There's something about a well-done cocktail. I'm not talking about those tutti-frutti concoctions that seem designed mostly to disguise the taste of the alcohol, but rather sophisticated, subtle and creative concoctions that work to balance and bring out the flavors of the liquor or liquers, with fresh-squeezed juices, homemade infusions and loving care.
A good cocktail is part alchemy, part art. It takes creativity, an extensive knowledge of various alcoholic beverages, and an excellent palate. Like many local chefs, some of the best local cocktails feature fresh, seasonal and local ingredients, like a peach bellini at Highlands.
Some of our favorite restaurants to enjoy a cocktail include Highlands Bar & Grill, Dram Whiskey Bar and Little Savannah.
Highlands and sister restaurant Bottega are known for the "Orange Thing," and classic cocktails like the French 75. There's always at least one seasonal drink on the menu, which in the summer may feature peaches or watermelon juice.
Dram has some great cocktails with bourbon and whiskey; our personal faves include the Sassafras Sazerac, where the licorice/earthy flavor of the sassafras wash and a bit of simple syrup nicely complement the rye, and the Blackberry Winter, with Knob Creek whiskey, blackberry puree and house-made sours. (They also serve some local and regional beers on tap, but we're writing about cocktails here...) Their pimento cheese makes a great nibble to have alongside.
But perhaps the most creative cocktails we've had are at Little Savannah, where Steva is a cocktail artist and alchemist to treasure. Her creative cocktails use house-made syrups and infusions to create well-balanced and sometimes surprising flavors.
One of my favorites is the Delta Wedding, with Beefeater gin, fresh mint, Lustau Fino sherry, and fresh grapefruit juice, served up in a beautiful antique glass with a silver rim. Or there's the Walker Percy, with bourbon, muddled cucumber, honey-violet syrup and soda. The South and The Fury features rye whiskey, allspice syrup, stout reduction and champagne. And I love both the name and the flavors of the Tequila Mockingbird, with strawberry-infused tequila, honey/black pepper syrup, and champagne. And don't miss 'Tini Tuesdays, featuring $5 cocktails.
For more on the city's best cocktails, check out fellow Birmingham food blogger Jason Horn's list in b-metro magazine of 10 spots to have a great cocktail.