In summertime, we want nothing more than refreshing citrus and super-smooth drinks with gin, light rum or even Pimm's. But as the weather turns cooler, brown liquors dominate local drink menus, some with infusions of clove or cinnamon. Two Chicago barkeeps are taking the same approach to their bars, as any chef would their kitchen.
Benjamin Schiller spends most days behind the bar at Boka in Lincoln Park. Humbly, he refers to himself as a 'barkeep.' But when the conversation turns to hand-crafted cocktails, he sounds like a chef -- especially this time of year.
"You know definitely rich, seasonal flavors; we think of fall spices, cinnamon, allspice, sage, stuff like that. So if we can work with that in the flavor of a cocktail or in the aromatics, we'll definitely do that," said Schiller.
Consider a drink with egg whites, tawny port and rum.
"We modify that with a little falernum. Falernum is a home-based liqueur we make. It's made from a high-proof rum, cinnamon, allspice, lime peel, clove, definitely earthy flavors like that," Schiller said.
Ice is added to rapidly chill the drink.
"We serve it with a little bit of lemon juice, simple syrup, top it with a egg white and then sage and Angostura for an aromatic garnish," said Schiller.
In another fall cocktail, Schiller uses mezcal and tequila, plus amaro and lemon juice. The drink is poured over an ice cube consisting of smoked water.
"So the smoke itself becomes a flavor in the cocktail. Much like a Mescal or some Scotches have a smoky characteristic. As the ice dilutes, your cocktail gets a little smokier and smokier," said Schiller.
In Bucktown, Eric Hay takes a similarly meticulous approach to sourcing and creating cocktails at Duchamp on Damen Avenue. He leans more toward darker spirits in the fall, such as bourbons and ryes, as well as rum.
"I mean I start with flavors, traditional fall flavors and things you remember from when you were growing up, mama's baking in the kitchen... things around Thanksgiving time," Hay said.
His 'Bivouac' contains Wathen's Bourbon, plus organic cider and lemon juice. Homemade cinnamon and clove syrup give it added depth.
The drink is double-strained, then gets a grating of fresh cinnamon on top with an apple slice. 'The Judge' is even more intense: bitters are added with a dropper, then Lillet-- a fortified white wine -- and punt e mes, a vermouth. Bulleit bourbon and Dalmore single malt scotch are measured in along with ice. A bit of lemon peel and hard-to-find Luxardo cherries give the drink even more complexity, but keep it balanced. As for pairing scotch and bourbon?
"...that actually has a lot more rye in the mash build than most bourbons do. And, so it has it has a little more spice and backbone to it," said Hay.
Some other great sources for delicious, hand-crafted, seasonal cocktails include the Violet Hour in Wicker Park, Bar Deville in Ukrainian Village, and The Whistler in Logan Square.
1729 N. Halsted St.
2118 N. Damen Ave.
The Violet Hour
1520 N. Damen Ave.
2421 N. Milwaukee Ave.
701 N. Damen Ave.