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Bar Features
May 01, 2012


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Cocktail Culture

The top drinks to sip and savor in St. Louis.
Story: Matt Sorrell

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There's never been a better time for the St. Louis cocktail enthusiast than right now. The city's liquid culture is alive with an abundance of talented mixologists and unique venues in which to enjoy their creations. Sound too good to be true? Come talk to us after you've sampled these top 20 local libations, arranged from strong to sweet—and oh-so-dangerously good.

[1] DISIN-JEN-UOUS Dispelling the myth that tequila is only good for shots, this inimitable creation is based on Diablitos' house-made hibiscusinfused tequila with Pommeau, St. Germain, simple syrup and lemon and orange juice—walking the line between sweet, floral and smoky. $8, Diablitos Cantina, 3761 Laclede Ave., Midtown, 314.644.4430.

[2] MONTH-OLD MANHATTAN This variation on the venerable classic includes rye whiskey, curacao and vermouth. After a month in a mason jar, it's hand-labeled, signed and dated—like any work of art should be. $10, Eclipse Restaurant, 6177 Delmar Blvd., The Loop, 314.726.2222.

[3] CLASSIC MANHATTAN The Fox & Hounds faithfully recreates this sublime amalgamation of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters—the perfect hearthside tipple, and one of the all-time classic cocktails. $9.50, The Fox & Hounds Tavern, 6300 Clayton Rd., Clayton, 314.647.7300.

[4] SALT SEASONAL SMASH Changing frequently based on what's growing in the garden, this popular variation features Buffalo Trace bourbon, chocolate mint, blood orange juice, Angostura bitters and salted caramel syrup. $9, Salt, 4356 Lindell Blvd., Central West End, 314.932.5787.

[5] THE MANUSCRIPT Spicy rye whiskey and sweet Cherry Heering give this drink its depth and body, while a bit of lemon juice and a float of sparkling wine provide the personality— well worth a read. $10, Demun Oyster Bar, 740 Demun Ave., Demun, 314.725.0322.

[6] BLEEDING CASTRO One of the venue's many takes on the classic Blood & Sand, this version trades rum for Scotch and grapefruit juice for OJ, with some spicy-sweet vermouth and mole bitters in the mix. $10, Blood & Sand, 1500 St. Charles St., Downtown, 314.241.7263.

[7] IN A PICKLE The floral notes of Hendrick's gin and St. Germain, plus cucumber and dill, help this complex drink strike the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Try a pitcher for more than a single taste. $10, Taste, 4584 Laclede Ave., Central West End, 314.361.1200.

[8] STRAWBERRY BLONDE A base of vodka is combined with muddled strawberry, basil, lime juice and a bit of simple syrup— then topped with sparkling wine—for a refreshing taste with just a touch of herbaceous. $10, Blondie's, 1301 Washington Ave., Downtown, 314.241.6100.

[9] WATER STREET COCKTAIL This bar's namesake cocktail deals in Death's Door gin, champagne and elderflower foam made of egg white and St. Germain that's both delicate and begs for a bit of contemplation. $9, Water Street, 7268 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314.646.8355.

[10] THE SUBCONTINENTAL Perfect for the patio, this summertime favorite combines gin, lime juice, cucumber juice and Cointreau for a refreshingly clean potable that can be enjoyed up or on the rocks. $7, The Royale, 3132 S. Kingshighway Ave., South City, 314.772.3600.

[11] PI SQUARED You can't go wrong with Square One organic vodka as your foundation—especially when it's sweetened with a bit of agave nectar and balanced with lime juice and fresh basil leaves. $9, Pi, 400 N. Euclid Ave., Central West End, 314.367.4300.

[12] EAU DIVINE Using Absolut Grapevine vodka's flavors of white grapes and hints of dragon fruit and papaya to its full advantage, this fine libation also incorporates the tartness of cranberry and the sweetness of pineapple juice. $9, Cafe Eau, 212-232 N. Kingshighway Blvd., Central West End, 314.454.9000.

