Every summer, we face the same dilemma. We’ve got vacations booked, grills cleaned, air conditioners precariously installed, but the most important question remains:
What are we going to be drinking? In order to declare an official Cocktail of Summer 2014, we sometimes need a little creative boost. So we sent food editor Dawn Perry over to the bar at Reynard, Andrew Tarlow’s restaurant at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, to see how they tackle the problem of a summer cocktail, and to get inspired for our own.
Rustin Nichols has some experience with this dilemma. As the bartender at Reynard, Rustin is tasked with creating and serving summer libations for winter-weary regulars and hordes of summer tourists alike. And for his summer drink, he lets us in on a secret ingredient: genepy.
“I love genepy,” Rustin tells us, as he pours the aptly named “Summer Babe” cocktail — genepy shaken with gin and lemon — into a coupe glass. “It’s a flower grown in the Alps, like chamomile.” Rustin discovered genepy by way of Chartreuse, and if you like Chartreuse, he affirms, you’ll definitely like genepy — both also known as, in Dawn terms, “those secret monk elixirs.”
“How would you describe it to someone who’s never had it?” she asks.
“Herby, lightly viscous,” Rustin says. “Some might say medicinal, but…” he shrugs and lets us draw our own conclusions from the bright, elegant cocktail on the bar.
The cocktail is just as Rustin describes it: “a really nice refreshing summer drink.” Light, herbal, restorative. As Dawn chimes in, “It’s just grown-up lemonade!”
“I’m not even usually a gin person,” she exclaims, “but the herbaceousness really takes this to a new place.”
Rustin tells us that the cocktail is named after the 1992 Pavement song, and there’s definitely a summer-crush vibe going on, but one that has you crushing on the slightly exotic Euro girl who’s around for just a few months. It’s both exotic and comforting, and Dawn’s into it. The creative juices are flowing.
Genepy is like the “original” small-batch artisanal liqueur, Rustin explains, with each town and local restaurant in the Savoy region producing their own. He brought back a regional variety from Italy for his and his wife’s wedding anniversary, a bottle he’s very excited to try, and as great for everyday drinking as this cocktail is, there’s definitely some of that “special occasion” vibe.
Génépy des Alpes, produced by Dolin, is the most widely available option, and is the best for cocktails, while Rustin recommends saving the “good stuff” for sipping. “Bartenders just like drinking genepy on their own,” he says, as he pours us each a taste of said “good stuff.”
“Whew!” says Dawn, taking a sip. The flowery, herby nose on the liqueur is powerful, but restorative. “Nothing wrong with this at all.”
You look to a hotel like the Wythe, one that brings an Old World elegance to the heart of Williamsburg, to offer something as alluring as genepy on its cocktail list. But the great thing about getting inspired by bartenders’ creations is that restaurant-level cocktails and home-cook cocktails are for the most part exactly the same.
Where restaurant recipes need downsizing, the ingredients, measurements, and process for a single cocktail remain the same behind the bar or in your kitchen. All you need is a shaker, some ice, a little bicep power, and the inspiration to try something new. Rustin is essentially making a case to Dawn, and by proxy the home cook, to seek out genepy for drinking at home, and she’s sold. “Yes, it can be annoying to buy some esoteric, specialty liqueur,” she admits, “but this cocktail is so refreshing, so easy — just three ingredients! You could easily make this for a crowd, or just for one.”
The other component of the drink is much closer to home, though the production is similarly redolent of tradition. “I really love Steven [D’Angelo] over at Greenhook Gin,” says Rustin of the guy behind the gin in “Summer Babe.” “He’s just one of the nicest people, and part of the company-wide thing is that we’re really all about connections with people. Knowing whom we’re getting things from is really important.”
Greenhook Ginsmiths distills its American Dry Gin in a copper pot still in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, just down the street from the Wythe. The delicate botanicals in Greenhook’s gin — juniper, coriander, elderflower, and chamomile — go perfectly with the chamomile and herbs of the genepy. Rustin loves Greenhook because Steve’s his buddy, but the drink will go down just as well with the gin of your choice (though if you have buddies who produce gin, please do verify that it’s in an accredited copper pot and not, say, the neighbour’s bathtub).
Say you’ve gone out and found this New, Cool Digestif of Summer 2014 and made your Summer Babes. “What would you recommend doing with the rest of the bottle?” Dawn asks.
“Genepy with tonic is really refreshing,” Rustin suggests “You want some bitter to balance out the sweetness. And you’re always going to want a little tartness with it.”
“Would you use lime juice?” Dawn suggests. “I think it pairs better with lemon,” Rustin responds. “Lime can be too — “
“Astringent,” Dawn supplies. It’s a good sign when Reynard’s bartender and BA’s editor are so on the same level that they’re finishing each others’ sentences; the drink has certainly hit the right spot.
Dawn’s wheels are turning as she imagines the possibilities: “I might add a sprig of mint or rosemary, whatever’s growing in my friend’s herb box that week. That would be great on the nose, and would pick up on the wonderful herbal notes.” She adds, “Plus, it’s such a great looking bottle, I might even keep it when it’s done and put flowers in it.”
Needless to say, summer drinking is a serious concern among our editors. Our own Andrew Knowlton recently declared the unofficial Summer of Suze, and he’s been spotted sipping cocktails made with this herby French apéritif in more than one state. There’s rosé, whether in a spritzer or in a magnum, and of course, we’ll always have negronis, but when we look forward to summer to be even better than the last, there needs to be an even better drink to usher in just how great 2014 is going to be.
And when our Test Kitchen needs some fresh ideas, there’s no better place to look than in a bar that comes alive in summer, on the rooftop, with a cocktail of genepy and gin. It’s 1 pm, and we have to head back to the office, but before we say goodbye to Rustin, Dawn takes another sip. “I plan on making this all summer long.”
The bartenders at Reynard, in Brooklyn, use Greenhook Ginsmiths’ botanical American dry gin in this citrusy cocktail, but feel free to make it with your favourite.
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Génépy des Alpes
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
Lemon twist (for serving)
Combine gin, Génépy des Alpes, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with lemon twist.
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