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If you cast your mind back a decade or more, you might be hard pressed to name bars in the Capital Region with really compelling hand-crafted cocktails that matched the mixology trend flourishing nationwide. If you spent time in any major city from New York City to Washington D.C. and L.A., chances are you sipped drinks at a bar counter crowded with bitters and tinctures or had a bespoke cocktail crafted to the three adjectives describing your current mood. Word-of-mouth speakeasies are no longer the underground backbone of the cocktail scene, but their legacy is visible on cocktail menus powered by foraged ingredients, vegetal spirits and spices more common in a kitchen than a bar. In this new cocktail series, I’ll be tracking cocktail trends and showcasing a few beautifully balanced drinks you can find upstate.

The Earl Grey Marteani (see what they did there?) at MOSU Asian BBQ & Hot Pot in Colonie is topped with an egg-white foam.
The Earl Grey Marteani (see what they did there?) at MOSU Asian BBQ & Hot Pot in Colonie is topped with an egg-white foam.Photos by Susie Davidson Powell

The ingredient: TEA

Scan the seasonal cocktail list at Mosu and you’ll spot several tea-infused spirits like Lapsong Souchang-infused scotch whiskey in The Cure and tea-infused gin in an Earl Grey martini. Brewed tea is already a bar standard in classic cocktails like Planter’s Punch, but by using specific fragrant teas like Earl Grey, rose or matcha layer delicate, herbal notes without sweetness, and the flavor intensity can be controlled depending whether the tea is infused in the chosen spirit, brewed or used as a flavoring for simple syrup.

The drink: Earl Grey Marteani

Where to find it: MOSU Asian BBQ & Hot Pot, Wolf Road, Colonie

At Mosu, the Earl Grey Marteani is something like the love child of a French 75 and a Clover Club, cocktails that date back to the 1920s. Served in a coupe, the Earl Grey tea’s prominent bergamot and citrus flavors pair beautifully with gin, fresh squeezed lemon, a little raw sugar and a light egg-white froth.

The ingredient: BURRATA WATER

A few years back, the drinks world couldn’t get enough of aquafaba (the brine you usually drain from a can of chickpeas) as a vegan alternative to raw egg whites used to create a buoyant foam for cocktails. Then in 2019, Piper Kristensen, beverage director at Oxalis, Brooklyn, built a Breakfast Martini using burrata whey — the liquid byproduct from making the cheese — to boost texture. It’s high in protein, high in acidity and light in salinity, so the whey adds body to stirred drinks and creates an egg-white style foam when shaken.

The drink: Belt Line Burratatail

Where to find it: Belt Line 3, Hamilton Street, Albany,

Bar Manager Sam Haas, formerly of Poppy’s in Seattle, and General Manager Emmanual Treski formerly of Speakeasy 518 in Albany, collaborated on the cocktails, but Treski is behind the softly blackcurrant-hued gin cocktail using Old Tom, cassis liqueur, dry Curacao, lemon juice and lemon bitters, frothed with burrata whey. The result is silky and light without excessive sweetness.

The ingredient: LAVENDER & SUMAC

It’s not unusual to find Thai basil, fresh mint or flavored salts put to work as cocktail garnishes, but after a spike of interest in edible lavender in simple syrups and infused clear spirits, sumac gained traction in creating a cocktail buzz. Of course, sumac is a commonly used spice in Middle Eastern cooking and the popular lemony spice is not limited to use in the kitchen but also in booze. Since sumac is a powder it can have a grainy effect if not strained, but mezcal, gin and vodka all readily absorb the flavor profile, and even a small amount sprinkled over a drink delivers its tart astringency, much like a spritz of expressed lemon oils from lemon peel.

The drink: My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend

Where to find it: Nighthawks, Troy,

Nighthawks famously puts foraged ingredients and small-farm produce on its rotating hyper-seasonal, hyper-local weekly menu, so it’s not uncommon to see a hen-of-the-woods mushroom guest starring in a crunchy chicken sandwich or a hardworking cow heart or tongue gracing plates. Not surprisingly, the connection between kitchen and bar is close and bar manager Amanda Baker has been using sumac and lavender from Heermance Farm, Tivoli, in My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, a gin-based cocktail. Built with fresh blueberry puree from Samascott Orchard blueberries, a local lavender-sumac simple syrup, fresh lemon juice and a firm lavender-sumac foam, this feels like autumn in a glass. Though they didn’t forage the sumac this year, (executive chef Josh Colletto tells me they usually do), the arrival of fresh galangal, ginger and turmeric from a newly discovered local source means we can expect ongoing kitchen magic in the craft cocktails.

Source: Cocktail trends: Unique ingredients making Capital Region cocktail lists