Bourbon & Branch, San Francisco, 2008

Here’s a fun little drink that sits between worlds: sort of a sour, sort of a tiki drink, and none of the above. Good aged rum with lime and spiced syrups plus a dose of bitters sounds straight out of Don the Beachcomber or Trader Vic’s, but this is from San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, a password-protected speakeasy deep in the grubby Tenderloin. These secret-entry bars are sometimes more show than substance – startup spots trying to capture some of the magic of places like Bourbon & Branch, Please Don’t Tell, or Noble Experiment – but when done right, the barrier to entry serves a good purpose. In the neighborhood full of bums surrounding Bourbon & Branch, the tiny, 24-at-a-time, subterranean room of PDT, or the weekend AXE-effect shitshow in San Diego’s Gaslamp around Noble Experiment, a speakeasy makes good sense. It controls the experience, adds drama, and cuts down on the riff-raff.

With a perfect balance of spirit, sour, sweet, and spicy, the Rum Crawl is a sure-hit crowd-pleaser, especially for those who may not care for more spirit-forward cocktails. It’s also an opportunity to use more of that homemade Falernum – its holiday spices of ginger, clove, and allspice plus the fragrant cinnamon and Angostura bark in the Fee Brother’s once-a-year bottling of Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters are a perfect match for fall and winter entertaining.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Vegetable peeler
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass or coupe
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate Extra 12)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Falernum, Ginger Syrup (recommended: B.G. Reynolds’)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Whiskey-Barrel Aged Bitters (recommended: Fee Brothers), Orange twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass or coupe in the freezer at least ten minutes. In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

2 oz aged rum
3/4 oz lime juice
1/2 oz falernum
1/4 oz ginger syrup
2
dashes whiskey-barrel aged bitters

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then rub the twist around the glass rim to coat. Garnish with the twist laid across the surface of the drink.

The Varnish, 2011

I stopped by The Varnish in Downtown Los Angeles late one night, looking for a spot to kick back and enjoy just one more sip that wouldn’t put me over the edge. With nothing specific in mind, I asked general manager Chris Bostick for something “tall and low-proof” and he obliged with a snap of the fingers, producing this stunning, friendly, and balanced delight.

It specifies Gran Clasico, made by Tempus Fugit Spirits up in Novato, north of San Francisco. It’s a bitter liqueur in the style of the great Italian amari like Montenegro and Ramazzotti. Track that down and the rest is probably already on hand: lime, orange, simple syrup, and the bubbles of your choice – seltzer, soda, or mineral water.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Barspoon, Straw (optional)
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Collins glass
Mixers & Liqueurs: Gran Clasico, Simple syrup, Seltzer or tonic water (recommended: Fever-Tree) or sparkling mineral water (recommended: Pellegrino)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lime juice, Orange wedge

HOW TO

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 oz Gran Clasico
1 oz lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into a Collins glass filled most of the way up with cracked ice. Top with:

2 oz seltzer, tonic water, or sparkling mineral water

Squeeze in the juice from one orange wedge and stir lightly to blend, then garnish with the orange wedge. Optionally, serve with a straw.

New York City (1911)

Here’s a drink that almost went extinct because of Prohibition – in its original form, anyway. Early 20th-century trendsetter Hugo Ensslin‘s Aviation owes its dry, sweet, tart, and floral balance to a key ingredient: crème de violette – a liqueur made by steeping violet flowers in neutral grain spirit with sugar to extract their perfume and color. In the bottle, it’s a deep violet; Mixed in a drink, it adds a pale sky-blue tinge (hence the name “Aviation,” no doubt). When Prohibition came along, many companies stopped importing their products to the US or just went out of business altogether. Such was the case with the original supplier of crème de violette – and that’s why recipes for the Aviation printed after 1920 simply omit this crucial accent. Without the violette, this cocktail just tastes like a Pixy Stix. Not nearly as interesting (or as eye-catching) as it should be. Thankfully, as the craft cocktail movement picked up steam, we started to see a revival of previously-lost ingredients, including crème de violette, reintroduced in 2007 by Rothman & Winter.

THE KIT

Hardware: Shaker, Jigger, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer (if using Boston shaker)
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Maraschino liqueur (recommended: Luxardo), Crème de violette (recommended: Rothman & Winter)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Lemon juice, Maraschino cherry

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a shaker about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 1/2 oz London Dry gin
3/4
oz lemon juice
1/2
oz maraschino liqueur
1/4
oz crème de violette

Shake well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry pierced on a cocktail pick.