Spicing Up the East Village Cocktail Scene
July 2, 2015
Originally published in The Wall Street Journal
Filed under: Cocktails / Food & Dining / Spirits
Tags: ,

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At East Village bar Mace, there's a new twist on the spicy cocktail.

Twelve debut drinks feature and are named after spices from around the world, from the well-known (cinnamon) to the obscure (ambrette).

The Pandan milk punch ($15), for example, features a Southeast Asian plant often used in desserts and savory dishes. The cocktail, which takes three days to prepare, includes clarified milk, two rums and black tea, among other ingredients.

The clear, creamy drink is one of co-owner Nico de Soto's favorites.

"It's not too sweet," he says. "It's about the texture, the mouth-feel. I don't think there will be ever a menu in my bar without a milk punch."

The $13 signature drink, the Mace, combines fresh-pressed beet juice with aquavit, Aperol, coconut cordial and orange juice. The spice is added at the end, with spritz from an elegant ladies' perfume bottle. (Mace is the outer shell of nutmeg and not, as some customers mistakenly think, pepper spray. Two customers once asked Mr. de Soto if it was safe to serve the drink.)

Among the most challenging flavors to develop: a light, fresh grass. "I've always been interested in a grass flavor," Mr. de Soto says. "I use hay sometimes. It's a little grassy. I really like that flavor."

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He tried to work with real grass but the flavor was too mild for drinks. After some trial and error, he landed on dehydrated wheatgrass for the grass cocktail ($13), which is turned into a cordial and mixed with shochu and grapefruit oil.

If grass is something anyone might spy on their way to work, ambrette is at the other end of the spectrum: rare and most often found in fragrances.

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The Ambrette drink ($15) combines the namesake spice with whiskey, sherry, soy sauce and tobacco essence.

"Sometimes you use saltiness to enhance flavors," Mr. de Soto says of the soy sauce, which contributes a subtle umami aftertaste. But he only uses about four drops' worth. "It's like using salt and pepper," he says.

Mr. de Soto visits restaurants to find inspiration for his flavor combinations. A brownie with olive oil and salt led to the starting point for his Avuá Prata cachaça-based cocoa drink ($13).

"That's basically what I like to do with cocktails, to approach them like cuisine," Mr. de Soto says.

But there are limits.

"I hate to cook," he says with a laugh. "Just for drinks. I'm not a patient person. Making a drink is just a few minutes. Cooking is hours."

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