Alder bar director Kevin Denton's dinnertime drink menu includes what I contend is a mighty nifty feature: the option to order several of the cocktails as "shorts." You get less than a full drink and pay half of the full price. If you want to break off a sizable chunk of the cocktail menu but forgo the financial and metabolic pinch of full-freight quaffs, then grazing over a few shorts is a fine way to go.
Alder recently began serving brunch on Sundays, and Denton took this very good idea and applied it across much of the cocktail list he's put together for the newly launched service. (The move's a no-brainer, really; why not give diners the freedom to better divide and conquer their day-drinking?)
For instance, you can have yourself a Bloody Mary tasting by ordering the trio of shorts seen above. The aptly named (from left) Red Light, Green Light, and Yellow Light ($12/6 each) give you three different takes on the brunch favorite. The Red is the most traditional of the set, yet with its intriguing red-bell-pepper undertones, it still manages to subvert your expectations and excite your taste buds. My palate was less enthused by the flat and overly vegetal Green; the gin base had gone quiet, leaving it to leaf juice to carry this tune. For a more complex and satisfying neo-Bloody, run through a Yellow Light, a bright, savory-sweet combination of pineapple, yellow pepper, and jalapeño tequila.
To accommodate non-drinkers, all three Lights can also be ordered sans spirits. Alder's selection of brunch-only fresh-squeezed juices are likewise alcohol-optional. Any of the three choices can be spiked with sparkling wine. A Mimosa-fied Lychee-ginger-hibiscus juice ($14; n/a $6) tastes great, with a spicy ginger backbone mellowed by lychee's delicate sweetness. (The bowl of pickles pictured comes with the Lights—no Bloody Mary is complete without a garnish.)
Although it's available as a short, you're probably going to want an entire Dr. Dave's 'Scrip Pad ($12) once you've tasted it. This is one of a few Denton cocktails that straddle Alder's brunch and dinner services, and I second the nomination. The ingredients—rye whiskey, yuzu, amaro, and smoked maple—may sound brooding and boozy, but the good doctor is in fact quite approachable. The maple and yuzu form a kind of candied-orange alliance, sure to win you over no matter the hour.
About the Author: Roger Kamholz is a food journalist living in New York City. Before moving to NYC he covered the Chicago food and drinks scene for four years. In addition to Serious Eats, Roger's writing and photography has appeared in TimeOut Chicago, Refinery 29, Grub Street, and Chicagoist. Check out more of his work at rogerkamholz.com.