Telegraph, the handsome, Europhilic wine bar that looks out on Chicago's Logan Square, turns one this month. And for the first year of its existence, the beverage program at Telegraph was largely focused on grape juice hailing from the Old World—with a handful of well-chosen beers and distillates behind the bar to round out the offerings. In other words, no cocktails. But on the eve of the big anniversary, that all changed.
In early July, Telegraph's award-winning sommelier, Jeremy Quinn, and its general manager, Dave Deal, launched the restaurant's debut cocktail menu—a focused affair that consists of three thoughtfully composed aperitif-based drinks. Quinn and Deal collaborated on the cocktail development, drawing from the rare and intriguing products they'd already been sourcing for the broader beverage program. Their goal was to create complex yet approachable cocktails that paired well with chef Johnny Anderes's food, suited the season at hand, and felt of a piece with Telegraph's wine program. Indeed, Quinn and Deal said that part of the reason Telegraph abstained from cocktails for so long was to firmly and clearly establish its identity as a wine bar.
Well, these drinks not only were worth the wait, they dovetail swimmingly with the larger thrust of the ambitious wine selection.
The Brownsville Girl ($10, photograph at top) pairs an elegant calvados from Normandy with an Italian sweet white vermouth made in Piedmont. Bittermens celery shrub bitters and lemon juice add brightness and a vegetal aroma to the continental accents of the apple brandy and velvety fortified wine. Quinn wanted to play with the complementary flavors of apple and celery with this drink, and the result is tart, fruity, and refreshing, yet with a lingering depth that speaks to the complexity of its bases.
The straw-colored "white" vermouth (which is not the same as dry vermouth) is the brainchild of winemaker and chemist Mauro Vergano, who starts with dry Moscato and Cortese wines and augments them with bittering agents and numerous herbs, including thyme, marjoram, basil, and oregano. The Julien Frémont calvados (pictured above) is distilled from a variety of ciders, which in turn are made from apples grown on Frémont's property in the Pays d'Auge.
The centerpiece of the Henry Porter cocktail ($10) is "La Garrocha," a fino sherry from Bodegas Grant that only recently has become available in Chicago. The Henry Porter also includes Hayman's Old Tom gin, Bittermens orange cream citrate, and a glass rinsed with green absinthe.
Fino sherries can range from savory to sweet to dry, owing to the unique production methods employed to make them; La Garrocha is aged with a particularly thick flor, leaving it fragrantly floral, largely unoxidized, and slightly sweet—nice groundwork on which to add malty Old Tom. The combination creates a nutty, round result with a pleasing underlying sweetness.
Honors for most refreshing summer sipper of the list surely goes to the Pompadour ($10), a blend of El Dorado five-year aged rum from Guyana, Niessen blanc rhum agricole from Martinique, J. Navarre rosé Pineau des Charentes, and Bittermens mole bitters. As in the other cocktails, the aperitif is the heaviest pour here, leading to a beautifully nuanced, palate-pleasing libation. Flavors of black and chai tea come through, along with molasses and cocoa.
Telegraph's Pompadour is a spin on an older cocktail of the same name, popularized at the Ritz Hotel in Paris during the 1920s and '30s. But the duo of rums and touch of mole bitters give the drink a subtle Tiki twist. But still by way of France, of course.