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You can experience the science behind mixing cocktails in Nevada’s bigger cities.
Photo: Charlie Johnston (all)
Sake, vodka, green tea liqueur, and salted cherry blossom. Wow! Whatever happened to good ol’ Budweiser in the can? But at the Tender Bar in Tokyo (the subject of a September 2008 article in bon appétit), that’s what cocktail hour entails. Since its Japanese beginning nearly 100 years ago, the mixology phenomenon has spread across the globe. Its latest incarnation takes the concept of a cocktail to a new level—far beyond the Manhattans and gin martinis we know so well. We have entered a new era in alcohol, one with drinks whose ingredient lists read like an intricate dessert recipe. While Japan may be the originator, Nevada has to be on the mixology map somewhere, I thought. We have Charlie Palmer and Bobby Flay for Pete’s sake. So I set out to see what Nevada has to offer.
Reno’s Atlantis has the only certified mixologist in Northern Nevada, Erik Tirums, and he’s kicking it up a notch for the property’s Seafood Steakhouse, expected to be renovated by late summer. “We are pushing the envelope a little,” he says. “We are going to molecular mixology—to the chemicals—separating fats into dust so they can be used as a cocktail rim and marrying different temperatures, such as a frozen gin fizz with a hot gin foam. It really creates a new experience.”
Tirums says the hot trend at Bistro Napa’s bar is bringing back the classics with a modern twist. He pours me a Hibiscus Manhattan. The bourbon is Basil Hayden, and the decorative flower was flown in from Australia. As the amber libation flows into my mouth, my first sense is warmth, followed by subtle sweetness, and finally the taste buds on the back of my tongue sing out in chorus, “Hallelujah, bourbon is back!”
Award-winning mixologist Patricia Richards calls Las Vegas home. She oversees more than 25 bars at the Wynn and Encore Las Vegas properties. She says mixology is about having a “discerning power to know quality spirits versus non-quality spirits.” At Sinatra restaurant, inside Encore, she created the Sinatra Smash. It blends fresh blackberries with sweet and sour, Sonoma vanilla-infused simple syrup, crème de cassis, and Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey. “Any girl who doesn’t like whiskey [will still] love this cocktail,” Richards says.
At Charlie Palmer, inside Grand Sierra Resort, Barry Rockburn muddles basil leaves with simple syrup and vodka in the Basil Martini. The earthiness of the herb creates the depth while the sugar brings you back up for air and back to the bar for another round. Fellow taster Melissa Batchelder says, “It tastes like…” and then purrs while clawing at the air with her pretend paw. About another drink, the 775, Neda Iranpour says, “It’s a local’s drink. You’re just so proud to order it.”
Lou DiAngelo of Roxy’s, inside the Eldorado, is making his own flavor-infused vodkas. He puts anything from espresso beans to cantaloupe chunks into a jar of vodka and lets it meld for a few days. One of the best cocktails I try is cantaloupe vodka, soda, and a touch of 7/11. He’s also pouring a mojito with absinthe. Absinthe used to be illegal in the U.S. because of its alleged hallucinogenic qualities. In my opinion, it should remain illegal because of its taste.
A few blocks south of the casino district, we head into Frank Perez’s Polo Lounge. It’s wall-to-wall people, so my group is ushered up to his private office—a loft where zebra skin couches, dark green walls, and pictures of famous faces all blend together to make the perfect parlor.
Bartender Shawn Waldron stirs up new cocktails based on customers’ personal tastes. “It’s like asking them how they like their steak,” he says. He personalizes his mixology, but he’s becoming well known for one drink in particular, Liquid Sex. It’s a delightful combination of vanilla vodka, Chambord (raspberry liqueur), Grand Marnier (orange liqueur), and cranberry juice. After a few of those, I was grateful my husband had come along as my designated driver. On the ride home, I relaxed into my seat assured that mixology is alive and well in Nevada.
In the article in which I read about those exotic ingredients of sake, green tea liqueur, and salted cherry blossom, the author divulged that he had a hangover the next day and went for tempura. That’s Japan. This is Nevada. While the hangover is the same, I’m headed for a chili-cheese omelet.
3800 S. Virginia St., Reno
Grand Sierra Resort
2500 E. 2nd St., Reno
Encore Las Vegas
3121 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
1559 S. Virginia St., Reno
Eldorado Hotel Casino
345 N. Virginia St., Reno
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.