The Twin Cities are brimming with bar talent. Never before have we seen such a gourmet-driven, sustainable-food-inspired approach to drink-making, with barkeeps getting all pre-Prohibition on our palates. We’re talking secret-recipe sours, handcrafted bitters, herb-infused syrups—even ice has gone artisanal. What follows are the fall’s most quintessential drinks, plus a little bit about the bartistes who pour them. Salut!
Smoke and Mirrors
The cocktail: The Hungry Manhattan
Who’s pouring it: Gina Kent, Bradstreet Craftshouse, 601 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
The name for this cocktail comes from its secret ingredient, Zwack, “the National Shot of Hungary.” It’s the bartending world’s mysterious Eastern European: dark and shifty, a blend of 40 different herbs and spices, the precise recipe of which has been kept hush-hush since 1790 (though Kent notes traces of orange and cardamom). The drink itself is a meatier Manhattan. The Bulleit Bourbon goes heavy on the rye, and the Punt e Mas, a deep red vermouth, renders the whole thing as bloody as a steak served rare. Pre-pour, Kent sprays the glass with Lagavulin, a smoky, peaty Scotch. “When you go to drink, it hits you right in the nose,” she says. “It’s like staring right into a fireplace.”
Bulleit Bourbon, Zwack, Campari, Punt e Mes, a spray of Lagavulin Scotch 16-year, Regan’s Orange Bitters
The cocktail: Antoine’s Hollow
Who’s pouring it: Nikola Govich, Meritage, 410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stpaul.com
With its amber tint and spiced citrus aroma, this twist on a Sazerac is as joyously autumnal as a headfirst dive into a pile of raked leaves. Instead of cognac, Govich pours it with Laird’s Apple Jack, a brandy made from fermented cider with a 230-year history stretching back to colonial New England. “It’s the closest thing America has to a national spirit,” Govich explains. “George Washington supposedly requested the recipe from the distillers.” The cocktail’s name, too, is rich in historical lore: a reference to both Antoine Peychaud, the Creole apothecary credited with inventing bitters, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Sip this one on Halloween—but watch for headless horsemen.
Laird’s Apple Jack, Peychaud’s Bitters, Velvet Falernum, Lagavulin Scotch 16 year
The Flavor Cannonball
The cocktail: Takin’ it to the house
Who’s pouring it: Johnny Michaels, La Belle Vie, 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
There’s nothing esoteric in Michaels’s fall potion—just a loud snap of ginger, a twinge of sour, and the sweet, boozy wash of an eight-year bourbon. And to satisfy that fall romantic in you, he tops it with a pinwheel of Honey Crisp wedges. “I like shy, subtle drinks,” says Michaels, the Twin Cities’ king of cocktail craft, known for innovative and adventurous pours. “But I also like going big and bold.” If the drink menu at La Belle Vie, then, is a carefully conceived concept album, this is its smash-hit single. “I just read something about how we used to have to take bartenders and teach them to be mixologists,” he says. “But maybe we need to take the mixologists and teach them how to make drinks again.”
Home-cooked apple-ginger-lemon sour, Jim Beam Black, Bénédictine, Angostura Bitters, Honey Crisp apple wedges
The cocktail: Hair of the Lion
Tho’s pouring it: Adam Harness, Café Maude, 5411 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411, cafemaude.com
“This one’s like a cold egg nog,” explains Harness, dripping an egg white into a cocktail shaker and rattling it like a maraca. A minute later, he’s pouring what looks like a Thanksgiving dessert: a cinnamon-y drink, the color of piecrust, capped by a frothy meringue. It’s a riff on the old Lion’s Tail, Harness says, with rum standing in for the traditional whiskey. “With the allspice, it smells like a winter holiday,” he says. “But you take a sip and get that hit of citrus.” Sure enough, beneath the pillowy head is a lively zing of lime and dark rum. “It’s like autumn’s last gasp before winter.”
