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Beyond the toddy 

Winter drinks used to be big. This winter in Rochester, they still are.

The 1971 edition of Playboy's Bar Guide devotes an entire chapter to cold-weather tipples. "Nowadays any cool evening in the fall or winter is reason enough for filling the cups to the brim with grogs and nogs," it says. Twenty-seven individual cocktails follow, from the Blue Blazer to the Sherried Scotch.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RENÉE HEININGER
  • Photo by RENÉE HEININGER

But today, cocktail culture has shifted its focus to more summery fare. Classics like the daiquiri and margarita are undergoing a revival, and even the mid-century tiki boom is opening its tiny umbrella once again. Several area bars, however, have in true Rochester fashion dug into the snow and come up with offerings celebrating the current climate.

At Cure, bartender and caretaker Donny Clutterbuck said the demand for hot toddies rose as temperatures fell. But there was a problem.

"There was no ideological intent behind it. There was no motivation," he said, comparing it to a pork sandwich versus a bánh mì. The toddy is simple: bourbon, lemon, honey, water, heat. For his motivation, Clutterbuck turned to the Tom and Jerry.

"It's a midwestern holiday cocktail," he said. "Since Buffalo is the gateway to the Midwest, it's been a pretty regular part of my growing up in the booze industry. I've never seen one in Rochester."

This hot cocktail begins with literal cake batter – whole eggs, sugar, vanilla, and a little rum – plus several spirits, almond, and coconut milk. All of this, Clutterbuck says, makes something better than the sum of those parts.

"It reminds me of drinking the milk in the bottom of the best oatmeal you've ever had," he said.

The cocktail will be available until at Cure in the Rochester Public Market as long as the weather holds.

Somewhat more fleeting are the current wintertime offerings at The Lost Borough Brewing Co. "Being as small as we are, we can be really fluid with the weather," said founder and brewer Dan Western. The four-year-old Atlantic Avenue operation brews on a timetable of just a few weeks, meaning supply shifts with the temperature.

"This winter has been –  knock on wood – pretty mild for us so far," said Western. But that hasn't stopped him from brewing a few winter selections that will be on tap for at least another month.

Gingerbread Ale has been a crowd favorite since Lost Borough opened its doors, he said. He adds ginger spice to brown ale, with a particular grain to add a bready note. "It tastes and smells like gingerbread in a glass," he said. Lost Borough's Russian Imperial Stout, a 12.2 percent ABV behemoth is also available for a few more weeks. Western ages it for more than a year, four months of it in Woodford Reserve barrels. The result, he said, is a thick mouthfeel with touches of coffee, oak, and vanilla.

Even though these particular beers may not last the winter, Western already has his next one planned: a winter wheat beer, as yet unnamed, featuring notes of clove, banana, and coriander.

"It comes right down to balance and flavor profile," Western said of his wintertime creations, adding that he finds a lot of winter specials overly spiced. "It's like, am I drinking beer or am I drinking potpourri?" he said. The winter wheat will be light in body, possibly served with an orange slice, he said, and should be coming in late January.

Another establishment stepping away from the bleak midwinter menu is Next Door by Wegmans, on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford. Restaurant Manager Luis Florez said he and the bar staff spent two months developing the winter season cocktail menu.

"This generation is being very adventurous, which allows us to play around with ingredients a little bit more than five or ten years ago," he said.

That sense of adventure, as well as proximity to the Next Door kitchen and Wegmans vendors, allowed Florez and his team to include a diversity of ingredients rarely seen in winter. For example, yuzu citrus juice is a key factor in the Winter Elixir, which is topped with a molded ice semisphere, mint sprig, and blackberry, with a snowfall of powdered sugar.

"People now are looking for something more complex," Florez said. "Keep my senses in as many directions as you can with that glass you're putting in front of me."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON
  • PHOTO BY RYAN WILLIAMSON

Some of those directions are new takes on old classics. The Espresso Negroni features vermouth infused with espresso beans and a topping of coconut and Kerrygold whipped cream.

These cocktails, like all the aforementioned seasonal drinks, seem to align on a singular purpose.

"You want to make people happy," said Florez. "You want them to talk about your place. You want them to say, 'Oh my god, this smells like pine trees.'"

And though these menus may not be exactly evergreen, they'll be here for Rochesterians to quench their thirst and banish their chill, by filling cups to the brim like it's 1971.

Also this winter

Other bars around the city also feature wintertime offerings. Living Roots Wine & Co. is intermittently mulling some of its 2016 Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc and combining it with citrus and spices for a local take on a classic seasonal favorite. Co-founder Colleen Hardy said the mulled wine pairs perfectly with the snow globe-esque atmosphere of the University Avenue tasting room during the winter. And though it's not on the regular menu, she said, its availability will be announced on Living Roots' social media.

The Spirit Room also has a full wintertime cocktail menu in addition to its regular array of craft cocktails, and The Old Toad is featuring mead as a seasonal special throughout the winter.

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