[13] SIBLING RIVALRY This charming collaboration between siblings Justin and Brooksey Cardwell marries tangy orange vodka and lemon juice with the spicy bite of Domaine Canton ginger liqueur and the delicate floral notes of St. Germain and creme de violette. $8, BC's Kitchen, 11 Meadows Circle Dr., Lake St. Louis, 636.542.9090.

[14] RASPUTIN'S MISTRISS Based on samogon, a Russian spirit made from grapes, this libation is one of Sanctuaria's cocktails on tap. It also includes grapefruit juice, lemon juice, violet liqueur and rose water for a delicate yet substantial taste. $10, Sanctuaria Wild Tapas, 4198 Manchester Ave., The Grove, 314.535.9700.

[15] THE GREAT FLOOD OF '93 Named after the infamous local disaster, this cocktail is anything but. A house-made pineapple vodka infusion with some ginger brandy and fresh lime juice added is just this side of sweet. $9, Three Sixty, 1 S. Broadway, Downtown, 314.241.8439.

[16] COGNAC SIDECAR A hefty 9 ounces, this modern take on the classic cocktail employs the king of brandy styles, cognac, and replaces the traditional Cointreau with pear liqueur for a delicate flavor that's perfect before or after dinner. $9, Lola, 500 North 14th St., Downtown, 314.621.7277.

[17] ANTIOXIDANT MARTINI With the largest selection of vodkas around, fans can sample from varieties made from wheat, potatoes and more. Try this healthy blend of blueberry and pomegranate vodkas and pomegranate and cranberry juices. $9, Sub Zero, 308 N. Euclid Ave., Central West End, 314.367.1200.

[18] SEXY SCOOTER This award-winning drink might be a bit lighter than some of the Scotches available at The Arms, but it's complex in its own right. Peach vodka, triple sec, fruit juices and brûléed rosemary make for a refreshing change of pace. $10, The Scottish Arms, 8 S. Sarah Street, 314.535.0551.

[19] SIGNATURE CHOCOLATE MARTINI The vanguard of Baileys' cocktail list, this decadent drink features house-made ingredients like ice cream, chocolate vodka and Irish cream, served hot or cold. $10, Baileys' Chocolate Bar, 1915 Park Ave., Lafayette Square, 314.241.8100.

[20] CANNED FRUIT COCKTAIL This monster is so big, it's served in an iced pint glass with pineapple and mango rums, fresh pineapple, orange and cranberry juices, sweet and sour mix and maraschino cherry juice—an homage to the Tiki gods of old. $7.50, Just John, 4112 Manchester Ave., The Grove, 314.371.1333.

COCKTAIL ETIQUETTE

Follow these simple dos and don'ts to maximize your bar experience.

DO appreciate the garnish. Sure, some places toss a neon cherry into their drinks and call it a day, but serious bartenders put a lot of thought into what goes on top of the drink or on the rim of the glass. Take a second to appreciate the aesthetics and aromatics the garnish brings to the finished cocktail before downing your drink.

DON'T automatically ask for ice. Cocktails are shaken or stirred with ice to cool them down, but the ice is also essential to the overall cocktail recipe. The melt-off from the ice serves to dilute the drink just enough to tone down the components and tame any errant flavors. Likewise, the decision the bartender makes about whether to serve a drink up or on the rocks is based on what the ice will bring to the finished product.

DO respect the bartender. Working behind the stick is a hard gig—handcrafted cocktails take time to create. So, be patient and wait for the bartender to make eye contact with you before making your request. Whistling, yelling or pounding the bar top are sure ways to keep your glass empty.

HOUSE RULES

For the most creative mixologists, made-in-house ingredients are where it's at.

At Salt, the homemade arsenal includes rhubarb raisin bitters. An amalgam of herbs and spices is steeped in high-proof rum for 12 weeks to make this concentrated flavor add.

The bar at Sanctuaria is loaded with in-house creations, like Swedish punsch, an age-old liqueur based on Batavia arrack, and a vodkabased brown butter sage liqueur.

