You can’t have too many bitters,” declares Steve Mahoney. And you thought there was only Angostura.
Mahoney is the owner and major mixologist of the Green Lantern, a speakeasy-style bar (no signage, in other words) almost hidden away beneath Ciao II at 20626 Stone Oak Parkway (thegreenlanternbar.com). In his devotion to bitters, Mahoney is not alone. One drinks blogger calls them the “salt and pepper of cocktails,” but considering that the original Angostura formula, based on gentian root, has been radically retooled many times to include ingredients such as bitter orange peel, peach, and now even xocolatl mole, bitters are to cocktails as an entire spice chest is to cooking. The true enthusiast will even contemplate making his or her own … but we digress. As usual.
No, Mahoney doesn’t make his own bitters; there are enough available through sources such as kegworks.com, he suggests, to satisfy all but the most obsessed cocktalian. But he does do infusions, and here we are in you-can-do-this-at-home territory. He makes an intoxicatingly fragrant silver tequila infused with pineapple, tarragon, and serrano chiles, and his cucumber vodka is simply made from chunks of peeled cucumber steeped in Monopolowa, an Austrian, potato-based spirit. Let both macerate for about a week. Each tasted great in sample sips, but the proof (ahem) is in the mixing. The Lantern’s Spicy Cucumber cocktail with the above-mentioned vodka also includes cracked pepper, simple syrup, lime juice, and muddled mint, is garnished with a spear of cucumber dusted with cayenne, and served with a rim partially coated in chile. (“I like to give people the option of incorporating the rim or not,” says Mahoney. Same goes for margaritas.). It works, with an impression of heat but no out-of-balance chile hit.
Mahoney credits several sources with inspiring his cocktails, but much also comes from vintage bartending manuals, including Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by “cocktail archaeologist” Ted Haigh (available on Amazon). From a base of classic recipes “we experiment, it’s trial-and-error,” he says.
Green Lantern’s quasi-classic Blue Margarita riffs on the standard recipe by using Parfait Amour, a sweet, orange-flavored liqueur that’s violet in color and, depending on the producer, may actually contain violets, coriander, and/or rose petals, in place of blue curaçao. Bartender Lisa Blanco assembles the drink with the PA, tequila, lime and lemon juice, and simple syrup, and she coats the rim of the glass in black sea salt for a dramatic look. On request, she can also muddle some fresh jalapeño into the drink for additional punch — a variation the Lantern crew invented. A slight modification to a more recent classic, the French Pearl, subs Pernod’s newly available Absinthe for the lower-proof standard Pernod that, along with Plymouth Gin, lime juice, simple syrup and muddled mint, makes up the original recipe. Highly recommended.
Though Mahoney says he “messed around some with molecular gastronomy a few months ago,” and got “some good foams,” he abandoned the experiment as being too expensive and too much work. But when it comes to that cocktail essential, ice cubes, no expense was spared. He lights up when he shows off the large, extremely clear and very dense cubes produced by his Kold-Draft ice machine. “It’s the best in the business,” he says, adding that it uses double-filtered water. “We even shake with it.”
The Green Lantern’s approach to invention, start with the tried and true and tweak, is the foundation for many of their specialty drinks, but the Mexican Saint is out on a limb of their own devising. Make the tequila infusion by filling any sealable glass container with fresh pineapple chunks, several sprigs of tarragon or Mexican mint marigold, and a couple of seeded, halved serranos. Add a full bottle of decent, but not too tony, silver tequila. Wait one week — though nobody says you can’t sample along the way.
2 oz. tequila infused with pineapple, tarragon, and serrano chiles
1 oz. St~Germain elderflower liqueur
2-3 short dashes Fee Brothers old-fashioned bitters (no substitutes — at least he first time around)
Shake in cocktail shaker with ice; strain and serve in a chilled coupe or martini glass
The floral aspects of the St~Germain are great in contrast to the serrano bite, and the tarragon nicely underlines tequila’s peppery-herbal qualities. The title calls to mind a lucha-libre wrestler; the taste does not — though costumes could be intriguing. •
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