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Entries in birmingham (2)

The art of the cocktail

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

Coffee Wars (sort of)

The Coffee Review, which a year ago gave Birmingham's own Primavera Coffee a 93 rating for its Kenya AA Estate Gituto coffee, decided to tackle Starbucks vs. McCafe.

The Coffee Review, led by editor Kenneth Davids, sampled four different hot, espresso-based beverages in two McDonald's Northern California locations offering the new McCafé menu, and the analogous four beverages at two nearby Starbucks locations: a cappuccino, caffè latte, caffè mocha (espresso, frothed milk and chocolate syrup) and caramel latte.

The quality of the products varied by the type of drink. According to Davids, who has published three books on gourmet coffee, for the cappuccinos, "We gave a slight edge to Starbucks, though some may prefer the more coffee-muted McDonald's version with its larger proportion of milk to coffee." He added that "the difference in caffè lattes was subtle, perhaps not worth fussing over for most palates, although we found the Starbucks version livelier and more nuanced."

However, when it came to flavored coffees beverages, Davids found "the superiority of the Starbucks versions of caffè mocha and caramel latte was dramatic, and significant, given consumer preference for espresso beverages involving added syrups." he noted that the Starbucks versions cost 44 to 76 cents more than those from McDonald's, leading him to conclude "It appears that at this front of the coffee war you get what you pay for, particularly when it comes to drinks that include syrups and whipped cream."

Read the full article, including comments about how he couldn't even get just a regular espresso at McDonald's, and the fact that neither actually serves a classic cappucino, at coffeereview.com.

Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 09:07AM by Registered CommenterDeborah Lockridge in , , , , | CommentsPost a Comment