Cucumber and vodka? Crispy bacon and whiskey? Bartenders go beyond the simple Cape Codder and create craft cocktails with unusual ingredients, house-made bitters and fresh-squeezed juices.By Sarah Shemkus • Photography by Marianne Lee
In restaurants and watering holes across the country, bartenders are getting crafty.
They’re shunning pre-bottled sour mix for fresh-squeezed juices, replacing mass-produced liquors with locally distilled options, and turning to muddled fruit to replace the conventional (some would say clichéd) electric-red cherry. They’re stirring up house-made infusions. And they’re playing with flavors like basil, cucumber, bacon, hazelnut and black pepper.
This craft cocktail movement began, as so many gastronomic trends do, in New York and San Francisco perhaps a decade ago. Like the foodies that preceded them, craft cocktail enthusiasts embrace fresh and high-quality ingredients, handmade components and original flavors. The most die-hard cocktail crafters serve drinks in custom glassware specifically meant to complement each creation; some even swear by hand-cut ice.
Though many of these practices seem like innovations, the movement draws inspiration from the classic cocktail culture of the first half of the 20th century. Several of the most acclaimed craft drink bars model themselves after speakeasies, eschewing even signs on the door. Their drinks often look to the past as well, with old-fashioned favorites like bourbon cocktails and sazeracs making a huge comeback.
In recent years, the movement has spread well beyond its hip urban origins, even starting to make inroads on Cape Cod.
Traditionally, local bartenders say, the throngs of visitors to the Cape have looked for the conventional offerings: margaritas, cosmopolitans, and, of course, the cranberry-and-vodka mixture that is named after the region. As craft cocktails become increasingly mainstream, however, more and more visitors are interested in trying something a little different while on vacation. And restaurants are stepping up.
The Cape may not have a full-fledged craft cocktail bar quite yet, but elements of the approach are proliferating. Some bars are stocking house-made bitters or concocting their own flavored simple syrups. Unusual ingredients like cucumbers and bacon are popping up. Many bars are offering drinks featuring rye, bourbon and gin, staples of the craft cocktail movement.
“Definitely a lot of places are trying to do some funkier stuff,” says Tony Pasquale, owner of Truro’s Terra Luna restaurant. “It’s definitely evolved from a simple Cape Codder.”
Feeling a little thirsty yet? We’ve found five spots across the Cape where you can taste the trend.
Quicks Hole Tavern
29 Railroad Ave., Woods Hole, 508-495-0048, quicksholewickedfresh.com
THEY SAY BACON MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER. Quicks Hole Tavern puts that aphorism to the test by garnishing its Old-Fashioned Canadian with a slice of crispy, salt-and-pepper bacon.
That touch of adventure is something that infuses (pun sort of intended) the entire cocktail menu at Quicks Hole. The list includes cocktails that use bitters made by sous chef John Wilson, margaritas spiked with habañero-infused simple syrup, a range of interesting whiskeys and, of course, the bacon.
“We’re trying to do creative, inviting things,” Wilson says. “Fresh and delicious, and a bit of weird and complex, is what we like.”
3 ounces Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 ounce maple simple syrup*
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 slice crispy bacon
Pour first three ingredients over ice and stir. Prepare a second glass by standing up slice of bacon in glass, then adding ice. Strain drink into prepared glass.
* To make maple simple syrup: Combine 2 cups water and ½ cup maple syrup in a small saucepan. Simmer until maple syrup has dissolved completely. Cool to room temperature.
17 Steeple St., Mashpee, 508-477-5929, siena.us
AT SIENA RESTAURANT, THE COCKTAIL LIST WAS INSPIRED BY THE KITCHEN.
“The guys in the kitchen take time to make
things with the freshest ingredients,” says general manager Melissa Jankowski. “We decided that we should do that same thing behind our bar.”
They started by replacing bottled sour mix with one made from fresh juices. The difference was so clear, that the bar made even more changes.
Today, the bar offerings are heavy on muddled fruits, lesser-known liquor brands, and flavors that are just slightly out of the ordinary, like the spicy kick in this variation on a dirty martini.
Hot and Dirty Martini
7½ ounces Belvedere vodka
½ ounce olive juice
½ ounce hot cherry pepper juice
Pour ingredients into martini shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously; strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry pepper.
Del Mar Bar & Bistro
907 Main St., Chatham, 508-945-9988, delmarbistro.com
John Zartarian doesn’t claim that Del Mar Bistro has a full-fledged craft cocktail program. Still, he says, “We have some really interesting cocktails.”
The drinks menu offers unexpected and intriguing flavor combinations. The Southway matches cucumber vodka with ginger-lime syrup; the In-Fashion mixes blood orange liqueur with bourbon.
The Texas Mule recipe is part of a lineup of drinks inspired by the classic Moscow Mule, all of which are served in the traditional copper mugs.
1/2 ounce of lime juice
2 ounces of Titos Vodka
4 to 6 ounces ginger beer
Fill copper mug or Collins glass with ice. Add fresh lime juice, vodka and top with ginger beer. Garnish with wedge of lime.
104 Shore Road, North Truro, 508-487-1019, terralunarestaurant.com
AT TERRA LUNA, OWNER TONY PASQUALE LIKES A COCKTAIL WITH A BIT OF HISTORY AND A BIT OF MODERN INSPIRATION.
The Classic Nawlins Sazerac is, as the name suggests, the restaurant’s take on the Big Easy’s iconic rye-and-absinthe libation. The New Old-Fashioned gets its novelty from bacon-infused bourbon.
And the Jake Leg—a mixture of bourbon, maple syrup and lemon juice topped with ginger beer—is named after a partial paralysis caused by a tainted ginger liqueur in the 1930s.
One squirt grade B maple syrup
One squirt fresh lemon
2 ounces bourbon
Shake first three ingredients vigorously, with ice. Strain over fresh ice, and top with ginger beer. Garnish with lemon.
Terra Luna opens for the season in May.
The Wicked Oyster
50 Main St., Wellfleet, 508-349-3455, thewickedo.com
THE WICKED OYSTER’S FORAY INTO CREATIVE COCKTAILS BEGAN WITH A CRANBERRY MOJITO. When merging the popular libation with the local berry proved successful—it was immediately one of the most popular drinks on the menu, says owner Ken Kozak—they decided to keep experimenting.
“People go out to hopefully try something different,” Kozak says.
The menu changes seasonally; it’s more likely to feature warm whiskeys in the winter and bright, clean flavors (like those in this cucumber-based martini) in the sunnier months.
¼ of a lime
1 slice English cucumber
3 sprigs basil
Couple of squirts simple syrup, plain or infused with jalapeno for a little heat*
Cucumber vodka (Effen or Crop recommended)
St. Germain elderflower liqueur
Add the first five ingredients to a cocktail shaker and muddle together. Add vodka and a splash of St. Germain. Shake, strain and garnish with cucumber.
*To make simple syrup: Simmer 2 parts sugar and 1 part water in a small saucepan until sugar has dissolved completely.