Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Though summer nights elsewhere might have you craving a tall, frosty Tom Collins, the truth is that even the warmest San Francisco days dissolve into cool evenings. What's a bar manager to do? For Danny Louie and Ethan Terry of Alembic on Haight Street in San Francisco, the answer is to craft seasonal drinks—"but not too seasonal," says Louie. You'll see ripe strawberries (juiced and thickened with xanthan gum for body), but not in a highball. There's a tart tequila drink, but it has added complexity from Oregon-made coffee liqueur, Mexican Fernet, and Spanish brandy. One cocktail has a lingering bite from a Bird's eye chili tincture, while another is laced with a garam masala-spiced apple syrup.
"I like to challenge the palate a little," says Louie. "You might read the ingredients and not understand how they'd work together until you try it." He recommends starting the evening with a Switchback, which features local Anchor Hophead vodka along with resiny Zirbenz stone pine liqueur as a backdrop for fresh fruit. "It's a bright cocktail, refreshing, and it smells like walking down a garden path, picking up leaves, mint, berries." Then, Louie says, the right move is to "tantalize your palate with a Nine Volt," which uses earthy green tea as the core, but offers a slight tingle of Sichuan pepper. At the end of the night, Louie recommends, "cozy up with Christmas spices" in the Vasco de Gama, a sweet-and-savory spiced Old Fashioned variation made with bourbon and a little smoky Islay Scotch.