You'd think getting three different people with three different mixing styles and three different palates to work together to make one cocktail menu would be tricky. However, Mari Howe, Rich Furnari, and Kiefer Gilbert did just that for Cowboy Ciao's most recent menu -- and they say it was easy.
"The entire team sat down one night and tried our drinks and if they liked it, we put it on the menu," Howe says.
In terms of the finished menu, the group says they each covered the spirit bases organically, without having to fight over who gets mezcal and who gets whiskey. The result is a highly-varied 10-drink menu, all with movie and TV names like "How to get away with Mezcal" and "Repo, Man."
"We wanted to really appeal to everybody, not just one type of drinker," Howe says.
If you're looking for something light and sweet, the graham cracker crusted "When in Buffalo, Roam" mixed with Zubrowka, chai and brown sugar syrup, apple juice, and lemon juice is pretty much like drinking apple pie. That same chai and brown sugar syrup is used in Howe's slightly modified Sazerac called the "C.S.Chai. New Orleans." The syrup gives the typically very spirit-forward cocktail a little more sweetness and spice in flavor, although it doesn't really change the drink's composition that much. Howe says the new menu is really focused on the spirits.
"We wanted to let the spirits shine rather than trying to add food into the cocktails like the old menu," she explains.
Keifer Gilbert's contributions to the new menu are creative and, honestly, a little hard to place. It's not a bad thing, though you'll see what I mean if you opt for a "Pineapple Express." Blending Tepache (a spiced pineapple liqueur), apricot liqueur, Grand Poppy aperitif, AZ Bitters Lab's Mas Mole bitters, and fresh nutmeg, the drink doesn't seem like it should work at all. It doesn't really even make sense. Somehow, though, it all mixes together for a smooth, balanced flavor.
On the drinkable and more approachable side, Howe's refreshing (and competition winning) "Crouching Bulldog, Hidden Ginger" and Gilbert's "How to get away with Mezcal" both have a nice spiced kick, but are overall very sipable. If you're looking for simple and sipable, though, you might want to stop reading now. Things are about to get a little, well, "barely legal" as the menu puts it.
General manager Rich Furnari's a "behind the scenes guy," as he puts it.
"I like the process of my drinks," he says. "I can touch this drink and work with it for three days and know that I poured my heart into it."
While that's a touching sentiment, his "One (upon a) Time" cocktail is much less wholesome. In fact, Gilbert says it's his favorite on the menu because it speaks to the "degenerate" in him. The name of the drink isn't kidding when it says one, as each guest is limited to one of these drinks per visit. Just what is this drink?
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Well, essentially it's a Pisco Punch. Using a pisco pineapple cordial to start, Furnari mixes in a hand-infused Lillet that has been perked up with coca leaves--yes, the leaf they still make cocaine from and used to make Coca Cola from. On top of that, Furnari says he's tested his "original soda jerk" skills by making an egg white free foam. Sounds straightforward right? Well, the quillaia and caffeine citrate combo also carries another dose of pick-me-up that will "get you amped up." Basically, you can think of this drink like a classy (and actually tasty) vodka Red Bull.
But that's not all Furnari has up his sleeves. He's also making, bottling, and aging a clarified milk punch. Though you can currently get the viscous almost to the point of being syrupy mix of Earl Grey tea, Clement VSOP rum, scotch, cinnamon, clove, coriander, and Batavia arrack unaged at the restaurant, Furnari already has a few older batches bottled that have been aging for nearly half of a year. Once he feels they've aged and oxidized to his satisfaction (which he says happens much more quickly than wine for instance), he plans to sell the bottles of milk punch at Kazimierz to go.
Overall, there's clearly quite a bit going on in terms drinking on Cowboy Ciao's menu, which will likely keep you busy tasting your way through it for a while.