Must-Try Exotic Summer Sips
West Hartford is serving up some of the hottest new craft cocktails.
West Hartford is a hotbed for craft cocktails made with exotic ingredients—think Mediterranean spices, tiki bitters and hand-cut rose petal ice. At these three bustling bars, you can sip over-the-top elixirs al fresco on a warm summer night.
Artisan Restaurant, Tavern and Garden at the Delamar Hotel
Artisan is a transportive place for a fine libation, with its 1,500-square-foot garden filled with fragrant flowers, pear trees and herb bushes. Beverage and bar manager Rebecca J:son-Toft creates seasonal cocktails from local ingredients, mixing herbs from the garden with the Hartford Flavor Company’s Wild Moon Liqueurs & Botanicals (all based on sweetened tinctures from Victorian and medieval times).
Try the Smoke on the Water (Tanteo Chipotle tequila with Wild Moon’s ginger and rose liqueurs) served in a Collins glass on ice. “It combines smoky, sweet, rose and ginger,” says J:son-Toft. Also popular is the Sun Also Rises. “It’s a riff on a classic Daiquiri,” she says. It is made with Papa’s Pilar rum from Florida’s Hemingway Rum Company, pear liqueur, lemon, egg white and house-made tiki bitters. “The recipe for the tiki bitters is a secret. It tastes like Coca Cola.”
The Rabarber (gin, rhubarb liqueur, honey, pear nectar, lime juice, ginger bitters) is named for a beloved Swedish ingredient, rhubarb (restaurateur Rick Wahlstedt is of Swedish origin) featured here in a fruit liqueur from Fruitful Mixology, an East Hartford producer.
Sip your drinks in the garden with Rhode Island oysters and Middle Neck clams.
Take a virtual trip to the Middle East on the patio at Zohara, sipping spiced cocktails kissed with cardamom, za’atar and star anise surrounded by potted citrus and palm trees. “I would start with the 24 Carrot with our house-infused cardamom vodka, carrot juice, local honey and lemon juice,” suggests general manager Gabriela Angelini. “I shake all the ingredients until it develops a nice froth and garnish it with a floating dehydrated lemon wheel.”
The Root Down (fresh beet juice, bourbon, dried curacao, lemon juice)—served in a stemless tulip glass with a fresh rosemary garnish—is another signature cocktail, featuring star anise–infused simple syrup, which adds a distinctly Middle Eastern licorice note.
New to the cocktail menu is the Patio Punch, highlighting a house-made pistachio orgeat—pistachios being the most widely used nut in Middle Eastern cuisine. “It’s our version of the Rum Runner,” says Angelini. The drink is three ingredients—rum, pistachio orgeat (syrup) and lime juice—garnished with sugar cane and mint in a tiki glass on ice.
Zohara, which is celebrating its fifth birthday, offers an abundance of bright shareable appetizers, including fattoush salad with snap peas, asparagus and Little Gem lettuce, and charred octopus with a harissa vinaigrette.
Cora Cora, a recent semifinalist for the James Beard Award, features exceptional Peruvian cooking paired with equally exciting mixed drinks. Try the signature La Patrona—the boss—(pisco, dragon fruit, passion fruit, lime juice) named in honor of chef Macarena Ludena, who is also a semifinalist for “Best Chef Northeast” award.
Other pisco drinks include the classic Pisco Sour, Passion Pisco Sour (with passion fruit) and a Chicha Sour (made with purple corn soaked in pisco for three months). A more recent addition, the Inca Azteca, combines pisco with tequila and Grand Marnier. All the pisco cocktails are made with the artisanal small-batch Caravedo Quebranta from Pisco Porton, which is crafted at Hacienda La Caraveda in the Peruvian Andes. It’s an award-winning “puro” style of pisco with floral aromas, grape flavors and an earthy finish.
The cocktails often come with theatrics. “We have a smoking cocktail that emits passionfruit smoke,” says Nasheli Ortiz, the beverage director who works with chef Ludena inventing the ornately garnished drinks. “We have many ice molds and make giant ball cubes, squares and even ice carved into rose petals.” The cocktails and empanadas are particularly plentiful during the nightly happy hour, from 5 to 6 p.m., when the patio is often packed.
The print version of this article appears with the headline: Exotic Summer Sips.