recipes in her new book, Shake, Stir, Pour — Fresh Homegrown Cocktails (Quarry). The book includes not only the secret to her favorite sips, but also recipes for syrups, mixers, infused spirits, and bitters.

Her current specialty, which she is pouring at Han Dynasty in University City, is among the city's best thirst quenchers in summer heat: tiki cocktails.

Loeb has updated tiki standards like the Scorpion Bowl, a Chengdu Mule, and a Flaming Dragon punch, renamed "Double Dragon Punch" here to reflect the nickname of proprietor Han Chiang's mother.

"First and foremost a summer cocktail has to be refreshing," Loeb says. As tiki cocktails fit that bill — tall, with spirit, mixer, and citrus — perhaps it's no coincidence that you'll find Stephen Starr doing a tiki pop-up at the Art Museum this month, or see Loeb collaborating on another in August with rum expert and Rum Bar owner Adam Kanter.

"Slightly sweeter tiki-style drinks that are rum- and juice-based work well, but so does anything that's booze plus the carbonated beverage of your choosing," Loeb says. Plus, "any of the fruitier tiki-style drinks are easily prepared punch style and can be kept refrigerated for at least a few days.

“That's why anything tall, with spirit and mixer and probably citrusy, works best."

At Garces Trading Company, beverage manager Brandon Thomas is experimenting with the carbonation.

An avid reader of the popular cocktail blog by bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland, Ore. (jeffreymorgenthaler.com), Thomas began experimenting with his latest technique, bottled carbonated cocktails, a couple of months ago.

Thomas mixed a batch of cocktail, poured it into a large plastic container, and pumped it with CO2, "50 to 55 pounds of pressure's worth." Then he poured the mixed and carbonated cocktail into 7-ounce bottles and capped them. The contents inside remain fizzy, like a fruit-flavored Izze soda with 2 ounces of alcohol.

Last week, three bottled carbonated cocktails made their way onto the Garces Trading Company summer drinks menu: the Campari-classic Americano, a perfect-for-summer, cucumber-kissed Pepino Fresco, and a tart, lime-forward Avenue 1111.

The Pepino is a carbonated variation of the "Cucumber Cooler" cocktail that wowed judges during the "Battle Tequila and Tortillas" episode of Iron Chef, which Thomas' boss, chef Jose Garces, won handily. It's an effervescent mix of Cuervo Gold, St. Germain liqueur, celery, cucumber, and lemon juice and water. It's poured tableside into a glass that's garnished with sliced cucumber wheels, fresh and light.

The Avenue 111 teams Tanqueray gin with a lime cordial and ginger beer that Thomas makes in-house. It's a perfectly balanced mix of acidity, booze, and bubbles. "Summer in a glass," Thomas says.

Garces Trading Company is the first in Philly to jump on the trend that's just starting to catch on elsewhere. Celebrity chef David Chang just began serving bottled carbonated cocktails at his New York bar Booker & Dax, and recently brought a couple of bottles of carbonated Manhattans to an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

The appeal, Thomas says, is in the uniqueness of presentation. "Not many people have seen it yet." Even when it's a bottled Manhattan like Chang's or Trading Company's carbonated Americano, he says, it's "a new, fresh way to enjoy a cocktail."

Another trend that is catching on here: big batch drinks to share. Bartender George Reilly has noticed that, in summer, people drink in groups. He kept that in mind when planning the season's drink program at Old City's the Twisted Tail. He's making cocktails suitable for big batches, and serving them in pitchers. That may sound like nothing new, but the Twisted Tail and others are making a larger variety of cocktails available by the big batch.

You'll find a Pimm's cocktail by the pitcher on the Twisted Tail's summer drinks menu, a nod to Reilly's English roots. Alongside it you'll see pitchers of huckleberry moonshine and strawberry lemonade, which were designed with the restaurant's Southern cuisine in mind.

At Farmer's Cabinet in Center City guests can share drinks out of a punch bowl that's delivered to the table. And Han Dynasty's University City locale will be serving classic tiki cocktails out of the traditional more-straws-the-merrier ceramics once the order they've placed for them ships, which, we're told, will be soon.

You can still get the classic summer drinks, only better. You'd be hard pressed to find any Rose's Grenadine, Lime, or other similar synthetic fare behind high-end cocktail bars. The pros make their own syrups, cordials, and freshly squeezed juices in-house. "It's the difference between a peach and a can of peaches," says Farmer's Cabinet bartender Val Boyle.

There's house-made ginger syrup in the Ranstead Room's Roman Highball, a summer offering that's a combination of a mentholated Amaro by Lazzaroni and lime juice that's topped off with club soda. The bar makes fresh juice daily, and in summer they go through lots of pineapple in addition to the lemon and lime they squeeze year round, says John Miller, general manager of Ranstead and El Rey.

Franklin Mortgage's El Pinche Tigre is also made with house-made ginger syrup, along with fresh apple and lemon juice. There's jalapeño-infused blanco tequila in it as well, which the bar staff infuse themselves. The ginger and jalapeño give the cocktail a bite.

There's house-made watermelon syrup in the incredibly flavorful Ipanema Swizzle you'll find on Farmer's Cabinet's summer drinks menu, which launches this week. Watermelon is that cocktail's dominant flavor, and the fruit holds up nobly to the Brazilian Cachaca, Peychaud's Bitters, and John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum Liqueur (which has hints of lime, almond, vanilla, ginger, and clove) also in the drink. Its near-fluorescent pinkness projects the summery wallop it packs. "It tastes like vacation feels," Boyle says, before adding a warning to anyone who might be put off by the drink's color. "Don't fear the pink cocktail."

Garces Trading Company, 1111 Locust St. 215-574-1099; garcestradingcompany.com.

Farmer's Cabinet, 1113 Walnut St. 215-923-1113; thefarmerscabinet.com.

Han Dynasty, 38th and Market Streets. 215-222-3711; handynasty.com.

Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., 112 S. 18th St. 267-467-3277; thefranklinbar.com.

Ranstead Room, 2013 Ranstead St. 215-563-3330; elreyrestaurant.com.

The Twisted Tail, 509 S. Second St. 215-558-2471; thetwistedtail.com.

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