"The concept for the digestifs at Piora first came about because our head bartender, Shinya Yamao, had this idea to create a dessert cocktail featuring banana and rum but wanted to do it without any added sugar or fruit juice," explains Simon Kim, owner and general manager of Piora in New York's West Village.
The logistics didn't seem clear until Yamao came across the Oji Water Dripper, a Japanese cold drip coffee machine that allows the consumer to control the level of extraction by adjusting the speed of the liquid running through. But instead of brewing coffee, the Piora team is replacing coffee grounds with fruit and water with booze.
"The machine had never been used to infuse alcohol before and the marriage of the banana and the rum was such an instant hit that it got me thinking about other applications and classic digestifs," explains Kim. "When I was younger I loved the idea of Calvados but always wanted it to have a more pronounced apple flavor. So when we started using this I thought, 'You know what? What if we wanted to make Calvados taste more like apples, and Cognac more like grapes?'" Essentially, the Piora team aimed to bring the process full-circle by reintroducing the core ingredient from which each spirit was made.
"We don't want to hurt the integrity of the spirit, it's about introducing a subtle essence," adds sommelier Kyle Ridington. "We love drinking Calvados, Armagnac, but this way I think makes it a little more approachable."
The recently launched program currently includes three infusions: Banana Rum, Apple Calvados, and Raisin Cognac, each for $17 a glass. The process for making each is more or less the a variation on the same theme: Add prepared fruit to filter, fill the dripper's water bowl with the desired spirit, adjust the lever of the Droppi (four thin needles) over the filter to an approximate speed of four drops every two seconds, wait (about 5 to 6 hours) for all of the spirit to pass through to the bottle beneath the filter, and then finally, pass the infused liquid through the fruit filter for a second run at a slightly faster speed (about 3 hours).
The proper preparation for the fruit has been an ongoing experiment. Bananas aren't used until the skin starts to show brown freckles—more ripeness seems to add a deeper, more pronounced flavor to the final drink. For the Calvados, the team experimented with a number of apple varieties before favoring Honeycrisp. The apples are thinly sliced on a mandolin and then dehydrated. The Piora team believes that when the spirit slowly filters through the dried fruit, it rehydrates the fruit and traps its flavor and aromatic compounds. A combination of golden and black raisins for the Cognac are chopped before dehydration so that the exposed the sugary flesh crystallizes.
How do they select spirits for the infusions? Ridington says they were seeking a full-bodied, aromatic rum for the banana digestif. El Dorado 12 year Rum, he says, helps the result have a "full body with velvet texture and notes of molasses, vanilla, caramelized sugar, and spiced chocolate." For the apple-infused Calvados, they chose Michel Huard Hors D'Age ('90-'92-'99) Calvados, which is made from 40 different apple varieties and a blend of three vintages. Ridington praises the Calvados for its smooth texture. Remy Martin 1738 Accord Royal offers a touch of sweetness to Piora's Raisin Cognac.
The digestifs are just a jumping-off point for Piora team, and experiments with the Oji dripper are just beginning. Yamao has already begun working on an Irish coffee riff (brewing coffee in the cold-dripper with Irish whiskey instead of water.) The infusions are also appearing as ingredients in the cocktail menu: an Earl Grey-flavored gin, for example, is mixed with lemon, apple, Calvados, and maple syrup in a popular cocktail called Leaves Falling.