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Shift Drink Cocktail Night at WaterShed Bar Channels '80s Flavor

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Apr 5, 2011 9:00PM

A standing-room-only crowd descended on WaterShed Bar Monday night for its inaugural stint as host of the monthly cocktail series Shift Drink. Held on the first Monday of each month, Shift Drink pairs a chef with a mixologist and charges them with devising a creative menu of cocktails and serving them up for the event. This month Sepia's chef, Andrew Zimmerman, and head bartender, Josh Pearson, collaborated on a cheeky menu of four signature drinks that turned a favorable light onto some of cocktail history's dimmer nooks.

The menu's inspiration, as Pearson explained it, was bad '80s cocktails; it featured a Blue Mutha, a Harvey Wallbanger, a Cosmopolitan and a Coffee Old Fashioned. Each was turned on its head - i.e., improved upon - with fresh juices, tweaked spirits, homemade bitters and other secret ingredients.

Case in point, Pearson's Blue Mutha: North Shore Gin #11, Olmeca Altos tequila, Combier triple sec, grenadine, Blue CuraƧao "fluid gel" and a float of rum-and-coke bitters. To prep this one, the fluid gel - very blue indeed - gets squeezed onto the walls of the drink glass before the shaken ingredients go in. (Think blue leg-warmers over green tights.) And the recipe? Pearson chuckled at the question; home bartenders would need to drop serious coin on machinery and materials, he said, to replicate the more arcane ingredients. It was bold and citrusy and surprisingly complex, but something tells us the Blue Mutha rocks too hard for Sepia; we may have witnessed its one and only performance.

The duo updated the traditional Harvey Wallbanger with Bols Genever Dutch gin in place of vodka, and used Death's Door gin, from Wisconsin, for their rendition of the Cosmo (using local spirits when possible is WaterShed's ethos). Zimmerman conceived the Coffee Old Fashioned, which combines Pampero Anniversario Rum (which Pearson employs to great effect in Sepia's Caracas Manhattan) and coffee bitters, and is finished with orange peel. The chef is a thoughtful mixologist in his own right, not to mention deft with a bar spoon; this stirred drink was deep and playful - notes of molasses and citrus fruit tangoed with phantom flavors of coffee liqueur.

Shift Drink may be billed as "an industry night dedicated to Chicago's hard-working kitchen and restaurant staff," but there's no reason everyone else can't enjoy the festivities, too. With drinks this good flowing, we'll certainly be keeping it on our radar.

WaterShed is located at 601 North State Street, beneath Pops for Champagne.