Belly warmers 

PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

I'm a seasonal drinker. In the summer, I'll crave a vodka and soda with lots of lime, or it could be a Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale, which is slightly sour with a kick of sea salt. The common thread that runs through my summer cravings is light, lots of ice — how else am I going to stay hydrated? — and refreshing.

Jump ahead to September, when the weather starts to turn and "Game of Thrones" has ended, and I crave warmth, both from cozy sweaters and cozy drinks. I'm talking about bourbon, Scotch, rye whisky; the drinks that start a fire in your belly and slowly spread to your extremities.

click to enlarge The Black Cat Tea at Good Luck mixes Black Bottle Scotch with iced Earl Grey tea. - PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • The Black Cat Tea at Good Luck mixes Black Bottle Scotch with iced Earl Grey tea.

While you may think of iced tea as a summer thirst quencher, when it's paired with Scotch, it transforms into an ideal fall cocktail. The Black Cat Tea at Good Luck (50 Anderson Avenue) has been a constant on the restaurant's cocktail menu for good reason. Iced organic Earl Grey tea is combined with Black Bottle Scotch, Ferrand dry curacao, lemon, and orange bitters, and the result starts light and slightly sweet, but develops into a slow burn.Black Bottle is a blended Scotch whisky with a slightly smoky flavor and dates back to 1879. Scotch is typically measured on a scale of how "peaty" or smoky it is — that's controlled by the amount of time the barley grain is exposed to peat smoke during drying. Black Bottle is less peaty and therefore can be paired with something light, like iced tea, and it won't overwhelm the cocktail.

Speaking of smoky flavor, if you like it a lot in a cocktail, the Smoke House at Dorado (690 Park Avenue) is right up your alley. The drink is made with bourbon, mezcal, dry curacao, orgeat, and lemon. Mezcal is a spirit distilled from the agave plant, which is native to Mexico, typically the Oaxaca region, and is a cousin of tequila. The spirit has been growing in popularity here in the US, but it gets a bad rap sometimes because it's assumed that it is all overwhelmingly smoky. That's not the case: like Scotch, the level of smokiness varies. Your best bet is to talk to your bartender before you order; they should be able to tell you the flavor profile.

It's amazing to me that some Rochesterians still don't know about Cheshire (647 South Avenue), the cozy cocktail bar located above Solera Wine Bar. If you have the opportunity to try its barrel-aged Manhattan, typically created for a special event, it is not to be missed. The original Manhattan on the Cheshire menu is nothing to shake a stick at either. Templeton rye whiskey is paired with Vya sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, and a brandied cherry. Rye whiskey is spicier and a close relative to bourbon, which can also be used to make a Manhattan.

click to enlarge The Bell Jar at Nox. - PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • The Bell Jar at Nox.

When you talk about the flavors of fall (and no, pumpkin isn't included here), you talk about spice — allspice, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, all the warming spices that are thrown in a spiked hot cider or a mulled wine. The Bell Jar at Nox (302 North Goodman Street, Village Gate) combines that warm flavor of allspice with Old Crow bourbon, walnut, cherry, and ginger. The walnut adds an extra richness to the cocktail that is complemented by the light flavors of cherry and ginger.

All this talk about warm and cozy cocktails finally leads me to The Daily Refresher (293 Alexander Street) where you'll find the literal translation of "warm and cozy" in The Comfy Sweater. Combining Maker's Mark bourbon, old fashioned bitters, maple syrup, hard cider, and clove dust, it's like a hug from the inside. It's fall in a glass. Y'all can have your pumpkin spiced lattes; I'll be right here.


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