Like the terms "artisan" and "local," "craft" tends to get overused. When it comes to cocktails, I often feel like calling a libation a "craft cocktail" is really just a way of getting two or three bucks more for a drink than normal.
And yet, I don't want to be too cynical. There really is some craftiness and artistry that goes into making unique cocktails. In the past couple of years, I've certainly noticed a trend toward the exotic in mixed drinks. The Campari-like Italian aperitif Aperol seems to be the latest rage, but I'm also seeing more and more bartenders using beer in cocktails, as well as unusual "flavorings" such as elderflower liqueur, mescal, herbs and unusual bitters. Here are a few locally made exotic elixirs worth trying.
At Finca (1291 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City, 801-487-0699, FincaSLC.com), bar manager Scott Gardner makes his unique Tamarindo Fino using Pok Pok Tamarind Som, a Thai "drinking vinegar" that he combines with Spanish Fino Sherry, Wahaka Joven Espadin Mezcal, fresh lime juice and Angostura bitters. Ole!
For Richie Spare, mixologist at the Boneyard Saloon & Kitchen in Park City (1251 Kearns Blvd., 435-649-0911, BoneyardSaloon.com), beer is an unusual and essential component of his aptly named Uncommon Margarita. Vida Blanco Tequila is shaken with fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, then topped off in a glass with Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen.
Copper Common, too, offers the uncommon in the form of their provocative cheeses and chocolates, paired with liquors like the tandem of Ron Zacapa 23-year Guatemalan Solera rum and Guido Gambino Italian hazelnut chocolate. Or, try the uncommonly delicious Pomelo cocktail. It's a creative combo of Aperol—an Italian aperitif dating back to 1919, but just now becoming popular in America—along with St. Elder (a natural elderflower liqueur) and Angostura bitters.
Log Haven (6451 E. Millcreek Canyon Road, Salt Lake City, 801-272-8255, Log-Haven.com) might not seem like much of a hipster scene, yet that's where you'll find barman Ian Cobb's Log Haven Hipster. It's an unusual mashup of High West Double Rye Whiskey, Aperol, Lillet Rouge, Curry Bitters and Toschi cherries. "Beard and tight pants not included," Cobb says.
Randall Grahm, the offbeat leader of Bonny Doon Vineyard (and the "Original Rhone Deranger"), and I have a few things in common. We're both lifelong fans of the great English artist Ralph Steadman, we revel in all things irreverent, and we both have a lust for the French liqueur Chartreuse. Sadly, most cocktail creators tend to eschew Chartreuse—perhaps rightly so, given its unusual flavor, otherworldly tinge and mind-bending effects. So kudos to Bijan Ghiai of Pallet (237 S. 400 West, Salt Lake City, 801-935-4431, EatPallet.com) for boldly going where many mixologists fear to tread. The Plum Variety cocktail incorporates Fernet Branca (another bold move), green Chartreuse, simple syrup, lime juice and—another ingredient you don't typically find in your cocktail coupe—plum preserves.
If Chartreuse is an ugly stepsister to bartenders, Mexico's Mezcal is even more mortifying for mixologists. At Caffe Niche (779 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-433-3380, CaffeNiche.com), then, mixologist Christopher Bradshaw deserves a medal of bravery for his Porto Mezcal: an all-but-criminal mélange of Illegal (in name only) artisanal Mezcal, Fonseca Ruby Port, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, Angostura bitters and an orange-peel garnish.
At prohibition-themed The Rest (331 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-532-4452, Bodega331.com/TheRest), bar manager Caleb Cannon combines old-school liqueurs like Fernet Branca and Dom Benedictine & Brandy with rye whiskey and dashes of black-walnut bitters to create his Folklore cocktail. He suggests "treating it just like an Old Fashioned," stirred with one ice cube.
The Konsummate Kristauf's—a namesake cocktail at Kristauf's Martini Bar (16 W. Market St., Salt Lake City, 801-366-9490)—employs aromatic St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur along with Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, honey water and fresh lemon juice. Why, this exotic concoction tastes downright healthy!