SEATTLETIMES.COM – We’re more discerning drinkers now. We even know which days our favorite bartender is behind the bar. There are more interesting products and cocktails in our happy-hour scene than ever. The drinking scene has evolved. For the better. Here’s how.
That term around Seattle used to mean a michelada, Mexico’s beer version of a bloody mary. Now bartenders use beer in cocktails to accentuate the hoppy notes that IPA drinkers love or to give a drink a fuller body or fizzy texture. Several bars, including No Anchor in Belltown and Bramling Cross in Ballard, devote a section of their drink menus just to beer cocktails.
Bartenders now not only mix drinks, they mix different whiskeys or fortified wines to create a signature “house blend.” Portland’s Teardrop Lounge was among the first in the Northwest to blend together different brands of vermouth, rum, gin, bourbon and rye. It’s common now. On Capitol Hill, a dozen bars now use their house blends to serve in martinis and other classics, giving those familiar drinks a distinctive taste profile. At Smith, the bartender mixes three different vermouths, including one aged in a barrel, for its signature Manhattan. Rumba mixes five Guyana and Jamaican rums, a robust and dry blend that stands up to all the juices and syrups used in tiki drinks.
It’s the new Whiskey Wednesday. The “break-even bottle” is where a bar sells an ounce of a rare, expensive or collectible spirit — at cost — to customers.
It’s offered for all sorts of reasons: as a special to industry folks and loyal customers, or as a clearance sale to move top-shelf spirits that weren’t selling.
But lately, the break-even bottle has become a form of protest, a statement against collectors and the one-percenters who hoard acclaimed spirits as status symbols or trophies. That in turn has jacked up prices and made those bottles out of reach for the average consumer.
Around Seattle, the break-even bottle has given folks a chance to sample some expensive whiskeys and rare spirits for a song, like the Paul Giraud Tres Rare 40-year-old cognac for $8.50 and a Legend of Cuba Rum Pre-1962 for $9. Many bars offer the deal occasionally, but Mulleady’s in Magnolia always does, currently offering Signatory Vintage Glenisla 1977 Speyside scotch for $13 and starting on Dec. 15, the Bainbridge Yama Mizunara Cask Whiskey, the most sought-after locally distilled product for $20 a shot.
Flight of cocktails
It’s a good deal, and a favorite among cocktail geeks — three short cocktails, each 1-ounce to 1.5-ounce pour, for about the cost of one drink. It’s a good way to sample a classic cocktail or a spirit tweaked three different ways. Sun Liquor currently does a flight of applejack cocktails: the classic Jack Rose (with lime juice and grenadine), Harvest Moon (with lime juice, orgeat, Angostura bitters) and Star Cocktail (with sweet vermouth and Peychaud’s bitters).
Canon, which features some of the best flight variations on the negroni and Manhattan, currently features a flight of sazeracs with cognac, rye and a third drink with both cognac and rye.
Gin and Tonic
First it’s the margarita, then mojito and now the Moscow Mule. Bars always look for the next home-run, that easy-drinking, thirst-quencher folks order again and again. In Seattle, many predict the Spanish gin and tonic is that “it” drink — a giant goblet of gin with a house-made or exotic tonic, garnished with different herbs and fruits to accentuate the profile of the gin’s botanicals. The new bar restaurant The Thackeray in Wallingford, which is scheduled to open the week of Dec. 12, will devote a section of the menu to the concept, with gins from Argentina and Spain pairing with a black pepper tincture, Meyer lemon cordial and grapefruit tonic.
When Washington State implemented the highest liquor tax in the country, many bars started featuring more sherry cobblers and other fortified-wine cocktails, which are exempt from the liquor tax. Those also tend to be lower in alcohol content.
Also, after years of those overworked, eight-ingredient drinks, bars are shifting to simpler, three-ingredient drinks, many of which are clean, less boozy concoctions. The Aperol Spritz (prosecco, Aperol and club soda), which was just a brunch drink on Seattle menus a few years ago, is now often a happy-hour special. L’Oursin, the new French seafood restaurant in the Central District, features many aperitifs and other cocktails with fortified wines or liqueurs as the base spirit.
Many bar managers now fly to distilleries to pick booze right out of the barrels to be bottled for their bar programs. Barrio picked its own tequila from Herradura distillery in Mexico. Lot No. 3 in Bellevue and Canlis seek out distinctive ryes or bourbons to stand out from their competitors. Canon purchased a barrel of a rare rye from the acclaimed High West Distillery in Utah that’s aged longer than its standard whiskey. Radiator Whiskey at Pike Place Market had Maker’s Mark do a spicy variation of its signature bourbon.
It’s the closest thing to having an automated bartender, and a game changer for many mom-and-pop shops which can now just pour cocktails on tap instead of making each drink to order.
Bar owner Rachel Marshall wasn’t the first to do tap cocktails, but she set the trend. Most cocktails at her bars — Montana, Nacho Borracho and Rachel’s Ginger Beer on Capitol Hill and at Pike Place Market — come from the tap. Now many low-budget bars or eateries, including New Luck Toy in West Seattle and Bok A Bok Korean fried chicken in White Center, have followed suit. Slushies, margaritas, negronis and Moscow Mules are big on tap this year.
The craze over Japanese Whisky, especially in Seattle, is getting absurd. Bartenders can’t stock them fast enough, no matter how much they hike up the price. One of the most sought-after this year is the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask, which costs up to $180 for a shot. The good news is Washington became one of only a dozen states to get Suntory Toki, a cheaper alternative made with a blend of whiskeys. About $40 a bottle, it’s arguably the most popular new product in Seattle. Heartwood Provisions makes the best Toki cocktail — an aromatic drink (called Good Medicine) with vegetal notes from Shiso liqueur, floral and vanilla hints from Carpano Bianco vermouth, and turmeric to punch it up. It’s one of the best drinks I had this year.
In the Seattle area, this used to mean a bourbon or rye Old Fashioned. Many bartenders now use that template (booze, sugar, bitters and water) to create “new” Old Fashioneds. Rum variations are big this year. Many bars also swap out sugar for maple syrup, a port reduction or other sweeteners to pack in more flavor. Instead of Angostura bitters, Scrappy’s chocolate bitters are often employed. The Walnut Old Fashioned with Calvados at Rob Roy in Belltown is a big hit during the holidays.
Tan Vinh, Seattle Times