Smile Politely

New fall cocktail menus make a splash downtown

For many, fall means cooler weather and the changing colors of trees, but for the cocktail aficionados who work behind your favorite bars, it means turning over a new leaf with their cocktail lists. In the past few weeks, new cocktails appeared at bacaro and Big Grove Tavern, and while Seven Saints prepares a few new specials that will rotate during the fall, Mike n’ Molly’s is getting close to revamping their cocktail menu, too.

So what’s on the new lists?

bacaro’s new House Cocktails list contains four fall cocktails, mostly based on classics: Champagne Cocktail, Pink Lady, Betsy Ross, and Beer and a Smoke ($8–9). Due to bacaro’s seasonal cognizance, these may only stick around for a few months until winter or spring cocktails roll in, but there’s a version of a classic cocktail for every mood.

The Champagne Cocktail has been around in print since 1862, and there’s a reason this classic still exists. It’s a little sweet from the sugar cube, a little tangy from the cherry bitters, and the sparkling wine provides a bit of bubbly to lift your mood or to help you celebrate if you’re already in a good one. And at bacaro, they complete the drink with a morello cherry, a dark red cherry with deeper and more complex flavors than your average cocktail cherry.

On the other end of the cocktail spectrum is their Beer and a Smoke. You may only want one of these a night, but if you like a little adventure and prefer a savory drink, try this beer-and-mezcal-based cocktail. Mezcal, like tequila, is a spirit distilled from agave; however, the makers of mezcal roast the agave leaves underground, resulting in an intensely smoky flavor. (Thus, the smoke in the “Beer and a Smoke.”) The beer, a Scrimshaw Pilsner beer, from North Coast Brewing Company, adds a grassy, herbal flavor to the drink. With the addition of lime juice, celery bitters, and hot sauce, this results in a truly interesting drink, but one without any sweet notes. Expect it to really remind you a bit of a beer and a smoke.

The two other cocktails on their menu to try are the Pink Lady (a gin and applejack drink) and Betsy Ross (a classic 1950s brandy and port drink).

Big Grove Tavern’s cocktail list saw the largest shift this fall, with eight new fall cocktails on the menu: Pear & Lemongrass Martini, Armagnac Sidecar, Smoky Mirror, Rock Toddy, Rum Old Fashioned, Godfather Harris, Herbs & Endive, and Busey Bramble ($7–9). Some of these also inherit names and recipe bases from classic drinks like Sidecars, Old Fashioneds, Godfathers, but the bartenders also added their own twists to the drinks.

The Godfather Harris, for example, is based off of a scotch and amaretto drink called the “Godfather,” but bartenders add a much-needed citrus twist to brighten and balance the cocktail. The menu notes that the drink pays “homage to H.H. Harris, who watches over our bar.”

The traditional sidecar contains cognac (a type of brandy). This Sidecar replaces Cognac with Armagnac, another type of brandy from Southern France that is made in column stills instead of pot stills like the traditional cognac. Besides Delord Napoleon Armagnac, the drink also contains Cointreau, fresh lemon, sugar rim, and a flamed orange, all producing a slightly sweet, but well-balanced cocktail.

Another cocktail on the menu, the Smoky Mirror, could be ordered as much for its striking color as its flavor. The components, a Clos Amador Brut Nature NV Cava, crème de violet, crème de cassis, ginger ale, combine to create a bubbly, but subdued flavor — perfectly capable of serving as a repeat cocktail — and the crème de violet adds a purple tinge to create a smoky mirror color in the champagne flute. 

Although the remaining cocktails on the list are too many to detail, they serve something for most every palate.

While Seven Saints is currently transitioning between some previous special cocktails (like a stout cocktail that just went off special) and some new fall cocktails they will rotate in, they plan to serve a few Halloween-themed specials in the interim for the upcoming festivities.

I haven’t tried any of these yet, but the Morticia contains Tanqueray, Pernod, dry vermouth, sloe gin. With Tanqueray, a gin with juniper and licorice notes, and Pernod, an anise-flavored (licorice-like) liqueur, the Morticia will likely emphasize black licorice characteristics. Also on the list are the Killer Kool-Ade (vodka, amaretto, Malibu, sloe gin, Blue Curacao) and the Candy Corn infused martini (with pineapple juice).

  Photo: Anne Clark, Seven Saints

Finally, Mike n’ Molly’s has plans in work to revamp their cocktail menu with a variety of new, affordable, and interesting cocktails. Although no official plans have been announced, I’m pretty sure this will be a list to watch in the upcoming months.

While fall may mean packing away your tank tops and short sleeves and pulling out your jackets, it also can mean visiting your downtown Champaign bars for some new, limited-time drinks that you’ve never tried before. Check them out soon while the leaves are still changing colors, but perhaps don’t try them all in the same night.

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