Crafting Cocktails that take the Chill off the Colder Months
The backyard pool has been covered, and it might even be topped with a light dusting of snow. Summer has been chased away by the crisp fall, and put away entirely by the looming winter chill. And after a long day of shoveling snow, you’re ready for a cocktail. But what to drink? The blender has been shoved to the back of the cupboard, along with the sour mix, and you need something a little heartier.
Café Nola in Downtown Frederick might provide some inspiration. Valerie Packe, the restaurant’s bar manager, has been hard at work coming up with new cocktails and flavors to match the seasons. The bar is known for its well-lit wall of infusions—homemade flavorings added to various liquors, which can be served straight up or in a variety of cocktail variations. The colorful beverages are a bright visual for guests in the restaurant and those seated at the bar. Some of the infusions on the wall include apple cinnamon bourbon, chai tea bourbon, ginger whiskey and espresso vodka. About 10 varieties are offered. “It’s such a focal point for our guests,” Packe says.
The flavors in the infusions are rotated a few times a year, but some, like apple-cinnamon bourbon and espresso vodka, stick around all year, as they’re overwhelmingly popular with guests. She recently oversaw her first menu change, adding new infusions and cocktails to the menu.
“I almost didn’t even want the apple cinnamon bourbon, just because I wanted to do something new and different, but people love it so much,” she says. “It’s an interesting balance of trying to put my spin on it but keep people happy and [offer] things we’re known for.” She’s in the process of playing with some ideas, such as a beet infusion, while keeping true to the restaurant’s ethos of local and organic ingredients, which can be harder to find in winter months.
Packe says the goal is to meld the drink’s flavor profiles with those of the food on the menu, whether to enhance flavors or combine with them. With winter having heartier flavors, she gravitates toward brighter flavors to pair alongside. “We want to complement and contrast in a way,” she says. “It’s just balancing out those flavors harmoniously. … We can really play with these flavor profiles we’re brainstorming, whether it be drinks or food.”
Packe used two of those infusions—cranberry tequila and rosemary gin—in creating some cocktails to keep you warm in the winter months.
The first two, Rosemary Bee’s Knees and Cranberry Collins, are variations on classic cocktails, which she calls a source of inspiration. “They’ve stood the test of time,” she says. “It’s nice to honor that.”
“It’s just balancing out those flavors harmoniously. … We can really play with these flavor profiles we’re brainstorming, whether it be drinks or food.”
The Rosemary Bee’s Knees uses a gin infused with rosemary. The hearty herb is found in many dishes in the fall and winter, and helps cut some of the sweetness of the drink. It’s made with lemon and a honey infused simple syrup, which combine for a deep golden color in the martini glass.
The hearty and intense rosemary flavor neutralizes some of the sweetness from the honey and simple syrup to produce a bright, clean-tasting cocktail that would be perfect alongside rosemary roasted potatoes or an oven-roasted turkey.
The Cranberry Collins grew out of Packe searching for a spirit to mix with fresh cranberries. “I didn’t want to go towards the obvious, like cranberry vodka,” she says. “Tequila is definitely a more complicated spirit, especially this time of year with these kinds of flavors. Cranberry, I just thought, Perfect. It’s citrusy, it’s bright. We use fresh cranberry instead of dried, so it really has a lot of that tart. It’s interesting because you wouldn’t necessarily think fall, winter, but it works.”
Served over ice with a lime wedge in a mason jar, the cranberry flavor is at once sweet and tart, but not over-whelming. The soda water helps to balance the flavors to keep them light and bright. As with the Rosemary Bee’s Knees, the Cranberry Collins is a lighter flavor, meant to complement some of the heartier flavors of the season. But the weather might send you looking for a warm drink to help battle the cold. If you’re searching for a hot beverage, Packe has you covered as well.
She’s currently experimenting with some infusions that will stand up to warm drinks, like the many tea and coffee drinks the restaurant offers. “I want to go hot,” she says. “Anything that would be good with steamed apple cider, we were thinking vanilla or hazelnut. Just richer, bolder flavors. Maybe a cocoa nib, like chocolate vodka, things like that. It’s definitely in the works.”
One of the standard warm drinks for Café Nola customers is the warm apple cider with apple cinnamon bourbon, which pairs classic apple spices with the rich flavors of bourbon. “It’s so good and people love it so much,” she says. “They come in craving it when it starts to get colder outside. They want that because it makes them feel warm inside.”
Rosemary’s Bee’s Knees
Serve in a martini glass
2 ounces Rosemary-Infused Gin
Splash Lemon Juice
1 ounce Honey Simple Syrup
Shake & Garnish Slice of Lemon
Hot Apple Cider
Serve in a mug
2 ounces Apple Cinnamon- Infused Bourbon
Top Warm Apple Cider
Finish Slice of Apple
Serve in a Tom Collins glass or mason jar
2 ounces Cranberry-Infused Tequila
Splash Lemon Juice
1 ounce Simple Syrup
Finish Soda Water Garnish Slice of Lime