Creative infusions lure San Antonio out of the dark ages

“Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker,” Ogden Nash famously said regarding, we can only assume, seduction. Combining the two clearly constitutes the perfect Don Juan double threat — just what Lutfy Flores-Vico and his staff at SoHo Wine & Martini Bar have assembled. On the bar’s oversized chalkboard one can currently find, among the many listed infusions, one combining candy cane and tequila. “It’s also one of the quicker to make,” says Flores-Vico.

For Flores-Vico (hereinafter to be known as F-V), born in Mexico City to parents of Lebanese descent but brought to San Antonio at age 15, a life behind the bar was not an initial career goal. “I was getting a degree in biology at UTSA and needed a way to pay for school,” he says — hence, a bartending job at the Republic of Texas on the River Walk. “It was a dark age for the bar scene — nothing but piña coladas and rum and Cokes,” he recalls. But he persevered regardless, going on to work at Zinc for over six years, then at Biga for two more, before launching SoHo nearly four years ago. “Biology comes in handy in infusions,” he notes.

So does a good bar-side manner and creativity, both of which F-V possesses in spades. We have only to return to the chalkboard and its combinations of roasted-corn rum, sharp Irish cheddar with Dripping Springs Vodka (way better than it sounds), and Maker’s Mark Bourbon with brisket … yes, brisket. “This is our most famous; we have it all year,” says F-V, adding that Maker’s is a wheated bourbon so “it’s rounder, and the sweetness works with meat. I did it to go with cigars” — which SoHo can also provide from its historic vault.

Despite creating what may sometimes seem like wild-eyed Frankenfusions (there’s even one that mates vodka to bubble gum), F-V is a walk-before-you-run kinda guy. “You have to know the classic drinks and the variations on them — but also be prepared to create on the spot,” he says. Sounded to us like a gauntlet waiting to be tossed. “What about a riff on a Negroni?” we asked. (In case you don’t remember, the drink is usually composed of equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth with an orange peel garnish.) Much Googling was later required.

Google is a frequent recipe ingredient these days, thanks to the likes of F-V; he immediately decided to sub in a special gin we’d never heard of: the French-made and wheat-based Magellan. With clove and both iris root and blossoms as major botanical ingredients, this gin has a distinct flavor profile and an even more unique color — said to be the natural result of the use of the iris blossoms, it nevertheless resembles nothing so much as Listerine mouthwash. In color alone, of course.

F-V then decided to add a truly renegade component, the equally unknown (to us) TY KU Soju. Called the “#1 distilled spirit in the world” and a low-calorie “flavor catalyst” by its Japanese maker, this barley-based liquor comes across as a curious, but not unpleasant, blend of vodka and sake. And, as if this weren’t enough, chocolate bitters was sprayed into the glass, a bar spoon of simple syrup was added, and the usual orange garnish was twisted to release its oils, then flamed. The result, which did use diminished amounts of the usual Campari and sweet vermouth, recalled the classic, but in a sweeter, rounder way. “Pretty,” we said. F-V was not offended.

More sampling followed, much to the amusement of the evening’s bar patrons (85 percent of whom are local, according to F-V), some witnessing the accumulation of glassware with a degree of astonishment. One of those glasses contained F-V’s Hawaiian Rose, which started with torched bacon dropped into Malibu Rum being vigorously shaken for a quick infusion. From shaking to whipping, F-V next beat cream and egg whites (not together) with a dexterity Julia would have admired. Crème de cacao also went into the blend, along with whole milk; the egg white was floated on top and the torched bacon perched atop that. An extremely labor-intensive drink, it’s not one we would ever have ordered off a list, but it was oddly successful — including the bacon aroma that greeted us (and countered the coconut and cacao) each time we took a sip.

F-V frequently does cocktail classes as fundraising-auction events, and here’s a recipe we can imagine being taught easily; it’s a play on the margarita using Dewar’s White Label, a popular blended scotch. “The Dewar’s is just peaty enough,” he says.

2 oz. Dewar’s White Label

1 oz. triple sec

3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

3/4 oz. simple syrup

Give it all a quick shake in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and strain into a chilled coupe. It’s sweet-tart and just a little smoky (we might even experiment with some smokier single malts), and we can easily imagine it becoming a favorite — a drink that would make us all feel like bartenders, a term F-V prefers to “mixologist” anyway.

SoHo Wine & Martini Bar

214 W Crockett

(210) 444-1000

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