Mixology / Shaking it up
How local mixologists keep the artisanal cocktail scene fresh
Lee photo by kc kratt; Leary by Eric Frick; Whyte photo by Stephen Gabris; Strano photo by ALANA ADETOLA FAJEMISIN
While creativity is important, attention to proportion, the use of high-quality components (including the ice), and respect for what works are still key ingredients for a successful cocktail menu. This roundup includes bar managers from four local hotspots, including a brewery that’s added a cocktail program to its new headquarters.
Marble + Rye/Megan Lee
At Marble + Rye, partner and bar manager Megan Lee is ever-inventive. One of the newer additions to her creative and inspired cocktail menu is “Sisters of the Moon.” Lee and bestie (and occasional co-bartender) Jessica Wegrzyn played with flavors, textures, and ingredients and methods to come up with this sublime cocktail.
As at many of the establishments mentioned here, housemade, locally sourced ingredients are a point of pride. “Sisters” is a “a play on a gin and tonic,” says Lee. Infusing Tommyrotter Distillery’s already floral gin with purple nectarine blossoms sourced from Senek Farms (Ransomville), the two then concocted their own tonic syrup, made with things like gentian root and cinchona bark, which they combine with oleo saccharum (made from lime oil infused into raw sugar). The result? You get a “bittersweet profile like [classic] tonic water,” says Lee.
What really makes this drink stand out is its gorgeous, layered specialty ice cube—actually an ice sphere, made partly of milk oolong green tea (a specialty Chinese leaf that has no actual milk in it). “I’ve been into teas lately for the health benefits,” explains Lee. “This drink starts out with a springy direction, and as the ‘moon’ of frozen tea dilutes into it, the drink profile will change. It will look so cool. We’ve made this type of ‘cube’ before. Dilution is an important cocktail component; using tea to complement a spirit creates more complex flavors; we use it in our punches, too.”
“We named this one after our girl Stevie Nicks,” Lee adds (referring to Fleetwood Mac’s song of the same name). “This drink, and some of our other preparations, have a little bit of a witchy vibe—as we’re brewing teas and tonics.”
Dapper Goose/Tim Leary
At Dapper Goose, bar manager Tim Leary oversees a collaborative process of rotating the cocktail list.
Looking to a seasonal refresh, the committee—which includes bartenders Christina Chilberg, Tony Rials, and Alex Wenzel; and owners Keith and Peggy Raimondi—sits down and considers switch-ups.
Leary holds that most “new” drinks basically follow the classics in terms of proportions and profiles. “It’s rare that someone throws a bunch of stuff together and it sticks,” says Leary, a Philadelphia transplant who joined the Raimondis when they returned to Buffalo in 2016. “There are so many new styles of spirits and aperitifs with which you can change the complexity and profile of cocktails. But you’re still following the basics,” he notes.
This spring, Dapper Goose added a take on a daiquiri, mixing it up with two different rums and a jalapeño-infused Aperol. “To contrast the heat, we add some citrus to make it refreshing. And a spray of coffee tincture brings a slightly bitter note,” says Leary.
Another style they’ve riffed on is a sour. “Starting with a gin base, we shake in blackberry syrup, lemon, and a blanc vermouth, which is slightly sweet and dry,” the bar manager says. “Top it off with a splash of frizzante, a bubbly red wine. While the drink is refreshing and fruit forward, it adds a few tannins. Also, it looks pretty.”
On the rise, according to Leary, are more savory style or food-based cocktails. “Featuring ingredients like vegetables, herbs, and spices—beet syrup, squash-infused tequila, celery, etc.—can soften a drink up. It can still be booze forward, while the savory elements add complexity. We balance it with some salinity as well, that pop that you need from salt,” he says. Case in point: a savory fan favorite that’s earned a permanent spot on the DG menu: Broken Garden Tools, a gin-based drink featuring parsley syrup, celery and lemon juice, and bitters.
Resurgence Brewery/Joe Whyte
A new location for a familiar brand and a new job allow Joe Whyte—formerly of Patina, Hotel Henry, Casa Azul, and Buffalo Proper—room to play and stretch his wings. He was lured to Resurgence Brewing Co. by the gorgeous new space and the opportunity to do something a little different.
“A lot of breweries do a full bar or cocktails, but they don’t all have a full cocktail menu,” says Whyte, who launched the program in late May. “We are opening with a spring menu, and we’ll have a nice wine selection as well.”
With brighter cocktails featuring practically every spirit, says Whyte, he’s “keeping it pretty straightforward. The drinks are familiar with a twist—everyone will find something they like. We’re also focusing on using beer in some of our cocktails, which is pretty unusual.”
As an example, he describes the Lady Luck, his take on a gimlet. “We’ve made a beer syrup, that started with our Berliner Weisse,” he says. “The cocktail is based on gin; we also add lime juice and Campari, to add some bitterness.”
For inspiration, Whyte requests that beverage reps bring him unusual products, the things no one else is using. “For example, at Resurgence we are now carrying a cucumber liqueur,” says Whyte. “We came up with the Pepino (‘sweet cucumber,’ in Italian), a cocktail combining the cucumber liqueur with tequila, lemon, and simple syrup.” Sounds delicious.
Remington Tavern/Joe Strano
At Remington Tavern, a popular canalside spot in North Tonawanda, the cocktail focus is built for volume and efficiency, with a nod to local and housemade ingredients.
“We change the curated craft cocktail menu seasonally,” says Joe Strano, the Tavern’s manager. “Our Bees’ Knees is delicious, with London dry gin, a housemade honey syrup, and both fresh and dehydrated lemon. Come summertime, people like the Aperol spritz—it’s Aperol and a splash of Prosecco.
“Our list is curated by everyone that works here—we all have ideas, and sit down and talk about and try them. A fan favorite that we’ve kept on the menu is the blueberry lemonade. It’s homemade lemonade with blueberry vodka and fresh muddled blueberries.”
Happy hours are a sweet sipping time, says Strano, and he favors the bar’s white port wine and tonic with a lime wedge: “It’s refreshing and low alcohol—a great drink for summer.”
Raw oysters are another specialty of the house, and a sour beer, like the one they carry from Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario, is great to pair with them. Come and try them, says Strano, noting the burgeoning scene in the Tonawandas. “Our patio is an unbelievably gorgeous and the whole area is really coming along—there’s Dockside, Webster’s, the Canal Club, Smoke on the Water. Chef Vinny Thompson at Prescott’s Provisions is doing a great job.