By Rachel Gillman | October 12, 2011 | Food & Drink
FROM LEFT: C-House's First Frost and Pumpkin Martini
The brisk transition into fall—when hemlines drop, collars turn upward and layers become more necessity than fashion statement— can bring a bittersweet farewell to summer’s fleeting pleasures. But while we mourn the end of happy hours on sun-drenched patios, autumn cocktails offer a comfort and complexity that’s often lacking in their warm-weather counterparts. Darker spirits, richer flavors and spicy herbs migrate to martini shakers and highball glasses, providing a liquid respite from the seasonal chill.
|Perennial Virant’s head bartender, Matty Eggleston, stocks up on fall ingredients at the farmers’ market|
“Fall is a cornerstone for us,” says Mike Ryan, head bartender at Sable Kitchen & Bar (505 N. State St., 312-755-9704), the sleek spot adjacent to the Hotel Palomar. “Summertime cocktails are lighter and more refreshing, with less alcohol. But for this season, we’ll look at eau-de-vie (unaged fruit brandy), apple brandy, darker rums, heavier, richer whiskeys, aromatic bourbons and smokier Scotches.” After 10 years as a trained chef, Ryan has adopted a culinary approach to cocktail ingredients and combinations, testing palates with pairings that could easily edge from a dinner table to the bar menu. Brown butter and pumpkin get acquainted with dark rum, creating an enticingly toasty and nutty aroma. Duck, usually relegated to a plate and rarely served without silverware, transitions to the glass with a sweet, spicy and slightly bitter blend of plum syrup, Carpano vermouth and duck-washed white whiskey, which uses a process called “fat washing” to impart flavor into alcohol using fat as the carrier. “Fat and alcohol have a natural affinity for each other,” says Ryan.
At Perennial Virant (1800 N. Lincoln Ave., 312- 981-7070), perched on the edge of the Lincoln Park grounds, inspiration literally comes from the ground up. Head bartender Matty Eggleston and his staff harvested walnuts to make Nocino, a black walnut liqueur, and plans to serve the earthy spirit with applejack and Champagne for a spicy sparkler. House-made preserves also make the journey from garden to glass.
“We like to incorporate flavors you’d encounter at campouts and county fairs. They’re aromas done our way, with more of a rustic feel, like a cut field,” said Eggleston. While bright patches of green conjure summer days gone by, grass finds greater longevity in the form of sorghum, which has a naturally smoky molasses flavor well-suited for cognac, calvados and, a favorite seasonal drink, the hot toddy, which will appear in a variety of incarnations on the Perennial Virant cocktail menu. “You want to start with a hot cider or tea, good and strong, and then add the elements of spices and alcohol. You can use whiskey, bourbon, or pair Calvados and cider. We have a nice range of them for folks to drink.”
Farm-to-Table Behind the Bar
While the thought of an October frost is as unappealing as a martini made with well vodka, C-View and C-House (166 E. Superior St., 312-523-0923) are ready for the inevitable. The new First Frost martini offers an icy blend of North Shore Distillery’s Distiller’s No. 11 gin (from the distillery located in Lake Bluff, Illinois), house-made applesauce, muddled sage and fresh lemon juice. For beverage director Mark Hayes, the ingredients honor the season. “Sage and apple are as fall as you get. I grew up in Michigan surrounded by apple orchards, and that’s what late summer, early fall is all about. We work with executive chef Nicole Pederson’s farm-to-table menu and local sourcing and try to parallel her approach with the cocktail program,” he says. “We’re using Michigan apples, sage grown at Werp Farms and gin from their distillery on the North Shore. The First Frost really encompasses the season—all things fresh and in bloom.”
Even the pumpkin patch is fair game for the bar menu, although equally appropriate for dessert. “We make one heck of an awesome pumpkin martini,” said Hayes. “We use local farm pumpkins for a purée, infuse our vodka with Tahitian vanilla beans and incorporate a pear brandy from Croatia. We even make Ceylon cinnamon foam to resemble whipped cream on top, but far less dense. You get natural pumpkin purée and a rich drink—but it’s one and done.”
Amber spirits, farmers’- market produce and heady herbs are the defining flavors of fall, and we couldn’t be more excited to incorporate them into our cocktail routine. In homage to autumn, raise a glass and celebrate the season.
Make this autumnal cocktail from C-House at home.
4 fresh sage leaves
1 1/2 oz. North Shore Distillery’s Distiller’s Gin No. 11
3⁄4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. house-made applesauce
Muddle sage in a shaker. Add ice, gin, lemon juice and applesauce. Shake vigorously and double-strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with dehydrated sage leaf.
photographs by jimmy fishbein
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