Sipping on Winter

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Story by Dave Eckert

I’m not a big fan of winter though there are some highlights that make winter bearable, one of which I’ve come to rather late in life-winter  cocktails. There’s something especially lovely about a warm, soothing, delicious cocktail crafted specifically to match the season and combat the cold. I visited three excellent venues and talented mixologists featuring said cocktails, starting with the excellent new pop-up venture in the former Nara space on Main Street in The Crossroads-Lula.

Brett Pitner heads up the bar at Lula. Pitner is a veteran mixologist who enjoys the changing of the seasons and the ability to get his creative juices flowing in the creation of new cocktails. I asked Pitner what runs through his mind when he starts thinking about winter cocktails. “Mulling spices come to mind. Trying to warm people up and get the cold off, so they are feeling warm cozy and aren’t worrying about the harsh reality of the outside,” Pitner said. Pitner follows the philosophy of a “no waste” bar; he concentrates on using ingredients that are already in the restaurant. One creation recently featured butternut squash, which you will always find on the menu at Lula in one form or another. “It’s got butternut squash syrup, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg-basically all of the things you think of during winter. I like to think the drink, which I call “The Build Me Up Butternut,” is like the season speaking to you,” Pitner shared.

I next turned to homemade mixologist, Cheryl Bisbee, the creator of Boozy Botanicals, which produces a line of excellent simple syrups. I am a particular fan of her winter creations. “When I think of winter cocktails, I think of hot drinks and lots of spice. Drinks made with the darker spirits-bourbon, scotch, dark rum and añejo tequila and warm mulled wines,” Bisbee shared. Bisbee says her go to winter cocktails are hot toddies and hot buttered rums. “They are the absolute best thing to have on a cold winter day because it warms you from the inside out. It’s also nice to soothe a scratchy throat or as a little nip before bed.”

They recently added seven new winter cocktails to an already impressive cocktail list at Bamboo Penny’s restaurant in Leawood’s Park Place. I dropped into Bamboo Penny’s for a chat with owner, Penny Mufuka. It was my first time to this striking Thai restaurant. It will not be my last. “I worked with Assistant Manager, Katherine Henry on the winter cocktails. She would bring me suggestions on the cocktails, and I would give her my input on what dishes off the menu the cocktail would go with,” Mufuka said. “We probably tried 10 or 12 cocktails to get the seven we added. I think it worked pretty well.”

Boy howdy, did it ever! They made all seven for me to try, and before you ask, no, I did not drink them all, though I did finish one, The Mistletoe, which consists of cranberry juice, rum, lime, mint, and mint simple syrup. If your tastes run to the creamier and heartier style of winter cocktail, I can highly recommend both the Pumpkin Pie-Tini and the Chocolate Raspberry Martini. But don’t take my word for it. Head to 119th and Roe, belly up to the bar or grab a seat upstairs in the bamboo room and try whatever you like, cocktail-wise. I’d advise that with the food, too. Mufaka has a deft and delicious touch in the kitchen.

Finally, a chat with Zac Snyder, General Manager and Beverage Director for Chewology, a new Gyoza bar located in Westport. Snyder says he loves the spices he gets to use in creating his winter cocktails. “They are aromatic, warming, and comforting. I also love the ability to do hot cocktails. You can only get away with that for a small season each year,” Snyder told me. While not adding any permanent winter cocktails to the menu just yet, Snyder says Chewology is featuring cocktail specials. “The cocktail list was designed by a friend of mine, Brock Schulte. It’s smart and delicious, so I decided to let it run until spring. That gives us a chance to get through the holidays and design a new menu,” Snyder said. It also gives diners the chance to enjoy more of Schulte’s creations like the Lambai Islands Highball, a carbonated cocktail Chewology serves on draft, and the Sun Moon Lake, which is a riff on the classic daiquiri.

Well, I don’t know about you, but all of this should keep me thirst-quenchingly busy all winter long. Cheers!

Photo courtesy of Boozy Botanicals

Boozy Botanicals Hot Toddy

  • 2 oz dark spirit (bourbon, scotch, aged rum or añejo tequila)
  • 3/4 oz favorite Boozy Botanicals syrup
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Hot water

To make the drink, turn on your kettle and while your water is heating, mix the rest of the ingredients in a mug then fill the mug with hot water. Stir to combine and garnish with a cinnamon stick or lemon wedge.

My favorite combinations for a Boozy Botanicals hot toddy are bourbon + Lavender Earl Grey, scotch + Cardamom Spice, rum + Vanilla Allspice and tequila + Classic Rose.

Hot buttered rums are a wonderfully decadent winter cocktail too. The key to a hot buttered rum is using a pad of good quality butter (my fave is Kerrygold). The recipe for a hot buttered rum is very similar to a hot toddy. Most recipes call for an ounce or so of batter (brown sugar, spices & butter mixed together) but I just like to use Boozy Cardamom Spice or Vanilla Allspice instead of making the spiced sugar mix.

Photo courtesy of Boozy Botanicals

Boozy Botanicals Hot Buttered Rum

  • 2 oz aged rum
  • 3/4 oz Boozy Botanicals syrup (I recommend Cardamom Spice, Vanilla Allspice, Rosemary Mint or Lavender Earl Grey)
  • 6 oz hot water

Mix all ingredients in your favorite mug and finish by floating a thin pad of butter on top. Let the butter melt into the drink and stir to fully combine. It’s delicious!

Photo courtesy of Chewology / Pilsen Photo Co-op

Sun Moon Lake

  • Probitas
  • Control C Pisco
  • Rinomato Bianco
  • Silver Needle White Tea
  • Sweet Pea Syrup
  • Lime

Photo courtesy of Chewology / Pilsen Photo Co-op

Lambai Island Highball

  • Jasmine Bud Insused 21 seeds Valencia Orange
  • JJ’s Clear Kombucha
  • Cruzan Mango
  • Garden Party Basil
  • Coconut Water
  • Champagne Acid

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