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Cover Story: Season's drinkings! Local trends feature warmth, seasonal spices

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(Photo: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street)
  • Photo: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street

Restaurants aren’t the only places attuned to seasonal flavor trends. Bars across the metro also mix warm spices, dark liquors and local ingredients to make these festive months appetizingly intoxicating.

There are many ways to get through the holidays, and an innovative use of spirits can be one of the most enjoyable.

We are in the thick of it, folks.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Then, the full-on push to Hanu-Christma-Kwanzaa comes on hard and heavy like an Oklahoma winter.

Wrapping yourself in layers of scarves and hats and gloves will only get you so far.

“Just like comfort food, in the winter, we tend toward comfort drinks,” said Cafe 501 bar manager Ryan Young, who authored the restaurant’s seasonal drink menu.

Some are holdovers from last year — the Moscow Mule with house-made cranberry-ginger beer is a favorite — and others, like his Autumn Sour, are new to the lineup at 5825 NW Grand Blvd.

Autumn Sour at Cafe 501 in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Autumn Sour at Cafe 501 in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015.

A mix of dark rum, lemon and real maple syrup topped with honey foam, the sour hits each of Young’s criteria for a great cold-weather drink: seasonal ingredients, hearty brown spirits and an eye-catching presentation.

In the Raw owner Anna Mains agreed seasonal ingredients are key when developing a successful cocktail, and metro-area residents have become accustomed to having a wider selection of options at their favorite drinking establishments.

Her upcoming menu focuses more on robust spicing than the summer cocktail list, but it’s also about the smells and colors — using the drinks to embody the feelings that fall and winter inspire in guests.

Look for a ginger sidecar and a fall sangria on her list. Other cold-weather favorites, like bourbon milk punch and warm cider, will show up, too, but not every week.

She said In the Raw, located at 200 S. Oklahoma Ave., Suite 130, has learned to take Oklahoma’s wild climate shifts into account when deciding which drinks to feature.

The Broge seasonal coctail at In The Raw in Bricktown, 11-11-15. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • The Broge seasonal coctail at In The Raw in Bricktown, 11-11-15.

“People will come in for those heavier, really warming beverages when it’s down to 30 degrees,” she said. “But then we’ll have a week when it’s back up to 65 and nobody is interested in them.”

Mains said conceptually, bartenders have to think along a broader spectrum.

“It’s about where you want people to go,” she said. “That’s what cocktails are; they’re an escape. So much more than a simple drink.”

Interesting ingredients

Getting people interested in wine isn’t hard, no matter the season, said Patrono Italian Restaurant’s general manager Brian Cure, but the dishes paired with the bottles do get heavier at its 305 N. Walker Ave. location.

From left, Brian Cure, GM, and Robert DeCoste, Owner and Chef at Patrono, with drinks and two dishes, Bucatini Amatriciana pasta, left, and Steak Frites.  The Pinnacoli red wine is suggested by them to be a good pairing for both of these dishes, 11-10-15. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • From left, Brian Cure, GM, and Robert DeCoste, Owner and Chef at Patrono, with drinks and two dishes, Bucatini Amatriciana pasta, left, and Steak Frites. The Pinnacoli red wine is suggested by them to be a good pairing for both of these dishes, 11-10-15.

“We’re selling a lot more of the rib-eyes as it’s gotten cooler,” he said. “Usually, we pair it with a Barolo. All of our wines are Italian, and they’re more unusual names than not.”

What makes a great winter wine truly depends on what a customer enjoys most of the time, Cure said. People might drink more reds as temperatures plummet, but that doesn’t matter if a customer doesn’t like red wine the rest of the time.

Instead, Cure guides diners toward a varietal they’ll enjoy based on their other tastes.

At O Bar, 1200 N. Walker Ave., cocktails tend to be the icing on top of the seasonal cake, said beverage manager Jeffrey Cole.

Nearly two years old, the venue is built on a solid selection of fine wines and liquors, and cocktails are where O Bar’s seasonality can shine.

“First and foremost, if you’re not thinking about your menu seasonally, you’re not doing yourself or the local farming community any favors,” he said. “In the summer, it’s all about fresh ingredients. Going into winter, we really start thinking about what we can do without fresh fruit.”

On of the O Bar's new seasonal coctails, the Sorghum Fizz, from the 7th floor patio with the Downtown OKC Skyline, 11-12-15. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • On of the O Bar's new seasonal coctails, the Sorghum Fizz, from the 7th floor patio with the Downtown OKC Skyline, 11-12-15.

The winter menu is a showcase of preservation techniques. Bitters, vinegars and bushes are all touches mixologists can use to create drinks that feel right for the season.

“One thing we’re using is sorghum that we get from OKC Farmers Public Market. It really plays well with scotch,” he said.

Finding ingredients that play well together isn’t always easy, but Flint beverage manager Mindy Magers said the restaurant, located at 15 N. Robinson Ave., is putting the family spirit back in the holidays by getting input from each bar staff member for its seasonal cocktail list.

Two cocktails she is excited about are the Sour Mash (Bulleit Bourbon Whiskey, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, apple-pear shrub and Angostura bitters) and the Decemberist, which she describes as having “the warming gingerbread cookie feel without being a sweet drink.”

The Decemberist is another Bulleit bourbon drink, but this one uses Snap (a ginger liqueur), simple syrup, lemon, bitters and Cock ’n Bull Ginger Beer.

“Everyone has a hand in the menu, so it’s very cohesive and embraces the spirit of fall,” she said.

Another ingredient that fits the season are egg whites, which add weight and structure to drinks like the Caribbean Fizz and Sarah’s Sour.

Magers said flavor is front and center at Flint, and its drinks feature syrups, shrubs and fresh squeezed juices. But there’s also a focus on speed.

“A lot of people come in before Thunder games,” she said. “You don’t want to wait five or six minutes for a cocktail.”

While cocktails come together quickly at the bar, Young said it’s a long process to perfect the recipes that end up on the menu at Cafe 501. Well before fall begins, bartenders work to create the right flavors for chillier weather.

That’s important, he said, because drinks aren’t just a signifier for the season — they’re also a survival technique.

“Sometimes you drink to celebrate,” he said. “And sometimes you drink just to tolerate your family.”

Print headline: Season’s drinkings, As temperatures drop, warm your palate with the comforting flavors of the season.

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