Not just any fortified wine, the house vermouth at Taste is hand-crafted from Lillet Rouge, Averna and Aperol infused with grapefruit and orange zest.

A far cry from keeping a jar of maraschino cherries behind the bar, Blood & Sand makes garnishes like dill and apple chips to dress up its drinks. It has been known to whip up a savory bacon syrup, too.

Syrups can carry a little flavor a long way. Pi features a custom lemon zest thyme syrup, cinnamon and rosemary syrups and house-made grenadine.

Classic homemade orgeat and grenadine are staples at Café Natasha, and there's a rose germanium syrup in the works as well.

LIQUORED UP

The St. Louis area is known for producing beer and wine, but there are also some local distillers putting out top-notch spirits.

Square One Brewery & Distillery started out making quality beers, then moved into distilling and now has 18 different spirits on its roster, including whiskey, gin, vodka and tequila, as well as a variety of liqueurs.

Another brewery that has delved into distilling, Amalgamated Distilling Company has a portfolio that includes its flagship 85 Lashes Rum.

Crown Valley Brewing & Distilling Company had already made a vodka when it released Missouri's first moonshine in decades late last year, using a similar recipe to the hootch made during Prohibition.

The Big O ginger liqueur has taken St. Louis by storm since it was introduced last year. The spicy cordial has made its way into many drinks on local cocktail menus.

The Mastermind Vodka distillery is the first one in Madison County, IL, since the late 1800s. We hear they have an oldfashioned moonshine in the works, too.

BLOOD & SAND

Members Only

This private dining and drinking club just opened late last year, but has already created a buzz among the local culinary cognizant. Since it takes its name from a classic cocktail, it's only to be expected that the chic club has a superior bar program [21]. Designed to be a place where members can continually challenge their palates, the cocktail menu, like the kitchen's bill of fare, features a bevy of creative offerings—including numerous variations on the namesake Blood & Sand, like the Bleeding Castro, which substitutes aged rum for the Scotch featured in the original, and adds grapefruit juice. 1500 St. Charles St., Downtown, 314.241.7263.

SANCTUARIA

Too Much Is Never Enough

With a selection of more than 200 different cocktails that incorporate almost every spirit and flavor profile imaginable, Sanctuaria is a haven for the serious drink fanatic. Don't just take our word for it, though. The Sanctuaria Cocktail Club drink menu was nominated for the Best Cocktail List in The World at last year's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the Oscars of the mixology world. From classics like the Sidecar to one-of-a-kind drinks like Envy (featuring Hendrick's gin, cucumbers, cilantro, lime juice and St. Germain) there's something for every taste. The beverage program relies heavily on fresh, creative ingredients like house-made syrups, bitters and tinctures, as well as cutting-edge techniques (barrel-aged cocktails, anyone?)—and there are even cocktails on tap. Members of the Sanctuaria bar staff have competed nationally against some of the best mixologists around, so if for some reason you can't find something on the epic drink list to please your palate, they can whip something up exactly to your liking. 4198 Manchester Ave., The Grove, 314.535.9700.

TASTE

The Modern Speakeasy

Tucked inconspicuously next to sister restaurant Brasserie by Niche—its interior obscured from passersby with thick dark curtains—Taste [22] exudes the feel of a Prohibition-era joint before you even get inside. The rotating drink menu features a host of variations on familiar favorites, as well as custom concoctions like In A Pickle, built on a foundation of floral Hendrick's gin, cucumber and dill. A godfather of sorts in St. Louis mixology, Ted Kilgore uses a plethora of house-made ingredients, including one-of-a-kind spirits infusions, and organizes his drinks by flavor profile on the menu—so it's easy to find one to suit your, well, taste. Rest assured you'll be in good hands should you decide to play bartender's choice, or order a nip of something neat if straight spirits are more your style. The modern speakeasy never tasted so good. 4584 Laclede Ave., Central West End, 314.361.1200.


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