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4 Cocktail Recipes from America’s Top Bartenders

Crafty mixologists spill the beans on some of their best drinks.

Sakura Maru cocktail Photo: Kelsey Fain

Freed from the constrains of convention, master mixologists at some of the country’s freshest bars are pushing the boundaries of craft cocktail creation. From an L.A. reinterpretation of Peru’s Pisco Sour to an old fashioned that doesn’t just taste smoky, it’s actually served smoking, here we present four of the most innovative libations around—and teach you how to make them at home. Not only will preparing these unconventional cocktails impress even your most jaded bar-hopping friends, you will have officially enlisted in the contemporary cocktail revolution.

Sakura Maru

Created by Leo Robitschek at the Giannini Bar at the NoMad Los Angeles

Celebrated mixologist Leo Robitschek created the Sakura Maru originally for the NoMad’s flagship bar in Manhattan, one of the country’s premier public houses. This libation, a tangy riff on a pisco sour, has since made its way west to the hotel’s posh Los Angeles outpost, which opened in 2017. The house-made green-tea yogurt—a combination of sheep’s-milk yogurt and green tea syrup—brings a luscious creamy zing to the cocktail, which is shaken and served on a large rock with finely grated lime zest for garnish.

Ingredients:

1/2 oz. agave

1/2 oz. Avuá Amburana

3/4 oz. lemon juice

3.4 oz. Macchu Pisco Quebranta

3/4 oz. Bols Genever

1 oz. green-tea yogurt

Lime for zest

Directions:

Shake and pour all the ingredients over a large ice cube in a rocks glass. Grate lime zest over the top.

In the Rocks cocktail

In the Rocks

Created by Jon McCain at the Aviary NYC, Mandarin Oriental, New York

The razzle-dazzle, magic-show-in-a-glass vibe of the Aviary’s Midtown Manhattan offshoot (the original is in Chicago) aroused a degree of cynicism among New York’s imbibing elite when it opened. If a cocktail is served with a full array of bells and whistles, the thinking seemed to be, how good could it possibly taste? The answer is, in its finest moments, spectacular. The best is called In the Rocks, a mainstay of the Chicago Aviary that has been tweaked for New York. A rocks glass is presented with an ice ball containing bourbon and Sichuan-peppercorn-infused scotch, atop a granita of crème de cassis. A custom-made slingshot is provided to break the ice and unleash the drink, which evolves and blends as the ice melts. A small chaser of Champagne is also recommended, blurring the drink’s line between old-fashioned and kir royale and adding to its celebratory vibe.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 oz. bourbon

1/8 oz. Talisker 10

1/2 oz. Champagne syrup

3 dashes Reagan’s orange bitters

2 dashes Bitter Truth chocolate bitters

2 dashes Red Sichuan tincture

1 oz. water

Directions:

Batch all ingredients together. Chill each batch and the glasses you intend to use. Using a syringe, inject the cold mixture into an empty ice-sphere shell. This is temperature sensitive, so it needs to be fast and clean. (We recommend a few practice tries.) Once the sphere is frozen, place it inside the chilled glass on top of the cassis ice.

Cucumber cocktail

Cucumber  Photo: Kelsey Fain

Cucumber

Created by Thomas Waugh at the Pool Lounge, New York City

Absinthe is an invasive species of the cocktail world. Put absinthe in a cocktail, no matter how minute the amount, and the finished product will almost inevitably be dominated by that distinctive cool, herbal flavor. It takes a tremendously talented bartender to tame an absinthe cocktail. That’s where Thomas Waugh comes in. The head bartender and director of bar operations at New York’s Pool Lounge, he has named each of the menu’s cocktails after its dominant flavor, so it’s somewhat surprising that his absinthe drink is called the Cucumber. With cucumber-infused absinthe, muddled cucumber, fresh-squeezed lime juice, and cane sugar, it’s essentially a daiquiri variation with absinthe replacing rum as the dominant spirit. But Waugh pulls off the balancing act perfectly, letting the cucumber and lime come to the fore while keeping the absinthe present but in a supporting role. The inside of the Cucumber’s coupe glass is lined with very thinly sliced cucumber, which makes for both a stunning visual touch and a tasty nibble once the drink is done.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 oz. cucumber-infused absinthe*

1 oz. fresh lime juice

3/4 oz. simple syrup

3 baby-cucumber wheels

Thinly sliced baby cucumbers

Directions:

Use a muddler to crush the cucumber wheels in a shaker. Add the remaining ingredients and shake well with ice. Strain into a coupe glass lined with thinly sliced baby cucumbers and filled with a small amount of crushed ice.

*To make cucumber-infused absinthe:

Add 10.5 oz. of thinly sliced cucumber to one 750 mL bottle of absinthe. Let steep for 24 hours, then strain cucumbers and bottle absinthe for use.

Smoking Old Fashioned cocktail

Smoking Old Fashioned  Photo: Kelsey Fain

Smoking Old Fashioned

Created at Fine & Rare, New York City

Like its sibling establishment, the Flatiron Room, Tommy Tardie’s Fine & Rare is best known for its extensive spirits selection, with a focus on whiskey. But for those who desire something besides straight sipping, there’s also a potent and varied cocktail menu. The highlight of the list is the Smoking Old Fashioned made with Hudson Manhattan Rye and Angostura bitters. (A rum option, with fig jam and grapefruit bitters, is no longer on the menu but still available by request.) The “smoking” part of the name is literal; a slab of wood is torched and the smoke is captured in the glass with the aid of a coaster that’s used as a lid. The presentation, with aromatic smoke wafting from the drink, is as appealing to the nose and palate as it is to the eye. Four different woods—hickory, cherry, mesquite, and apple—can be used, and each imparts distinct nuances to the cocktail.

Ingredients:

2 oz. Hudson Manhattan Rye

4 dashes Angostura bitters

1 demerara sugar cube

Orange for twist

Directions:

Gently muddle the sugar cube with the ingredients and stir. Strain into a wine glass with a giant ice cube or sphere. Garnish with an orange twist. Cover the wine glass with a piece of wood, a book, whatever you have lying around, and use a wood-smoker gun to fill the glass with smoke. Take out the hose from the smoker and let the drink sit covered for about 30 seconds. Uncover the drink and enjoy.

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