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Low-Proof: Discover The World's Aperitifs At Kinmont

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Sep 9, 2014 8:30PM

Whispering Bloom” made with Lillet Rose vermouth, Suze, and Bar Keep lavender bitters

If you’ve had a cocktail at Kinmont (419 W Superior St.), you may have ordered a low-proof drink without even knowing it. Kinmont’s low-proof cocktails are low-profile: they look and often taste just like heavier drinks. But their low-proof qualities make them the perfect drink to ease into a meal of things like soft-scrambled eggs with roe and smoked whitefish on hearty bread. Or to be the last drink you have with a dessert like silky cheesecake with dots of blueberry brightness.

Kinmont beverage director Jason Brown says “I always try to have an aperitif cocktail on the menu. It’s very very important- we are a bar and a restaurant, we want to be able to ease people into a meal and into their dining experience.” I started my last meal at Kinmont with their latest low-proof drink “Whispering Bloom” made with Lillet Rose vermouth, suze (a bitter apertif from France), and Bar Keep lavender bitters. It looked similar to a stirred drink like an Old Fashioned and it had that type of drink’s full body, but unlike an Old Fashioned I was able to drink it on an empty stomach without becoming drunk almost immediately.

Brown also admits he has to think about things like this “I’m not getting any younger and my days of throwing back multiple sazeracs have gone. I have to think a lot more about what I’m ingesting.”

Jason Brown
Maybe that explains why the Kinmont low-proof drinks taste like something a bartender would drink. They serve as a showcase for many lighter spirits and amaros that sometimes take the backseat to higher proof spirits. “I try to be as approachable as possible - look for beautiful bright flavors and a bittering agent and find a harmony between them. Complexity is difficult to achieve and I see why people overshoot it with dilution, ” Brown says.

Luckily the spirits he’s using happen to be on the rise in popularity. “Amaros are all the rage these days and aperitifs in general,” Brown says. For the uninitiated, aperitifs are drinks normally served before a meal. Unlike their post-meal cousins, the digestifs, they are typically dry and are meant to stimulate the appetite.

The cocktail that clued me on to Brown’s low-proof drinks was available late last winter, a beautiful drink made with house-made rhubarb bitters, cardamom and two vermouths - Lillet Blanc and Punt E Mes. I bought both of those vermouths for my own home bar shortly after.

Earlier this summer the low-proof drink was “Sea by Sea”, made with Cardamaro, a wine-based amaro, and Cocchi Americano, an aperitif wine. As for future low-proof drinks Brown says “I’m working on a cocktail with Bonal, a beautiful aperitif out of France with a lot of interesting flavors. It’s a higher-elevation aperitif with pine tones. It comes from the same region as chartesture.”

Kinmont’s low-proof drinks are fantastic for fitting into pairing with a meal there and also an amazing way to learn about the world’s aperitif offerings.

This is part of a series here at Chicagoist focusing on low-proof cocktails. We hope to highlight the best, so stay-tuned for further chapters in the Low-Proof series.