Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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Oh, fer Feck’s Sake: Scott Beattie’s Artisanal Cocktails

Those of you in the San Francisco Bay area this week are in for a treat. Like Martin Cate before him, Scott Beattie, author of Artisanal Cocktails, will be tending bar as a guest at Bourbon and Branch this Thursday and Friday (May 14-15). Go if you can. The man is doing something truly special.

Those of you not in the Bay area—well, you can just suck it.

Missouri? Suck it. North Carolina? Suck it. Mississippi? Iowa? Nebraska? Maine? Suck it. Even New Orleans, with one of the most vibrant cocktail scenes in the world, you know what to do. In more ways than one, you can’t make it.

Beattie’s subtitleDrinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus—belies the real inspiration here. This is undeniably a book rooted in California’s bountiful wine country. The drinks—beauties, each and every one—call for fresh produce, brilliant edible flowers, top-shelf liquors from craft distillers, esoteric essential oils, and fresh herbs to such a degree that cocktail enthusiasts outside that organic heirloom microcosm might feel themselves just…taunted.

There are foams and homemade pickles, amaranth spears and bamboo springs, tomatoes, watermelon cubes, celery root threads—garnishes that make the orchids on our home bar seem downright pedestrian. Some of his cocktails are so freighted with produce that they become as much conversation pieces as refreshment. Straw? Fork? Camera? Peterson’s Field Guide to North American Wildflowers? What do I reach for here?

Unlike Beattie, who grew up in Northern California with its vibrant foodie culture, I’m from the Midwest. You know, the place where the citrus is waxed, the hearts of palm canned, and the shiso is…wait, the what? Might as well call for moon rocks and muddled hen’s teeth.

Seriously, this isn’t a recipe book. This is cocktail porn. If you enjoy cocktails to begin with but also revel in the inherent escapism of National Geographic magazine or the Travel Channel, then you may get a serious kick out of Artisan Cocktails.

Hats off to Sara Remington for her gorgeous photography—lots of bokeh beads of condensation glimmering on glasses, Technicolor blossoms, and cocktails that resemble table centerpieces more than something you’d actually drink.

If you’re at all into cocktails, check out the book. It’s not like others you may own. But as a practical manual for mixologists outside northern California, it’s best viewed as inspiration for using your own local produce and resources to make amazing cocktails. How so? Well, if you intend to make each drink in the book, you’ll need (this is just a partial list);
  • 500 micrograms of B12 powder
  • kefir lime leaves
  • lotus root
  • rosemary blossoms (the little purple flowers, not the leaves)
  • fresh hearts of palm
  • pickled fennel
  • black sea salt
  • red sea salt
  • verjuice
  • anise hyssop leaves
  • fennel fronds
  • fenugreek
  • candied rhubarb
  • bamboo sprigs
  • lemongrass (for candying)
  • sunflower petals in chiffonade
  • yuzu juice
  • dehydrated peach chips
  • jasmine blossoms
  • heirloom tomato water
  • pickled celery root threads
  • powered vitamin C
So, you’re in Kansas City, Wilkes-Barre, Des Moines, or Tupelo. Unless you’re willing to pay extraordinary shipping charges, there are some drinks here you just can’t make. But you can follow Beattie’s lead and make cocktails that are so rooted in your hometown that anyone tasting it would know exactly where it came from.

Get to know your florist. Become a regular at your farmers’ market. Suss out the local liquor in your area. Got recent immigrants in your hometown? Find out where they shop and begin learning their flavors. Start a garden to supply your bar with the garnishes you want to use. Cooks do it, why not bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts?

Say you’re in Western North Carolina. The nearest lotus root is in Atlanta. Skip that drink. Maybe try a bloody mary with local heirloom tomatoes, pickled ramps, and, what the hell, a rim of coarsely powdered pork rinds. If you’ve got respectable moonshine, ditch the vodka and go all-local. You get the idea.

I’m not likely to make recipes exactly as presented in Beattie’s book, but it’s got me wondering what, other than margaritas and micheladas, San Diego cocktails might become. I haven’t put the thing away in three weeks.

Scott Beattie (2008)
Artisanal Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus.
Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580089216

Order here from Beattie's website.


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