Cocktails almost always contain something edible – if you're willing to gnaw on a lemon wedge, that is. Or you could be that "dirty martini with 12 olives, please" girl. But we're not talking about the obvious territory of the garnish here. The boundaries between mixology and mise en place have blurred as local bartenders mix kitchen-crafted ingredients into the cocktails they serve, or even fuse savory flavors with spirits.
Farm-to-table goes farm-to-glass with the addition of fruit-based syrups, shrubs, jams and marmalades, or even vegetable juices and purees. Cask & Larder's Lady Marmalade incorporates lemon-dill marmalade with rum, port and a cardamom amaro, and Aku Aku Tiki Bar uses a house-made blackberry-habañero syrup in their popular Tigerfucker cocktail. (Hey, we didn't name it.) The drinking vinegars known as shrubs haven't been this popular since Colonial days, though they likely weren't being paired with craft-distilled gins and whiskeys back then. Most craft cocktail bars around Orlando have at least one shrub-based cocktail, ranging from traditional tastes like strawberry to further-afield flavors like rosemary-pineapple, lavender-blueberry, or even beets, carrots or celery.
And speaking of vegetables, a few bars are placing them front and center in their drinks, not relegating them to a supporting role: Try the celery coulis-based Stalker at Artisan's Table, or the Beet Not-feratu at the Pharmacy in Dr. Phillips. It looks like a glass of Tru Blood (hence the Nosferatu pun), but is actually a sweet, earthy cocktail that would be brunch-perfect as an unusual alternative to the mimosa.
The Pharmacy is leading the way in belief-straining savory cocktails locally – besides their roasted beet concoction, they offer a punch that includes clarified milk (a traditional punch ingredient, but still, one that sounds odd until you taste it) and a tincture of prosciutto di Parma. Chef Tyler Brassil is even working on a foie gras-based drink, for those who want a little iron in their spirits. As far as meaty drinks go, a can't-miss is the Ravenous Pig's bacon Old-Fashioned, built with bacon-infused Old Forester bourbon. It doesn't get much more savory than that.
On the sweeter side, Soco offers a summer sipper of watermelon-infused vodka, heated up with ginger and dusted with crushed pink peppercorns (pictured here). And Capa at the Four Seasons serves a foamy, fruity pink drink called the Get Her to the Greek – because Greek yogurt is key to the rich texture.
If you'd like try your hand at creating a culinary cocktail of your own, pick up Savory Cocktails: Sour Spicy Herbal Umami Bitter Smoky Rich Strong by Greg Henry, a pick in our 2013 cookbook gift guide that has held up well. There's no reason your gastronomic prowess should be confined to the kitchen.