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On April 23rd, tomorrow, the doors of the long-anticipated bar, the Aviary, will open to the public in Chicago. Owner Grant Achatz (whose flagship restaurant, Alinea, was just ranked 6th in the world on the San Pellegrino list) and executive chef/mixologist Craig Schoettler walk us through the menu, explaining the evolution and purpose for six of these mad scientist concoctions. "We felt there was a great opportunity to innovate," says Achatz. "If nothing else, it pushes the cocktail world a little bit further in terms of what's possible." To see how far they've pushed, we've asked Schoettler and Achatz to break down their challenging drinks menu and annotate it for curious tipplers.
Grant Achatz, above, left.
Craig Schoettler:You start with a bourbon old-fashioned and you get five containers of your garnishes. The guest is instructed to take a sip. The first garnish is lemon juice. You add lemon juice to your old-fashioned, and now you have a whiskey sour. The next garnish is a pipette with a smoked tobacco tincture. You add the contents of the pipette, and now you have a kind of scotch sour. Now since the cocktail has been sitting here, it's starting to warm up, so the third garnish is ice, and we give you a split vanilla bean as a stirring stick. Now you've got it back to bourbon, because a major flavor characteristic of bourbon is the vanilla notes from the wood. Garnish number four is a pineapple espuma with scotch. Now we're bringing the proof back up, so it actually has the same alcohol content as what you'd want in a cocktail. The espuma when you pour it out creates a foam that floats to the top, so you get a nice pineapple head on top of your cocktail, and it adds some texture. Garnish number five is anise hyssop and a lemon peel. The guest is instructed to put the anise hyssop into their cocktail, arrange it where they want, take the lemon peel, express it over top, and now they have the final cocktail.
Grant Achatz: We want people to be engaged. We want people to feel part of the experience, not just bringing a glass to their mouth and dumping booze down their throat.
Craig Schoettler, above right
Craig Schoettler: The drink is a play on the Moscow Mule. We take fresh ginger juice, lime juice, sugar, and water, and we charge it with nitrous oxide in an Isi canister. We take a container of liquid nitrogen, we spray the ginger base from the Isi canister into the nitrogen to break it up, so it makes these really fine chards of ice. We put that in a glass, we cascade it up the side of a rocks glass. We garnish it with a Peychaud's pudding that we make in-house. In the sidecar, we give you a mixture of water, sugar and Karlsson vodka. On top of that Karlsson vodka, we give you a swizzle stick. The swizzle stick is made out of lemongrass. The guest is instructed to take the sidecar and pour it onto the ice and use the lemongrass and swizzle your Moscow Mule. The adding of the vodka, water, and sugar from the carafe will then dilute and melt the majority of the ice, so now you have a liquid cocktail with ginger ice floating in it. The temperature cools throughout the consumption of the drink. We use the lemongrass to impart some flavor into the drink. All the garnishes are playing around with Thai flavors.
Grant Achatz: With the Karlsson vodka, there's a backbone and a structure, and we can build flavor on it.
Craig Schoettler: The martini comes in a flight, so you get three different martinis. It's a classic martini: gin, dry vermouth, orange bitters. The first martini on the flight is made right then and there. But the next two are aged martinis that we've been barrel-aging. I got the idea from Jeffrey Morgenthaler up in Portland. I hadn't seen anybody age a clear cocktail yet. We decided, let's give a martini a shot. We aged a martini and it actually came out pretty cool. We decided, we got something here that's unique and it's not a martini you can find at any other classic cocktail bar. So the next two martinis in the flight are actually different ages. A two and a half month and a seven and a half month, barrel-aged. There's no garnish. If you add a lemon twist, you're hiding all the aroma from the aging process. We wanted to see the progression of a fresh made one, a two and a half month, and a seven and a half month.
Craig Schoettler:We make a stock out of pineapple juice, mint, fructose, and ascorbic acid. That's our base liquid, and we add chartreuse, and a little bit of lime, and top it off with Sanbitter. It's served in this angular Collins glass, and what we do is - are you familiar with the shard ice cube? You have a cylinder of ice, usually served in Collins style drinks. We've created a kind of ice that we're calling an inverted shard. Instead of being a cylinder of ice, the ice covers the negative space around the cylinder. So we freeze the ice to the glass and serve the cocktail inside of it. The tropical feel of pineapple and the chartreuse kind of even each other out. The pineapple doesn't really subdue the chartreuse flavor, but it makes it more cohesive. It just works.
Craig Schoettler: I'm personally not a huge Genever fan… it's got that malty, funky flavor. This cocktail was taken on more as a challenge to make a good Genever cocktail. So, thinking of it as an ingredient, what came to mind when I smelled it? What do I think of? When I smelled it, I smelled bananas. I take bananas and water, and blend them together and make a banana puree and I put that through a special distiller, essentially a high tech still, which gives us a banana water that looks just like water from a faucet. We make a clear banana stock out of that with some simple syrup. We add that to the Genever, we balance the cocktail with a little lemon and a little lime. It's shaken and served with a mint garnish.
Craig Schoettler: It's served in a wide-diameter, shallow bowl where the bottom wall is thicker than the top of the wall so it looks like the drink is actually floating in the glass. It's poured tableside with a slice of fresh Périgord truffle in it. The wide mouth releases the essence of the truffle and the vermouth and Campari and it's just, when we tried this with a more closed-mouth glass, everything was too intense. It's a very delicate bowl, so you use both hands to drink, like an Asian soup.
The Aviary, 955 W. Fulton Market, Chicago, www.nextrestaurant.com.
*By Christopher Ross