by A.D. Thompson
There’s something to be said for a business with laser-like focus. And in the realm of the edible, there’s no shortage, whether that one-food-to-rule-them-all is poutine or poke, meatballs or mac ’n’ cheese.
So goes a burgeoning trend in the cocktail world: the single-spirit tavern. Gin parlors and mezcalerias, tiki bars and absinthe lounges, staffed with experts who, like sommeliers and cicerones, can not only direct you to the varieties you’ll find most pleasing, but turn you on to new ways to imbibe and enjoy.
“The benefit to a single-liquor bar is that the consumer [can]be educated and taste through a given type of liquor … Bartenders should be well scripted and able to guide a novice or an experienced drinker into the perfect glass,” says restaurateur James Petrakis. He and wife/partner Julie have long embraced the craft cocktail trend at their restaurants. And with a new outpost, he and brother/partner Brian Petrakis, along with a host of others around town, have gotten onboard with the single-
What Would Mickey Drink?
Bourbon at The Polite Pig
This new, fast-casual dining concept brings to Disney Springs (and therefore many, many tourists) a taste of the local, of what’s made Orlando a top foodie city per websites, publications and flogs nationwide. In this case, barbecue. And while the Pig has a number of house-made cocktails available on tap—the vodka lemonade is the runaway favorite, per general manager Aaron Ting—it’s the more than 70 varieties of bourbon that lure in the aficionados and forge new ones from the novices.
Bourbon is the “it” liquor here, per Petrakis, for a number of reasons—including a natural nod to the south. “Barbecue should be complemented by the most Southern of spirits,” he notes. “And from a taste standpoint, bourbon has the same profile as smoked meats: intense, hit-you-up-front flavors with a subtle smoke complement. They work together.”
The Pig has three varieties of flights: Friendly (for the noobs), Polite (a mid-range combination of flavor profiles) and Refined (top-shelf samples for the seasoned bourbon drinker). Disney Springs, 1536 Buena Vista Springs, Lake Buena Vista; politepig.com
Mezcal at Reyes Mezcaleria
Downtown, North Quarter
Mezcal, known in the time before trucker-capped hipsters elevated the bargain-bin tall boy out of its paper-bag closet, as “the booze with the worm in it,” has come a long way.
Now recast elegantly and accurately as tequila’s sultrier, smokier sister, mezcal is winning over the hearts, minds and livers of a public hungry for high-end cocktail experiences that mesh well with Instragrammable moments.
At Jason Chin’s new Mexican eatery, where they’ve got more than 50 varieties of mezcal at the ready, you are going to want to try items such as the bigeye tuna tostada and pork belly adobo taco. But for the flights—still in the planning stages at press time—you might want something … leggier. As in six of them.
“What we have planned is a fun and traditional tasting with our chapulines,” Chin says, referring to the adobo-roasted grasshoppers already on the bar menu. A popular snack in Mexico, they pair well, Chin says, with the interesting spectrum of flavors you’ll find in mezcal.
“With tequila, the heart of the agave is steamed or poached before distilling” he says. “With mezcal, it is roasted—which is what imparts that smoky, peaty, earthy flavor.”
Stay tuned, Fear Factor wannabes: Scorpions will be on the menu soon, as well. 821 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; reyesmex.com
O, Captain! My Captain!
Rum at Strong Water Tavern
Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal Orlando
“I’ll be your Rum Captain,” the expert on-hand might say as you sidle up to the section of bar known as the Rum Lab. First up, a natural burst of jealousy as you lament your own career choice, but after that, you’ll be fast friends, touring the world via the chosen beverage of pirates and poets, of British lords and American bootleggers.
With more than 60 rums, the menu here traverses the warm-water regions of the world: Puerto Rico to Panama, Guadalupe to Guyana, exploring the complex flavor profiles, from mixable white to spice- or fruit-infused golden to rich dark so oft-suitable for straight sipping. Your Captain will ascertain your rum knowledge and preferences and craft the experience accordingly.
Not up for the straight stuff? Select a punch or cocktail, or find out what the staff has been getting all mad scientist with. You may end up with a phenomenal herbal milk punch or even a caffeinated love potion; the house-made, espresso-infused concoction can’t decide whether it wants you wired or wobbly, but it definitely wants you to try the salted caramel, toffee and fig bread pudding with rum raisin ice cream.
Actually, everyone should try that. Especially your designated driver. Your treat, of course. 6601 Adventure Way, Orlando; loewshotels.com
So You Want to Try …
…Absinthe? Cavorting with “the Green Fairy” is rather a sexy ritual. The artful fountain, the flaming sugar, the delicate glasses. And of course, the folklore. These days, this anise-flavored drink so favored by artists over the centuries is enjoying a comeback. Head downtown and hit up the Courtesy, where according to proprietor Gene Zimmerman, they keep 12 to 14 bottles in stock at all times. 114 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; thecourtesybar.com
“The fountain is very important for proper absinthe service,” Zimmerman notes. “Cold water and a sugar cube make this elixir much more enjoyable.” Flaming the sugar cube, he says, is not necessary when you’re partaking of a quality bottle. For a more French infusion into your absinthe experience, trot over to nearby enclave DoveCote, where they have the Green Fairy on tap. 390 N. Orange Ave., Orlando; dovecoteorlando.com
…Cachaça? This sugar cane-based spirit is Brazil’s most popular distilled alcoholic beverage. And if you’re going to go Brazilian, you may as well go big. Prepare to strap on the feed bag at Boi Brazil Churrascaria, but don’t be a novice. Take it easy on the salad bar and save room for the meat by employing Brazil’s signature drink—the caipirinha—your appetizer. Two locations—I-Drive and Winter Park—await your exploration. 5668 International Drive, Orlando; 115 E. Lyman Ave., Winter Park; boibrazil.com
…Japanese whisky? By now you may already have sampled the crispy Korean wings and silky, tonkotsu broth at East End Market’s Domu, but have you tried them out for happy hour? They mix sublime craft cocktails here, but also boast an impressive selection of Japanese whisky—divinely smooth for sipping. Prefer mixed? Try their toki old fashioned. Delish! 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando; domufl.com