Saturday, May 26, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Molecular mixology hits Tampa Bay with creative, boundary-pushing cocktails

Molecular gastronomy: A movement borne of kids who refused to choose between an Easy Bake Oven or a chemistry set. When I first heard about The Aviary in Chicago, I knew that this avant-garde approach to cooking would inevitably find a comfortable niche in the cocktail world.

At The Aviary, the Old Fashioned comes in the rocks, which is not a typo — the cocktail is injected into hollow ice spheres, which guests crack into their glass. Order a Painkiller and you'll get a glass of dehydrated and powdered fruits, and a carafe containing rum, coconut water and coconut milk. Pour the carafe contents into the glass and stir, creating an alcoholic pudding that you eat with a spoon!

In February, Sarasota's Michael's on East debuted cocktails featuring "caviar beads" — spherified juices with flavors such as passion fruit, black currant, strawberry and yuzu — which made me wonder: Was molecular mixology making its way into our local scene?

I set out to find evidence of this trend in other bay area bars and ended up at Edison Food + Drink Lab, a South Tampa restaurant eager to play with its food, as well as its drinks. Wine is served in Erlenmeyer flasks, and the cocktail list is built around flavor profiles: savory, spicy, sour.

I ordered the Shirt Soaker, a mezcal cocktail that drinks like a meal because of the inclusion of muddled yellow heirloom tomato, basil and smoked sea salt. It was a great cooler, but nothing touched the cool factor of the Batido con Ron y Guayaba, a mix of Scarlet Ibis and Ron Matusalem Platino rums, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram liqueur, coconut and guava that's infused with liquid nitrogen before serving, resulting in what looks and drinks like deliciously alcoholic pink yogurt.

A few blocks away is Mise en Place, where I selected the Quemar, a margarita relative made with tequila, serrano pepper-infused agave syrup, cilantro and cucumber. The catch? Instead of ice cubes, the Quemar comes with deep green cubes made entirely from frozen fresh cucumber juice, slowly melting and releasing cucumber essence into the drink over time.

Another drink, Mr. Butterworth's After Work Old Fashioned, features bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and a single, large ice cube infused with maple smoke. As the cube melts, intense smoke and maple flavors are released into the drink. Take my advice and eat the ice cube at the end.

Clearwater's Cafe Ponte hits a similar note with its Smoked Apple Manhattan: Woodford Reserve and sweet vermouth, with a maraschino cherry embedded in a smoke essence-infused ice cube made of green apple juice. The result is a drink that stays cold until the very end, and any dilution that occurs is actually welcome, as it introduces apple, smoke and cherry flavors into the drink.

Finally, I stopped by SideBern's, where I tried a culinary-influenced take on the classic whiskey sour. The Grilled Sour features Bulleit Bourbon, muddled peach and … "grilled lemon juice?" Yep, a lemon half is grilled and plopped right into the drink, adding a savory, smoky touch to the fresh, fruity cocktail. The cocktail menu changes seasonally, so get this one while it lasts.

I don't think the bay area is ready to give The Aviary a run for its money just yet, but these cocktails are evidence that we have plenty of local talent willing to push the envelope of what a cocktail can be. Let's get to experimenting!

What's the craziest cocktail you've had in Tampa Bay? Tell us at [email protected], or tweet us at @tbtnewspaper with the hashtag #tampabaydrinks.

     
Comments
Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

SAFETY HARBOR ó Denis Phillips cracks a pop-top and pulls a can that looks a lot like him to his lips."Itís got that citrusy feel to it," he says. "Which is a Florida thing. Thatís not bad." Indeed, thereís a grapefruit finish to Rule #7 Hurricane Sa...
Published: 05/25/18
Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmonís was a meeting place

Hooper: More than a restaurant, Lee Roy Selmonís was a meeting place

Itís where former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Doug Williams had lunch with current Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston.Itís where University of South Florida fans often gathered to watch the programís biggest road games.Itís where folks showed up in...
Published: 05/24/18
Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Bar review: Things are hopping at new Swan Brewing in Lakeland

Lakelandís a little out of the way, but Iím always eager to check out the bar scene there when passing through or attending an event. Every place Iíve visited just seems so pleasant.I regret missing the boat on the cityís first brewery, Lakeland Brew...
Published: 05/24/18
tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

tbt* local craft beer of the week: Dark Harbor Mocha Stout, Sea Drift Ales & Lagers

The saga of Barley Mow Brewing Company and its eventual offshoot/successor Sea Drift Ales & Lagers is a complicated one. The most interesting part is how the latter came to be as a result of brewery-distributor tensions, in which Barley Mow pulled an...
Published: 05/24/18
Lee Roy Selmonís original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmonís original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmonís, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampaís Boy Scout Boulevard in June.Employ...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG ó Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughterís Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Published: 05/23/18
Updated: 05/24/18
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’S Feel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more...
Published: 05/23/18
Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watchís new Orlando location

Brunch-based alcohol will be available at First Watchís new Orlando location

ORLANDO ó The popular breakfast and brunch chain First Watch will be opening a new restaurant in Orlando that will add cocktails, beer and wine to the menu. The new concept restaurant, set to open on Memorial Day at 1448 N Alafaya Trail, will be 1,00...
Published: 05/23/18
Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Transform your weeknight cooking with this kitchen tool

Once upon a time, way back in the annals of home cooking, there was an era before sheet-pan suppers.In that dark age, even well-equipped kitchens did not have so much as a single professional sheet pan, let alone the two or three deemed indispensable...
Published: 05/23/18
Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

Up your homemade smoothie game with these tips

You could head to your neighborhood juice shop and order a $7 or $8 smoothie. Blending your own, however, is not only easier on your wallet, but you can customize to your heartís content and make several batches at a time.Whether youíre making a nutr...
Published: 05/23/18