Now It’s Farm-to-Snifter

Mixologists are joining chefs on the farm-to-table haywagon.

Smoked Maple Manhattan
At the Ebbitt Room in Cape May, seasonal specialties include the Smoked Maple Manhattan (garnished with smoked-bacon brittle and brandied cherries).
Photo by Jason Varney.

Kitchens have larders; bars, not so much (unless you count celery stalks and citrus). But that’s changing. Whether you call the new drinks farm-to-snifter or terroir cocktails (after the French term for the qualities the soil imparts to the grapes), the swizzle stick stirring the trend aligns with farm-to-table principles: work with fresh-picked, locally grown ingredients wherever possible. In doing so, mixologists apply some of the same techniques as chefs, including infusing, juicing, puréeing, simmering, macerating and—one they have virtually to themselves—muddling.

“Fresh and local is always my inspiration,” says Christina D’Orta, head bartender at Ninety Acres in Peapack-Gladstone. “I tell my bartenders, ‘Why make an ordinary cocktail when we work right on this farm property?’” From the 36 herb boxes right out the restaurant’s back door come rosemary (infused into vodka), pine needles (infused into gin), and bacon from the farm’s own pigs (infused into bourbon). The bartenders pick what they need for muddling or garnish at the beginning of each shift, such as lemon basil or mint. They steep farm herbs or fruit in simple syrup (boiled sugar and water) to give it flavor.

One of this season’s offerings, the Smashed Pumpkin, incorporates pumpkin butter made on premises from local pumpkins. The butter is blended with vodka infused with local pears and topped with sparkling wine. It is served in a martini glass garnished with ground cinnamon. For the Apple Bourbon and Ginger, bourbon is steeped with cooked local apples, cloves, brown sugar, fresh apples and vanilla. Strained and mixed with ginger ale, it is served in a highball glass with a fresh apple slice.

At Gladstone Tavern in Gladstone, the Drunken Cranberry starts with Jersey cranberries simmered in simple syrup with cinnamon and citrus, to which brandy is later added. The drink is finished at the bar with rum and fresh lime. Much of the fruit and produce comes from Melick’s Farm in nearby Oldwick. In summer, you’ll find the Maize-A-Rita (made with fresh Jersey corn juice, Sauza tequila, agave nectar and lime).

Melick’s fresh pears and apples star in the Red Harvest. The sliced fruit is macerated in Rioja, apple brandy and an autumn spice blend. Apple cider from Melick’s goes to town in the Apple Snap: cider, apple vodka, gingersnap liqueur, and autumn spice in a martini glass garnished with a miniature ginger snap on the rim.
At Caesar’s in Atlantic City, Keith Mitchell, executive chef of Nero’s Tuscan Steakhouse, buys from Masters Organic Farm in nearby Galloway. Tomatoes from Masters are puréed, then sieved overnight. The tomato water that drips out goes into the Jersey Fresh Tomato Martini, which calls for Masters basil as well as prosciutto dust and fresh mozzarella as a garnish. Beets from Masters are juiced, blended with silver tequila, Cointreau, lime and orange juices, and house-infused Masters cilantro syrup, producing the Ruby Red Beet Margarita, served in a martini glass.

Not only can you sip your veggies, you can sip your dessert. To make its Mexican White Hot Chocolate, Nero’s cooks down butternut squash from Masters and  simmers it with half-and-half, white chocolate, vanilla beans and cinnamon. Strained and reheated, it is poured into a rocks glass over silver tequila, forming its own layer. The drink is crowned with vanilla whipped cream and grated Mexican chocolate.
The award for most whimsical locavore creation goes to the Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel in Cape May. To produce the Nutter Butter, butternut squash from Beach Plum Farm in Cape May (owned by Cape Resorts, which owns the Virginia and Congress Hall hotels and other properties) is cooked down, puréed and combined with fresh-made peanut-butter simple syrup. The mixture is then shaken with Kahlua and Baileys Irish cream, poured into a snifter and garnished with a floating, paper-thin slice of fried, cinnamon-sugared Beach Plum apple. Another holiday concoction is the Smoked Maple Manhattan. Smoked Vermont maple syrup is muddled with brandied cherries, then shaken with rye and poured into a martini glass dusted with crushed bits of bacon-pecan brittle (made with Beach Plum bacon) and topped with tonic water.

At the recently revamped Ryland Inn, general manager Yasir Chaudhry oversees the bar. “When we say farm-to-glass, we mean it,” he says. In the Rosemary-and-Apple-Scented Martini, apples from Melick’s farm are juiced and infused with fresh local rosemary. The infused juice is shaken with simple syrup and vodka, strained and served in a martini glass garnished with a sprig of rosemary and a dehydrated apple slice. “It creates a wonderful sensory experience,” he says.

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