Artisanal Cocktails

I recently received a copy of Scott Beattie’s beautiful new book, “Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus” in the mail.

I believe this had something to do with the tender mercies of the Mixoloseum crowd.

I’ve been interested in Mr. Beattie’s cocktails for some time now.

He has taken the seasonal, fresh bar to new extremes.  Experimenting with techniques and ingredients that others don’t even dream of.

As someone who has been known to include homemade granita and scented geranium leaves in cocktails (see the Rosey Fizz), I find his experiments and cocktail creations intellectually fascinating.

While he doesn’t quite take things to the extremes of some of the East Coast Mixologists, there is a lot here of interest.

However, that is also a problem, when we’re talking about whether it is likely that any of these cocktails will get made.

I have a relatively well stocked bar at home.  Well enough, anyway, to make just about any cocktail called for in the “Savoy Cocktail Book”.

Looking through Mr. Beattie’s book, I am having a real problem finding a cocktail I could make without taking a trip to Le Sanctuaire, the farmers’ market, whole foods, the liquor store, and then spending a couple hours in the kitchen doing prep.

Now, as someone who has called for homemade granita in an original cocktail, there’s definitely a bit of, “Hello Kettle, meet Pot,” going on.  And, sure, I’m willing to allow a certain amount of envy or jealousy on my part.

But to dig a bit deeper, the real problem I have with Mr. Beattie’s cocktails is that they almost always seem to put other ingredients and flavors before those flavors provided by the spirits.

My favorite cocktails are the Manhattan, Sazerac, Old-Fashioned, Martini and variations thereupon.  They are all about the character of the spirit in the drink.

The alcohol in most of the original cocktails in “Artisanal Cocktails” is provided by flavored vodkas or lightly flavored rums.  And then whatever slight character these spirits might express are often covered up with a host of mixers, fruit juices, herbs, and spiced syrups.

It’s almost like there’s a distrust of using a spirit with too much character or having too much of the spirit’s flavor expressed in the drink.

Even the Manhattan in the book, the “Frankfort Manhattan”, is made using Bourbon infused with Vanilla and Citrus Peel!

I mean, if you wanted to make your own vermouth and mess with it by enhancing the vanilla and citrus character, that would be cool. Then use your custom Vermouth in Manhattan. I would be totally down with that.  But why on earth would you want to infuse perfectly good Bourbon with Vanilla Beans and Citrus Zest? What do you do with the rest of the bottle?

I guess that makes me profoundly ambivalent.

There is a lot of interest in “Artisanal Cocktails”.  It is a well written and beautifully photographed book.  There’s a lot to think about in the recipes, ingredients, and techniques.  Mr. Beattie is pushing the limits of what we think a mixed drink can or cannot be.  And having sampled some of the drinks, I can say they are delicious.

But to channel my middle-aged curmudgeon, I’m just not sure if they are “cocktails” or if they are fruit and herb beverages which just happen to have a shot of vodka in them.

Additional Reading:

Raising the Bar: Scott Beattie of Healdsburg’s Cyrus restaurant turns cocktail creation into an extreme sport

4 thoughts on “Artisanal Cocktails

  1. Oh i cannot wait until that book finally gets into my mailbox! but as i live on the other side of the pond, i better gear up with some patience. I totally agree with you that the character of the spirit in the drink should be the main focus and the mixers to complement. I just can`t wait to try out and also tweak some recipes in that book!

  2. Zing!

    That coincides with Gabe’s rant regarding the fussiness of ingredients, going through the nuts ‘n bolts to make a Ginger Apple cider gastrique for one damned drink, then having a half-gallon of the stuff left over. I’m working this into my developing philosophy of concoctioneering; no less than 5 drinks for each ingredient.

  3. Interesting take — I’ve been sitting on a half written review for about a week, mostly because I’m still wrapping my head around what I really think about the book. As a relative cocktail greenhorn, I’m thinking I’m really not this book’s audience and should leave well enough alone.

  4. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Cyrus several times, and have had a dozen or so of his concoctions. I must say, waaay more work than I feel like doing myself, but he runs through enough business they do go through the concoctions.

    This isn’t your normal restaurant/bar. EVERYTHING there is done to a tee, choreographed, (very) fine tuned and complex. And Scott fits right in, master that he is.

    That being said, every single one of the drinks I’ve had there are amazing. Many downright works of art. No, not necessarily leaning heavy on the booze ingredient (though plenty strong), but rather complex mixes of flavors that come together into an amazing whole.

    And I’ve had drinks with Scott after Cyrus closed. He’s not that much of a snob, I don’t think there were more than 3 ingredients in anything he drank!

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