What's the challenge for a mixologist who must create a cocktail list to pair with a Southern-inspired menu filled with rich, smokey and protein-driven courses? To cut through fat and oils that immediately lay foundation on a diner's palate and reward them with refreshment. In the summertime you could turn to the classic drinks that naturally evolved alongside Southern food — drinks like the mint julep (bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice), which is cold as wintertime and effectively boozy. It accomplishes the "cut" and offers the refreshment in full.
But at an upscale eatery like Blue Hound Kitchen and Cocktails in downtown Phoenix, you can't just offer juleps. And luckily for Blue Hound's head bartender, Stephanie Teslar, chef Sean Currid's smartly seasonal menu pays attention to what the thermometer is reading. It's a menu heavy on the light stuff — salads, vegetables, and fish — giving her much more to work with on the cocktail front. So although on the summer drink menu, which debuted in July, she does her own julep rendition called the "Barn Burner" (made with stirred bourbon, Cynar, creme de menthe to indirectly replace the role of mint, chile, and peach bitters), it's by no intention the thoroughbred that gets the rest of the menu to the finish line.
Every menu needs an eye-catching drink that is shaken, poured, delivered only to launch a handful more orders. On Teslar's menu that drink is The Blueprint, a blend of Tanqueray 10, prosecco, and a house-made blue curacao — a spirit that varies widely in quality, but is trendy at the moment as a sort of bet that bartenders can make something really bad and synthetic-blue into something good. The prospect of a house-made version of a what's essentially a bitter citrus liqueur dyed blue carries promise, or at least intrigue.
"You want to see me prep it?" Teslar says. "It's super easy."
Here are the steps:
1. Teslar first fills a container with spices (peppercorns, allspice berries, white pepper, cloves) and curiously, but not so curacao-ly, almonds. "I like the richness they impart," she says.
2. Teslar tops the spice mixture with peeled citrus, the main qualifier for the liqueur.
3. The flavoring agents get 100-proof alcohol, in this case neutral Absolut, poured directly in — a spicy bouquet begins to blossom. This will all sit for two days before getting strained and dyed blue with simple food coloring.
That's it? Yeah, super easy.
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"When it's made in house you know what's going into it," Teslar says. "You know it's all natural."
And it stand ups on it's hind legs in a cocktail. So far as we're concerned it a success, much better than the blue curacao trials we've had elsewhere.
Skimming over the rest of the menu, it's easy to have your curiosity piqued by other strange, in-house experiments.
One ingredient that stands out on the menu, and against the flurry of tiki drinks taking over every other bar menu at the moment, is the house-infused cornflake and coffee falernum that appears in her take on a classic Corn and Oil cocktail. It's good and welcome next to an onslaught of rum, 151 Demerara and Banks. It takes a lot to stand out in the tiki world, which often prides itself on its own excess, and too seldom errs on simplicity.