The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

New Spring Cocktail Menu Debuts at Longman & Eagle

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Mar 14, 2011 6:00PM

Derek Alexander and his colleagues minding the bar at Logan Square's Longman & Eagle are unveiling a stunning set of new cocktails as part of a broader overhaul of the beverage menu. Not to worry, L&E's cherished whiskey collection isn't going away; the menu change - apart from the new drinks for spring that will be tagging out some of the hot winter cocktails - is largely textual in nature.

The updated cocktail menu will run two pages, up from half a page, to accommodate brief but telling notes on each drink. Alexander, who leads the talented crew behind the stick at L&E, explained to us recently that the accompanying literature will reveal the thoughts and stories that contributed to a given cocktail's creation.

Among the new additions for spring is the Bitter Bourbon Buck. Don't let the name fool you, this drink is a fresh, pleasing lean toward the warmer days and brighter colors ahead. Its base spirit is Benchmark, a young bourbon from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Fernet Branca lends a note of bitter, while gomme syrup, lime juice and a splash of ginger beer lead a pacific charge of sweetness, citrus and spicy heat. (Alexander has graciously shared the recipe, below.)

Also joining the list is Right Up My Alley, an all-spirits affair which Alexander developed to answer patrons' orders for something "brown and stirred." Thoughtful bartenders take these open-ended requests more as challenges, and, in our humble opinion, Alexander now wields the trump card. (Right Up My Alley got its name from a satisfied customer.) With five rich and robust courses - bonded Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar amaro, Bonal Gentiane-Quina, Carpano Antica red vermouth and Peychaud's bitters - this thing drinks like a meal. The Bonal - a French quinquina digestif made from grape must, bark and gentian - is herbaceous, arboreal and mildly sweet; that sweetness buoys the cocktail's deeper, richer flavors. The stirred-and-strained result is sublimely rounded and complex without being muddled or heavy.

Although we haven't tried it yet, we're likewise excited for the forthcoming Blackthorn cocktail. Over the years a number of cocktails have laid claim to that moniker, but L&E's adaptation riffs on a whiskey-and-absinthe version. According to Alexander, theirs will feature sloe gin, red vermouth, and dashes of absinthe and bitters.

An alum of Blackbird and the Bristol, Alexander is a rare breed of barman. You could say the informative new menu marginalia pay homage to what were once the essential tools to the profession: wit, storytelling and a welcoming spirit. He draws influence not just from the great alchemists of pre-Prohibition, but also the Japanese ethic of hospitality. Alexander's extensive travels through the country (whose people remain in our thoughts) revealed a bar culture dedicated to perfectly made cocktails complemented by a level of service second to none. His exposure to Far Eastern flavors often materializes in Longman & Eagle's drinks; for example, when the Yuzu Toddy ends its run, an intriguing cocktail featuring Chartreuse and matcha (green tea powder) will appear to replace it.

Lately, Alexander has undertaken to visit many of North America's best eating and drinking cities, both to stay on top of what his peers are up to and to reach a deeper understanding of premium hospitality. We're hoping his travels inspire more winners like this spring's lineup.

Bitter Bourbon Buck

1 1/2 ounces Benchmark bourbon
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/2 ounce lime juice
Barspoon gomme syrup
Ginger beer

Combine first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a tall glass with ice cubes. Top to the brim with ginger beer.

Longman & Eagle is located at 2657 North Kedzie Avenue.