Drum Bar: a lesson with Luxardo
In the world of spirits, Luxardo Maraschino has celebrity status. The old dog comes with a good pedigree and a powerful punch. Luxardo boasts a quaint story of 5 generations of liquor making in the Italian country, having rebuilt after the ravages of WWII. Now operating the largest orchard of sour marasca cherries in the world, the Luxardo name has become ubiquitous within its category. The liquor itself incorporates both the cherries and crushed pits, resulting in a syrupy floral fun on your tongue, which does not immediately scream “cherry!” as one might expect. However popular, this extremely concentrated liquor can be a bit of a bully if misused, and, when slightly out of proportion, it becomes all that one can taste in a cocktail.
In a Last Word or Aviation cocktail, finding a balance with Luxardo in accordance with the other components is a tight rope act requiring expert precision. I do find that bourbon tends to hold up better to Luxardo.
Last Monday, I had a cocktail that made exquisite use of a Maraschino and bourbon pairing at Drum Bar.
I had been anticipating Drum Bar since I found out it is headed by Whitney Morrow. I don’t think that there are enough women in the industry managing top-notch bar programs, so I was excited to check it out.
One thing I love about Chicago #industrylife is going out after work to a place where you might feel under dressed, but you don’t give a fuuug. This is how I felt when stepping into the fabulous Raffaello Hotel situated in the heart of the Gold Coast hugging Lake Michigan. The door person directed my buddy Solli- world-traveling chef who has three million stories from clubbing in drag, to entertaining endeavors of creating menus for American fast-food restaurants in Iraq, never a dull moment and I to the 2nd elevator and up up we went to the 18th floor.
The place is well designed and spacious but intimate, as it is divided into several separate areas: the main bar, adjoining cocktail room, a corridor atrium and a courtyard patio. Upon entering, one is greeted by the primary bar, featuring fancy shmansy dark wood and exposed brick, a white marble counter and thoughtful lighting. I fall for this decor every time! It opens up into cocktail area with chairs reminiscent of chess pawns or mushrooms sprouting up about the room. Adjoined is a large courtyard patio that is hedged with greenery and comfy black sofas. Sitting out there on a balmy night, you feel the peacefulness of a vacation somewhere far from the city, with only a few buildings in view and the sky fading a golden light as the night arrives.
I suppose it’s fundamental to the ‘speakeasy’ vibe, but one critique I have is that I would love for their bottle selection to be better lit, their well curated spirit collection is rather hard to see.
So we walk in there, spend a little time with the menu, which is divided between off-beat classics and new fun stuff. They serve water, thank-you- any place specializing in boozy drinks should offer water sans request.
I asked the bartender for her recommendation on a drink and she responded that she loves their Old Fashioned.
Aside: Look Chicago, I know the Old Fashioned is our favorite drink, and I am completely at fault for making that my go-to recommendation. I know a well-made Old Fashioned never fails to please. But it is a habit that needs to be broken. An Old Fashioned is what I order when nothing on the menu appeals to me. When I worked the bar at the Point (RIP May 18, 2015) patrons would say that our Old fashioned was excellent. They were delicious, but I would respond that they are really quite simple to make and you should never have to suffer a bad one.
The cocktail world today is arguably more innovative now than any other time to date considering the access to a variety of global ingredients, making for combinations that would have been impossible only half a century ago. Today, one can introduce ingredients from different cultures, and following the rules of balance, sweetness and bitterness, it is a playground that is rife with ideas.
Back to Drum Bar:
Drum Bar is such a place known for making fab innovative twists on classics.
The bartender asked me if I preferred a boozy or citrusy drink, which I appreciated.
I rephrased my question, I was there to try a house cocktail, and I felt in a boozy mood. She suggested the Iron Will, which I had been eyeing because it incorporates Lairds Apple Brandy & cinnamon, both ingredients I love in a cocktail (and with all this talk about Old -Fashioneds, I must say apple brandy makes an excellent substitute for bourbon in that recipe). It also has Weller Special Reserve, Angostura, and Maurin Quina. It was good, but a bit heavier than I was anticipating. I’m ok with this one going into the annals as the spring menu approaches.
Solli, with his chef’s eye ordered the Almost Hero, which is a pleasing combination of Old Forrester bourbon, Ancho Reyes, absinth, orange flower water, and low and behold, a stealthy appearance by Luxardo Maraschino. The Almost Hero was a refreshingly and surprisingly light drink, hinting effervescence. The bourbon serves as a back bone, but is really just a canvas for the grassy fennel-forward absinth to mingle with the floral element of orange flower water and Luxardo; the latter two blend seamlessly, almost as if they should be manufactured this way. The cocktail gets a little kick in the rear with a lingering warm spicy note from the Reyes. This ended up being a real knock out, and I applaud the maker for the unusual flavor pairings in the drink.
SO there be it, I am excited to visit again and check out summer offerings which include a drink made with yellow pepper and fajita seasoning (?#!?). Hey, I would give it a try!
Thank-you Drum Bar, for being the perfect back drop to catch up with a good friend, which devolved into a fun little night with a quick pit stop at Rossi’s Liquors, followed by karaoke at Blue Frog, where I sadly left my New Orleans umbrella from Jazz Fest.
Want More Lux-Bourbon Pairings?
Try the Final Word cocktail, which draws inspiration from the Last Word but substitutes bourbon for gin, or a Whiskey Sour with a dash of Luxardo and a Malbec or Rioja topper.