Because we put so much energy into it, it’s easy to forget that the Nopa beverage program is not immediately understood by many of our guests. Internally, words like Feature, Insert and Spiritual are commonly used. They are important words in the vocabulary of our restaurant, but more importantly, an essential part of our identity. The Spiritual and Wine Feature are composed by distinctive and passionate artists who fill this platform with great care and intention. But intention is not the same as attention, and in the bustle of dinner, it easy to pay very little to a beverage menu. Understandable. So, as we’ve done before, we’ll do a series of posts on the current spiritual to bridge the gap.
The current Spiritual is entitled, The Rum Diary, named after Hunter S. Thompson’s classic novel. Clearly, the cocktails are all rum-based. The sound of it is very lighthearted- a departure from Yanni’s typical approach to drink making. But upon examination, the veil lowers.
It’s easy to miss the intellectual vibe of the Spiritual, but basically it’s this:
Two cocktails from three rum producers; one stern and spirituous, the other juicier and more open, but the ingredients for both are basically the same. It’s like one little tweak here or there and you’ve got something completely different. The idea is to show subtle changes can make big differences. It’s a really fun and challenging exercise since rum is our medium. For instance, consider the Manhattan drinker. Even the adventurous within the category are don’t stray far from whiskey. It’s sort of that way with rum. It carries a particularly juvenile stigma. But the dualistic nature of this Spiritual has offered a great awakening. Rum can be serious.
Agricole Punch: The opening cocktail is the Agricole Punch. It is the juice based offering from La Favorite. This type of rhum is what’s known as an agricole. If you wanted to put to the test that serious nature, you’d definitely drink agricole. Rhum Agricole is dry, very warm (read, high alcohol), savory and pungent. It’s made from fermented sugar cane juice. Whether we’re talking beer or tea, once something ferments, the nature of that thing is changed. What’s left is an individual, a highly stylized character that keeps it interesting. In case, the aromatics are of spiced pears and the palate has a slight vegetal quality and lots of depth.
The Agricole is mixed with an even more obscure element. Byrrh Grand Quinquina. Byrrh is pronounced “beer”, but is actually a wine-based apertif. It is blended with quinine and and other botanicals and fortified. Byrrh has been in production for 125 years sourcing Grenache grapes from the Languedoc Roussillon in France. The leading brand was acquired by the mega-producer/shipper Pernot in 1977 and held dormant until now, revived as a result of the appetite for stuff like this from people like Yanni. It has a rich, almost dessert wine like quality on the palate. It is similar to the Bonal Quinquina, but is a bit fruiter on entering the palate. The mid-palate shifts predictably to dark herbs as quinquinas do. Served chilled, it’s a really great apertif.
Be the first of your friends to come drink byrrh.
Construction: The Rhum, Byrrh, and Lemon Juice are put into a pint glass. There’s just a little but of ice added, followed by a quick shake. A really quick shake since the idea is not to dilute it, rather chill it (the final iteration is served on the rocks anyhow). The drink is then strained into a Collins glass and ginger beer is added. Though everything is measured, as I watched Yanni make the drink, there was a whimsical nature to the ginger beer addition. It was still jiggered, but it was done with such liberty, that it reinforced the vibe of this “dualing” spiritual. The glass is filled to the top with ice. Now, the best part: the garnish is a heavy-handed topping of Angostura bitters. The Byrrh has given the drink a high-toned pink color, that looks strikingly dissimilar to most of the things that come from behind our bar. It does in fact look quite punchy.
The bitters float is visually interesting, providing a sharp contrast to the look of the drink. With a quick glance, it could be mistaken for Coke, but if you’re close enough to smell, that theory goes quickly. For bitters lovers, the blast of on the surface of the cocktail is a cheap thrill. (Admittedly, this was my method). But the idea is for the bitters to be applied as desired by the user, eventually making its way throughout the cocktail and adding a measure of restraint to the lemon and ginger. The best part about the drink though, is that the La Favorite does not run and hide. It can’t. We’re still left with a persistent vegetal undertone, which shows well with the other elements of the cocktail. This is the second most approachable cocktail in The Rum Diary Spiritual. It looks great and is super fun to drink. Come check it out!