Half an egg white, pinch of sugar, lime juice, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice dram, Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, Jamaican bitters
The cocktail: The Sven Pillager
Who’s pouring it: Dan Oskey, The Strip Club, 378 Maria Ave., St. Paul, 651-793-6247, domeats.com
Talk about a heavy-metal cocktail. Like an angry Viking, the Pillager’s main ingredient voyages from across the sea to plunder your taste buds. The aging process for Linie Aquavit, Oskey explains, requires that it travel by ship from Oslo to Australia, and then up to the United States’ West Coast. “So before it even reaches your glass,” he says, “it’s crossed the equator twice.” What’s it taste like? “Hope you like caraway.” Dark and herbal, the drink plunges you into a boozy, savory gloom. By the time you swallow, you feel the victim of a pagan spell.
Linie Aquavit, Cynar, rosemary-infused maple syrup, black-walnut bitters
Want a touch of cocktail craft at home? Get some bitters, baby. These flecks of firewater are the mixologist’s spice rack; one flavor-infused dash can transform a humdrum-and-cola into a signature gourmet invention. Twin Cities barkeeps love the Bittercube brand. It’s local. It’s handcrafted from all natural ingredients. And its founders, Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz, approach their work with the artisanal precision of Old World apothecaries—they even include an eyedropper in each one-ounce vial. We asked Kosevich (formerly of Town Talk Diner) to give us some tips on using the drips.
Chamomile, jasmine, cinnamon, dried fruits
Put it in: Cheap champagne. “Soak a sugar cube with one eyedropper and top it with an inexpensive sparkling.”
Molasses, clove, sassafras, sarsaparilla
Put it in: Hot cocktails. “These are our most earthy and robust bitters. Great for warming up on a cold day.”
Ginger, black pepper.
Put it in: Rum, rum, and rum. “Just put it in rum. You’ll see.”
Grapefruit and hibiscus overtones, notes of island spice
Put it in: PBR. (Seriously.) “It’s called a Poor Man’s IPA. One eyedropper will take a lighter, inexpensive beer and give it more depth.”
The cocktail: The Sidecar
Who’s pouring it: Pip Hanson, Marvel Bar, 200 N. First St., Mpls., 612-298-0035, thebachelorfarmer.com
Hanson, who learned to mix drinks in Japan, takes an Eastern approach, focusing on the negative space of a cocktail. In other words: water content. This dude’s a total ice snob. “Aeration is something that no one in America is doing,” Hanson says, going spastic on a shaker filled with gourmet, scrupulously hand-chipped ice. “If you shake a cocktail right, it should fizz.” And his sidecar does. Served up in a martini glass, a thin foam tops the drink, cushioning the tongue from the often too-tart combo of Cointreau and lemon juice. “It’s like a cold-weather margarita,” he says. “You want to be drinking this on a patio in an apple orchard.”
Lemon juice, Cointreau, Hennessey VSOP Cognac
The cocktail: tequila snowstorm
Who’s pouring it: Thea Sheffert, Ciao Bella, 3501 Minnesota Dr., Bloomington, 952-841-1000, ciaobellamn.com
You can take the barkeep off the beach, but you can’t take the beach out of Thea Sheffert. Or out of her drinks. This blond UCLA grad, who won the first Bombay Sapphire “Most Inspired Bartender” contest in Minneapolis, in 2008, has built her rep on taking the sunny, SoCal drinks of her native Hollywood and infusing them with a Midwestern cold-hardiness. “I just couldn’t give up my margaritas,” she jokes. With its top-shelf tequila and French ginger liqueur, the Snowstorm could be just a cheap Jimmy Buffet joke. But Sheffert builds it with soft-frozen apple-cider ice cubes that flake apart in the shaker. The result? A green apple slush that eases the salty tang of the tequila. This one’s a slow-sipper, guaranteed to keep you wasting away in Minnesota-ville.
Don Julio Añejo, Domaine de Canton, apple-cider ice cubes