As 2016 shudders to a close, here’s one question that unites Americans: Would you like a drink?
Whether people gather for celebration or consolation, there is no universal social solvent like alcohol, even from ancient times. Called upon to save the day at the wedding at Cana, Jesus does not break out the miracle of wheatgrass smoothies. How many other key ingredients to a memorable evening with friends have been amended back into the U.S. Constitution and ratified in all 50 states?
One salient differentiator in restaurants is the creation and use of custom ingredients. That’s even more so in beverage programs, where relatively few places are taking steps to offer more ambitious drinks, like squeezing their own orange and lime juices, and making their own flavorings.
Most places use grenadine that comes in a bottle. Other places aren’t satisfied with being like everyone else, and work at customizing their wares.
Here’s a sampling of seven places making cocktails worth crowing about.
Tom & Jerry
McPartlan’s Corner, 669 Wehrle Drive, Amherst, 632-9896
A traditional drink invented in 1800s England, the Tom & Jerry is served in numerous local spots. The McPartlan family’s version, served for over 30 years, is based on a nutmeg-scented batter with meringue folded in, flavored with nutmeg and vanilla. The result is a thick, sweet eggnoggy foam that rides atop on a piping-hot mixture of rum, brandy and water. Stir with the cinnamon stick, and toast the season ($5.95).
Broken Garden Tools
Dapper Goose, 491 Amherst St., 551-0716, thedappergoose.com
This new restaurant in former Black Rock Kitchen space is drawing cocktail aficionados back for twists on classics as well as original compositions. This summertime offering, held over by popular demand, includes housemade parsley syrup, fresh celery and lemon juices, and Moroccan spice bitters, with dry gin as the spirit. A grind of black pepper, and it’s the cocktail that drinks like a salad ($10).
Marble + Rye, 112 Genesee St., 853-1390, marbleandrye.net
“Chestnuts roasting” is just the beginning for the custom ingredients going into the seasonal punch, served in a bowl for four or more to share, or by the glass. Rye, cognac, and Manzanilla sherry join housemade chestnut-butter-washed aged rum, persimmon-flavored white rum, orange-infused sugar syrup, tart pineapple-ginger shrub, and turmeric tea ($40 bowl, $7 glass).
Billy Club, 228 Allen St., 331-3047, billyclubbuffalo.com
One Billy Club custom cocktail starts with gin that’s been naturally sweetened with pears. Another touch of sweetness comes from syrup made with grapefruit rind and juice. Then it gets aroma and bite from bitters made from toasted, cracked green cardamom pods and gentian root. Another bitters, Peychaud’s and a lifting dose of Prosecco sparking wine are the store-bought parts ($10).
Toutant, 437 Ellicott St., 342-2901, toutantbuffalo.com
The restaurant’s Southern inspirations include New Orleans, where the Hurricane was invented. Here, its crimson cast comes from housemade grenadine syrup made from pomegranate juice, orange blossom water, and sugar. It’s joined by fresh orange and lime juice, passionfruit puree, and aged dark rum, in a characteristic hurricane-lamp-shaped glass ($10).
Ballyhoo, 211 South Park Ave., 240-9901, buffaloballyhoo.com
This is a principled reproduction of New York City bartender Sam Ross’ invention, not an original, but it will still cure what ails you. The strong medicine offered by a trio of ingredients – fresh-squeezed lemon juice and housemade honey syrup – would be welcome in a cup of tea. But it’s fortified with a dose of Highland Scotch, and a smoky wee dram of Islay Scotch over the top ($9).
Crimson & Clover
Mes Que, 1420 Hertel Ave., 836-8800, mesque.com
Customers at Buffalo’s soccer bar can score a drink with housemade ingredients like hibiscus-infused gin, a version of Lillet, the aperitif, that’s been flavored with food-grade rosebuds, and gum syrup made with honey. They’re all in this cocktail, along with fresh grapefruit juice, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Peychaud’s bitters and a sprig of fresh thyme ($10).