The Right Dose at Roosevelt
When Isaac Smith needs a name for a new cocktail, he steps into his library, located only a few steps away from his bar at Roosevelt, where floor-ceiling bookshelves span the entire length of the space. He jots down titles of books that he thinks might make interesting cocktail names, later marrying them to a recipe that fits that title. Behind the bar, he operates much the same way: he finds a spirit that he likes, then finds a way to build a cocktail around it — in a unique way. That’s what he did for a drink he named the Right Dose ($10), which contains a Brazilian sugar cane spirit, sloe gin, coconut water, lime juice and raw sugar.
“My creative process is finding a spirit that I like and finding ways to utilize it in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Smith says. The bartender has a lot of room for inspiration at Roosevelt, considering the sheer number of both books and bottles that line the shelves on both sides of the bar.
Like selecting a good book from a shelf, Smith pulls a bottle from his liquor library, cracks it open, and tries to tell its story. In the case of the Right Dose, the bottle he selected to begin his story was filled with cachaca. “It’s made from sugar cane juice,” Smith says, “which is what separates it from rum, which is made from molasses. So, it has a cleaner taste profile.”
Smith chose Leblon cachaca, which is even more unique in that after distillation, it’s aged for six months in barrels that previously held Cognac. Smith feels that the barrel-aging helps to mellow out the spirit, smoothing any rough edges. “A lot of cachacas can be really hard on the nose,” he continues. “Leblon has a fruitiness to it. It’s really good stuff. I like this brand a lot.”
Like any good novel, a recipe has a design. Smith’s drink started with an interest in using cachaca, so he based his recipe on the drink most closely associated with it: the Caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, which contains cachaca, lime juice and sugar.
“I like to go straight to the classics,” Smith says, “and this is a perfect example. Cachaca is kind of an obscure spirit, but I wanted to introduce people to it and kind of educate them. It’s unfortunate that it’s kind of confined to a Caipirinha.” He sees that recipe, however, as the natural gateway into the enjoyment of cachaca, and he wanted to pull people though that gateway and into new experiences of the spirit that he loves.
In the Right Dose, Smith blends the tastes of both hot and cold climates: the tropical flavors of cachaca, lime and coconut water with the warming, wintry flavors of sloe gin, a liqueur flavored with the fruit of the blackthorn bush, often called sloe berries. “The sloe berry is a relative of the plum,” Smith says. “It kind of gives you that spiciness, a little tartness.”
“Originally, sloe gin was consumed during the winter, so it kind of has that seasonal flavor profile," Smith continues. "It’s one of my favorite spirits. It’s something that is very under-utilized.”
Fruity gins have been made for a long time in England, the birthplace of Plymouth sloe gin — the only brand of this liqueur he uses. “I particularly like Plymouth,” he says, “because it has boldness. It’s very juniper-forward. It’s real clean-tasting and not as artificial as a lot of the other ones on the market can be.”
Along with the small, purple sloe berries, Plymouth is also distilled with juniper, coriander seed, citrus peel, green cardamom, angelica root and orris root.
To make the drink, Smith squeezes half a lime into a shaker tin, then drops a Demerara sugar cube into the fresh juice, crushing it until it dissolves. The sugar he uses is processed differently than white granulated sugar; in fact, it’s less refined than granulated sugar, which makes it popular with chefs and bartenders. “It has a clean taste,” Smith says, “because it’s not as processed. I really wanted to make a clean, crisp and refreshing cocktail, but also to respect the Caipirinha recipe.”
Demerara sugar in named after a region of Guyana, where it was first produced in high volume; it’s now made mostly on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Basically, Demerara is an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane juice — the same base ingredient from which cachaca is made. The cubes are chunky and irregularly shaped, made of large, pale brown crystals. It’s made by steaming fresh sugar cane juice to form a thick syrup which dries and leaves behind those large, coarse crystals, full of warm toffee flavors.
After the sugar has dissolved, Smith adds the cachaca and sloe gin, adding a half ounce of coconut water. “I use coconut water to kind of mellow out the tartness of the sloe gin, and add a tiki element to the cocktail,” Smith says.
After adding ice and shaking, Smith strains the cocktail over fresh ice, garnishing it with the spent lime that he squeezed at the beginning of the process.
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Smith is proud of giving his drink the right doses of two different seasons, bringing together two spirits that would normally never be found in the same glass — or even on the same backbar. “I like to do very fruit-forward, or citrus-forward cocktails,” he says. “But, I’m not going to mimic the speakeasies. At Roosevelt, we want to stay relevant to the bar culture that has evolved into what it is now. We want to make approachable craft cocktails.”
Roosevelt’s drink menu is printed in hardcover — much like a novel. To order a cocktail, you flip through the pages, as if reading a story. While you enjoy your drink, you can wander over to the shelves crammed with books and peruse the titles. You might just find one that gave it’s name to the cocktail you’re drinking.
The Right Dose
1.5 ounces. Leblon cachaca
.5 ounce Plymouth sloe gin
.5 ounce coconut water
1 demerara sugar cube
Juice of half a lime
Press the juice from one half of a lime in to a shaker tin. Drop in one demerara sugar cube and muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the cachaca, sloe gin and coconut water. Add ice and shake. Put the pressed lime half into a glass, add ice and strain the contents of the shaker tin over the ice.