Cocktail Culture

We talk, and write, a lot about what wines pair well with which foods, and which beers pair better than those wines with those foods. But what about cocktails? Typically, it’s, “let’s grab a drink before dinner,” or “let’s grab a drink after dinner.” The during is usually cocktail-free. 

I attended two events last month that have reopened my eyes to the cocktail culture that continues to thrive in this country and how spirits too can pair equally as well as wine or beer with food. 

Skyy Vodka recently named chef Marcus Samuelsson as its first culinary ambassador. Samuelsson is a James Beard Award winner and also is Food Network’s Chopped All-Stars champion this year. He is the owner and chef of Red Rooster in Harlem where I got to experience first-hand what his partnership with the vodka brand will entail. From September to December, Samuelsson will focus on how to create high-quality cocktails at home that he has developed using his culinary skills through a program called Captivating Cocktails. At the Red Rooster we sampled some cocktails from the program: Basil Gimlet paired with skagen toast, an Apple Spiced Martini paired with a turkey meatball slider on a biscuit with cranberry chutney, and an Earl of Harlem cocktail made with Earl Grey Tea, coriander syrup, lemon juice and orange rind paired with chicken and waffles with spiked Skyy syrup. Other cocktails passed throughout the evening included The Savoy (made with red and white grapes, lemon juice and agave syrup) and a White Sangria.

While I’ve sampled my fair share of culinary crafted cocktails, I was surprised to find the cocktails to be light, refreshing and balanced with the food choices that weren’t your typical dinner items.

Further downtown, it was a Sunday brunch and Patrón Silver cocktails at Maya, a Richard Sandoval restaurant, specializing in modern Mexican cuisine. The newly redesigned restaurant now includes Tequileria Maya, a bar and lounge with more than 100 agave-based spirits and 30 house-infused tequilas. Cocktails that day included a traditional margarita, a pineapple sage margarita, spiked agua frescas, tequila punch and a Maria Verde made with tamatillo, chiles, cilantro, jalapeno and lime all paired with small Mexican plates like chef’s special chicken enchiladas, tacos and tortas like smoked brisket tacos and cazuelas (baked eggs served in cast iron skillets) like eggs albanil—scrambled eggs, chicharron, black beans, salsa verde and crema fresca. 

Tequila for brunch isn’t the normal go-to cocktail, but as the tequila culture continues to grow, consumers are learning that tequila can be enjoyed in many cocktails and even sipped like a fine cognac. In fact, Sandoval has partnered with Herradura to craft his own limited-edition double barrel reposado tequila. Following the traditional barrel aging process, this reposado was then rested in new toasted oak barrels and aged for an additional 30 days. Only 240 bottles are available. The tequila has aroma notes of fruit and vanilla and caramel-like flavors derived from the cooked agave and aging in oak barrels. It has a sweet finish with a light alcohol taste. Salud!  

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