Persephone (all drinks listed $13)
"Considering the way it's laced with pomegranate and the color is rather dark, it made me think of the story of Hades and Persephone." The inspiration for this drink is a Mexican pomegranate-vinegar soda, which Resler wanted to emulate in a cocktail, "especially with everyone using shrubs and things like that nowadays." So he uses pomegranate molasses and apple cider vinegar, with orange as a citrus—together, those elements of pomegranate flavor, acidity, and juice mingle in a way that really evokes pomegranate juice. Espolón Blanco is the spirit, "with pepper notes I really like," with chocolate bitters and a garnish of lime peel. "And there's a small splash of soda in Persephone—to lift the cocktail from the underworld into the light of day."
The Devil Inside
"On paper, this is the scariest cocktail I've ever made," says Resler—a stirred cocktail composed of nothing but mezcal in different forms. "I was sitting at our bar contemplating all the varieties of mezcal, the variety of expressions and the number of flavors you get out of it, and thought: you could do a cocktail with nothing but that." The 103-proof Pierde Almas Tequilana Weber serves as the base, "where you'd have your rye or whiskey, to carry the cocktail; for a grassy, fresh mid-palate, "Do-ba-Daán, a wild agave with great vegetable notes. And you need an ending," the Tobaziche, "which brings out all the chocolate, cacao, tobacco notes of the other spirits. It's like the dessert of the cocktail." Grapefruit bitters—which Resler makes from mezcal, too—finish it off, and a twist of lime peel, the only non-mezcal ingredient.
And why the name? "We needed Crema de Mezcal to tone it down a bit, which I don't like using, but hey—the greatest trick the devil ever did was to convince you he didn't exist." So it's the Devil Inside. "It's interesting to see people taste this. I feel like some of them think it's a dare—but their faces light up when they realize how clean and light it is. It's a lot less terrifying once you taste it.
"This is, by far, my favorite cocktail I've ever made."
Pistachio Milk Punch
"I've been toying around with goats' milk punches," laughed Resler, "but I don't know if people really want goats' milk in their cocktails." So he went in a non-dairy direction, making his own nut milks. "I did a cashew-mezcal one before, which I loved. But the kitchen was using pistachios in their guacamole, so I thought: I'll get on that bandwagon."
Resler salts and toasts pistachios before blending them into a nut milk, the base of the cocktail. It meets Dos Tequila Reposado ("it has all these salted caramel, toffee notes—it's great in cocktails, fun to work with") and Combier "to brighten it up with a pop of citrus." That's shaken before it's poured into a salt-rimmed glass and topped off with soda. Resler tends to steer clear of both those things—"I feel like soda often just dulls flavors, and I don't want salt on every margarita we make"—but he finds that soda lifts up an otherwise dense drink, and the salt heightens the pistachio flavor.
A few months back, Resler gathered a group of NYC bartenders into a guild they dubbed "The Collective," who meet each month to try their more inventive cocktails out on each other. Last month's theme: apples, without the brown spirits or fall spices that'd usually imply.
Resler's creation is now the first non-agave drink on Cocina's menu. He's using Zubrowka, bison grass vodka, "which is pretty much the opposite of those bourbons and such," and Lillet Rose—"a tie-in to summer, since it's so fragrant and floral." Lemon juice and tonic finish it off.
And the apple? "There's nothing that says 'crisp, green apple' more than this," Resler told me, holding out a bottle of neon-green liquid: a green Jolly Rancher syrup he'd made. "So I said screw it, let's just use that." The apple syrup is poured over the top, "mostly for the aromatics of it"—and while the "aromatics" of Jolly Ranchers may sound absurd, the candy jumps to mind as your nose approaches the drink, only to integrate as you sip it, a flavor that starts saying "apple" instead of "neon green." Unless you know it's there, of course.
"I wanted to do a drink with fresh raspberries that wasn't 'girly,' so to speak," says Resler. So this one, while vibrantly colored and certainly bright with fruit, doesn't drink like a "fruity" cocktail, with a generous dose of Ilegal Joven ("it's a more delicate mezcal, more citrus than smoke") as the backbone. Lingering after the initial brightness is an elusive background note that's hard to pin down. That's Xtabentun—a Mayan liqueur "that's like rum with honey and anise. It leaves something there for you to go back to, something mysterious and complex."
And New at Empellón Taqueria: Curious George
"I have an unhealthy obsession with animal-named cocktails." Resler is putting this drink on the menu over at Empellon Taqueria—essentially a smoked banana margarita. He caramelizes the fruit, purees it, smokes puree, and uses it as the base of a margarita-style drink. The spirit is Fidencio Clasico, "which gives me everything I want in a mezcal for mixing: smoky, earthy, citrus notes." Angostura bitters finish it off—"my tie into fall, with that ginger and warm spice."