New York's Finest Farm-to-Glass Cocktails
by kara newman
|The Green Tarragona from Rouge Tomate, with lime, tarragon, and house-made ginger beer|
Although organic versions of virtually every spirit exist, vodka seems to be the category with the most—and the best—products. As the farm-to-table movement grows, mixologists and consumers are embracing the trend at the bar, too, making cocktails with organic spirits and agave-based sweeteners, seasonal fruits, and local herbs.
“We use as many locally sourced, sustainable, and responsibly grown ingredients as possible,” explains Matthew Silverstein, head bartender at Del Posto, Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich’s green temple to modern Italian cuisine. Executive chef Mark Ladner grows microgreens for his dishes in a hydroponic garden inside the kitchen, trash is composted, and environmental responsibility is emphasized. “We choose products that don’t use pesticides or chemicals; it’s just better for everybody.”
Specifically, that means using fresh-squeezed juices for drinks, in-season ingredients that are locally sourced whenever possible, and organic spirits, including Crop organic vodka, which is blended in the Uva Viva cocktail—a refreshing blend of Crop organic cucumber vodka, muddled green grapes, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice, and a splash of white cranberry juice. “We love to work with organic products, but ultimately it’s all about quality,” says Silverstein. “It’s nice to see people enjoying something that is an organic product, made in the US.”
A growing number of brands—including California-based Square One Spirits; Rain Organics, made by New Orleans-based Sazerac distillery; and Phillips Distilling Company in Minneapolis, which makes Prairie Organic vodka, among others—are creating spirits using renewable resources and ingredients that aren’t exposed to conventional pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. “Organic produce is better than regular produce,” says Tocqueville beverage director Nick Adams Robinson, who uses Rain Organic vodka in many of his cocktails. “So there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t yield a better distilled product.”
At Midtown eatery Rouge Tomate, beverage director Pascaline Lepeltier echoes that sentiment, noting that she has sometimes found it challenging to locate organic spirits that meet her exacting standards for quality. However, two vodkas have satisfied her criteria: Fair vodka, a fair-trade- certified spirit made with quinoa, and Prairie Organic vodka, which she uses in her signature cosmopolitan. The drink features Prairie Organic vodka infused with citrus, a house-made alternative to Triple Sec (more Prairie Organic, this time infused with orange peel and organic syrup to mimic orange liqueur), organic cranberry juice, and lime juice. “Vodka is such an easy thing to work with and infuse,” she says. “We prefer to flavor all our own vodkas in-house.”
Infusing in-house also allows Lepeltier to create innovative flavors most distilleries haven’t quite yet imagined, like a porcini mushroom-infused vodka, which Lepeltier uses to make an earthy riff on the Vesper, the martini James Bond famously drank. The drink is shaken, not stirred, with organic gin, Lillet, and lapsang tea, and finished with a dried porcini mushroom powder rim for the glass. Lepeltier describes the drink as “smooth and clean,” just the thing to pair with Rouge Tomate executive chef Jeremy Bearman’s wild mushroom farrotto.
photography by william brinson; styling by ed gabriels for halley resources (opener)
Cover shoot: May/June 2014 issue of Gotham magazine.