At restaurants, we almost always order a signature cocktail, one of the in-house mixed drinks the bartender has created to match the menu or the season. And almost always, these specialty drinks are too sweet: too much sweet vermouth or lavender liquor, too much bar syrup, fruit juice or something else equally sugary.
So I was just a touch suspicious about the Brazilian/Olympics-inspired cachaça cocktail at Marion Street Market. This cocktail, called a Verao, contains pineapple and fennel-infused Avuá Amburana Cachaça (distilled sugar cane juice), Bittermen's citron sauvage grapefruit liqueur, lemon shrub and fennel frond ice cube.
All those ingredients are a red flag to me, too; I prefer cocktails to be simple two-to-three ingredient productions, like a Manhattan or a Gin Martini. But as I discovered, the Verao is well worth trying, and not only because we're in the midst of the Olympics, and cachaça is the trademark liquor of Brazil.
Cachaça (pronounced ka-sha-sa) has been distilled in Brazil since the early 16th century. It didn't take the Portuguese long to find something they could distill into a liquor, and sugar cane grows abundantly in that part of the world, so it was meant to be. With a flavor usually described as "grassy" or "vegetal," cachaça can be aged in a number of different woods to bring out or impose different flavors.
To add more layers of flavor to the Verao, Adrian Marquis, Beverage Manager at Marion Street Market, puts pineapple and fennel into the cachaca and lets it sit for a while. He told us that "a Brazilian friend of mine turned me on to the idea of adding some pineapple, which actually provides sweetness but also a little bitterness."
The Verao is a very well-balanced cocktail, with some sweetness, but also some bitterness and tartness. This is not a sweet drink. Though cachaça is made of sugar cane, that sweetness is considerably modified by the grapefruit liquor and the lemon shrub (shrub is a drink of fruit, fermented or acidified with vinegar).
On my first sip, I got a very pleasant whiff of herbal freshness. "What I do is make a tea of lightly scorched fennel and cardamom pods," said Marquis. "Then I freeze the tea in ice cube trays." The ice cubes (around an inch and a half square) are big and add a surprising amount of flavor to the drink, and this flavor is released as the cube melts.
The sweet-bitter-tart balance of this drink makes it very food friendly. We had it with some Marion Street Market bar snacks of fried polenta and cauliflower. It was just right for a late night drink, and it's a suitable salute to the Olympics.
Answer Book 2018
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