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03.11.10 by  

Forecast for Spring? Liqueur Soaked.

Mixologist Damian Windsor of The Roger Room in Los Angeles shares his secret ingredients for dialing up your drinks, from firewater to pork chops to pancetta syrups. Grab your mojo and a shaker. Happy Hour is about to bust out of hibernation.

Some people hit the up The Roger Room for the “she’s my niece” eye-candy vibe, others for fortune teller-meets-speakeasy decor and the rest because their highly honed mixology habit demands a weekly fix from head barman Damian Windsor. We vote “yes” for all three. To get a jump on spring cocktail slinging, we asked Damian for his predictions on the hottest drinks of the season, along with a few customized recipes you can make at home. The psychics and the A-listers? You’ll have to bus them in on your own.

Rum is the perfect spirit to start experimenting with spring cocktails — ban your Bacardi in lieu of cachaça or boutique brands from Martinique.

let’s talk ingredients. what’s hot for cocktails this spring?

Damian Windsor: Sagatiba Cachaça Velha. Often written off as firewater, the Velha is aged 2 years and the result is a much less aggressive spirit. For the Night and Day cocktail, we combine this with honey and lime juice, twisting on a caipirinha, and float it on a bed of blackberries.

how are you modernizing classic cocktails for spring?

We use liqueurs as our sweeteners. The Old Sport uses a lychee liqueur as the sweetener to cut the lime juice and round out the cucumber juice. To make the cocktail even more interesting, we use Cap Rock gin distilled from apples. One of our bartenders, Jason Bran, also flipped the traditional ingredients for the Sazerac cocktail and substituted them for tequila, Partida Anejo, grapefruit, agave nectar, Peychaud’s and grapefruit bitters, and Pernod absinthe.

any exciting infusions for spring?

Infusions are the subject of a little bit of controversy in Northern California this month with the A.B.C. and the definition of rectification, so we’re going to steer clear for the bar. But at home, I’ve been playing with Pimento Dram, an all-spice liqueur, Alkermes, a deluxe generic Campari, and Christine — orange and rose — but syrups are a different story.

what about spices? how do you take the basics off-road?

We use quite a few of the cookie spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla in a syrup for the Spiced Mule, and the Zucker und Zimt gets a grating of cinnamon, too. Our Picon Millionaire gets a little black pepper, and there’s black tea in the Old Sport.

When looking for inspiration for spring cocktail ingredients, empty your fridge and cabinets. There's a bounty of new recipes waiting to happen.

spring is all about flowers or fresh fruit — how can you mix them in a twisted way?

Liquefy the fruits, such as cucumber and ginger, to use in cocktails to get all of the flavor and take out the texture. Or add the juice to an isi whipper with sugar and egg whites to create a foam topper as we do for the Tijuana Brass.

what do you think will be hot (and not) in terms of flavors, fruits, etc.?

Cucumber is always a good bet. Tea is making a comeback. I’ve had passion fruit vines growing on my balcony for 2 years, but limited space has kept them down. I’ve just bought a house with a huge backyard so lookout for them this summer.

so the perfect spring cocktail flight. any ideas?

For spring, I like the aromatics of gin. Let’s start with a Pimm’s Tea — equal parts Pimm’s and gin, breakfast tea, a squeeze of lemon and sweetened with a strawberry-flavored simple syrup. Then the Amsterdam Old Fashioned — equal parts Bols Genever and Old Tom Gin, sugar, Angostura bitters and a twist of grapefruit.

how are you putting a spin on the classics?

Substituting spirits. I worked with Partida tequila as brand ambassador in Southern California for 2 years and it was necessary so as not to drink margaritas exclusively. Blanco tequila substitutes very well for gin and occasionally white rum — think Negroni, Moscow Mule. Reposado can substitute for young rums up to 5 years — think Rum Swizzle — and añejo tequila will work for whiskies, cognac and brandies in the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Sidecar.

We’re loving this fashionable leopard-print twist on the lowball. Break these out with caution (dim lighting, cool music, great recipes) lest your vibe take an immediate turn to the tacky.

Bartender Damian Windsor, Roger Room, Los Angeles

Damian takes whatever flavors or ingredients he loves — from bacon to cookies to kaffir — and soaks them in syrups and spirits.

The Roger Room Sazerac

  • Partida Anejo Tequila
  • Grapefruit
  • Agave nectar
  • Peychaud’s bitters
  • Grapefruit bitters
  • Pernod absinthe

The Roger Room Old Sport

  • Cap Rock gin
  • Lychee liqueur
  • Lime juice
  • Cucumber juice

Amsterdam Old Fashioned

  • Bols Genever
  • Old Tom Gin
  • Sugar
  • Angostura bitters
  • Grapefruit twist

Pimm’s Tea

  • Pimm’s
  • Gin
  • Breakfast tea
  • Lemon juice
  • Strawberry-flavored simple syrup

Night and Day

  • Sagatiba Cachaça Velha
  • Honey
  • Lime juice
  • Blackberry garnish