Upgrade Your Standby with a Twist or Try Something a Bit More Adventurous

New year, new drinks

For bourbon fans, it's tough to top a well-built Old Fashioned. But even the best drinks grow tiresome over time. The same applies to gin fans, tequila buffs and rum heads, all of whom crave a little cocktail-based adventure from time to time.

The good news is that there's never been a better time to push the envelope in Ohio given the influx of interesting new spirits and brands, says Jake Orosz, owner of the Fairmount at the top of Cedar Hill.

"There are a lot more new products coming into Ohio, which is exciting," he says. "Someone will be like, 'Hey Jake, just make me something,' which is great because it lets us experiment too."

For bourbon fans who typically stick to their trusty Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, Orosz suggests swapping out their beloved bourbon for a nice and spicy rye.

"A classic Manhattan is an easy way to get someone's feet in the water," he says. "You know how a lot of times bourbons are on the sweet side? Rye has an earthy, grain-like flavor to it."

One of his favorite rye-based cocktails is the Scofflaw, which he makes with Templeton rye, dry vermouth, lemon juice and a wee bit of chartreuse.

The daiquiri, birthed in Cuba over a century ago and adopted by American drinkers in the decades since, is the perfect marriage of rum, fresh lime juice and sugar. Shaken and served up, the appealing cocktail is crisp, boozy and pleasantly sour. But why not shake things up a bit, asks Eric Mattimore, bartender at Gigi's After Dark in Cleveland Heights.

"If you're bored with daiquiris, try a caipirinha" he says. "It's more rustic with raw edges."

Essentially a daiquiri on the rocks, the caipirinha swaps the customary rum for Brazilian cachaça, which completely alters the flavor profile of this classic tropical refresher.

"Most rum is made with molasses while cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice, which gives it a bright, funky, fruit flavor," he explains.

The two most popular brands available here are 51 and Pitú, which bears a bright red shrimp on the label.

It's almost required drinking for diners at a Mexican restaurant to order a margarita – and there's certainly nothing wrong with that – but maybe it's time you gave tequila's complex and distinctive brother mezcal, which continues to make noise in the spirits world, a try.

"People who are familiar with mezcal ask what kinds we have and what's new," says Athina Thomas, bar manager at Momocho, home to a pretty impressive selection. "But people who are adventurous will ask me for something they've never had before. I'll make them a classic margarita with mezcal in place of tequila."

While flavor profiles change from brand to brand, Thomas generally describes the agave-based spirit as smoky, ranging from fruit forward to earthy tobacco. Available brands include Ilegal, Mezcal Vago and Mezcal Vida. As with tequila, mescal is often offered in different age categories: joven (unaged), reposado, and anejo.

"If you love scotch, you'll probably like mezcal. Personally, I think mezcal would make a great alternative to the scotch in a Blood and Sand," she says of the cocktail made with scotch, cherry heering, sweet vermouth and orange juice.

Gin drinkers tend to be an obstinate bunch; they like what they like and don't try to convince them otherwise. Or so says Danny Mullin, bartender at L'Albatros in University Circle.

"A lot of gin drinkers order gin martinis, so I'll try and steer people away in a conservative way that sticks to their palate."

Of course, the easiest way to nudge a gin drinker away from the tried-and-true is to swap the customary London dry gin for something a bit more unconventional. Mullin suggests a juniper-forward Holland genever like Bols, the lime-centric Tanqueray Rangpur, or Nolet's Dry Gin, a high-quality brand from the oldest distillery in the Netherlands.

For those willing to venture a tad bit farther outside their comfort zone, Mullin concocts a Vesper, James Bond's version of a martini in Casino Royale. The stiff drink is made with three parts gin, one part vodka and a half-part Lillet – stirred, not shaken as Bond demands.

It's not just new spirits that are appearing on liquor store shelves; liqueurs, too, are increasing in number, which is great news for classic cocktail lovers, notes David Earle, who can be found behind the bar at Lolita.

"The craft-cocktail craze has done wonders in dragging back into the light lost bitters and old world liqueurs," he says. "Now, Creme de Violette is all over the place. 15 years ago, the only place I could find any was on the dusty back bar of the Harbor Inn."

Without the arrival of good-quality creme de violette, for example, there are no Aviations, Pousse-Cafes or Angel's Tits, says Earle.

"The Aviation has made a comeback on the shoulders of the fact that you can now get creme de violette."

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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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