Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at Mizuna
When you least expect it, that’s when it sneaks up on you. Ideas often come at the worst times: you’re driving on the highway, in a meeting, or you can’t find a pen to write down your latest inspiration. That’s what happened to Austin Carson, bar manager at Mizuna. “I was in the shower,” he says. “All my best ideas happen in the shower.” So, that’s where he was when he came up with his latest cocktail, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, one of a collection of innovative cocktails currently on his drink menu.
He’d been browsing cocktail recipes earlier in the week, and saw one that used raspberry-infused cachaca. When he saw kale during a trip to Whole Foods, he made a mental note to try juicing it, and adding it to a cocktail. Those ideas were percolating in his mind when he stepped into the shower. Suddenly, the idea for the recipe came together while he was listening to Wilco, one of his favorite bands.
“I listen to a lot of music.” Carson says, “What happens a lot is that I’ll have these ideas for cocktails — these germinal, skeletal ideas — and if that happens while I’m listening to an album, I’ll name the drink after that song.” His recipe for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot contains raspberry-infused cachaca, clarified pineapple juice, pineapple gum, kale juice, orange blossom water and lemon juice.
“I wanted to use cachaca,” Carson says. He’s a big fan of tiki drinks, but wanted to avoid heavier rums, which are often made from molasses. “I wanted to bring this tiki influence, without going the rum route.”
To start the cocktail, Carson infuses a quart of cachaca, a clear spirit from Brazil made from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice, with a quart of fresh raspberries, letting the two mingle for about two weeks. He tastes it each day, assessing the flavor. When he likes it, he drains the liquor and gives the boozy raspberries to the kitchen, where they're often made into sorbet.
Next comes the kale juice, which he prepares every other day at Mizuna. “It takes a remarkable amount of kale to get a half an ounce of kale juice,” he says. He mixes a little watercress with the kale as he’s juicing, to add more of that bright green color, and a little bit of cachaca to the juice, which extends its shelf-life.
Carson’s pineapple gum begins with pineapple juice. “I take pineapple juice and I clarify it,” he explains. “Clarifying is just the process of removing solids.” The process strips away the solids in the juice, leaving behind a lighter, smoother liquid. To do this, he uses agar, a jelly-like substance obtained from algae. Agar consists of long chains of molecules that become untangled when heated in water, bonding with the solid bits in Carson’s pineapple juice. After straining out those solids, a clear liquid is left behind.
Carson thickens the clarified juice with xanthan gum, which is actually a powder, commonly used as a thickening agent in a variety of foods. To the clarified, thickened juice, he adds a few drops of orange blossom water. “About 5 drops per pint,” Carson says. “It’s just a secondary, subtextual flavor that makes it’s way into the cocktail by virtue of the fact that it’s so potent.”
Carson shakes all of the ingredients, including a full ounce of lemon juice, into a shaker tin filled with ice, then strains it into a into a copper mug over fresh ice and garnishes with a pineapple wedge.
“I’ve been using them a fair amount recently,” Carson says of the copper mugs. “I really like a vessel that will keep a drink cold, so I can prevent dilution of the ice.” The copper, Carson says, is a great conductor of temperature, and helps to keep the drink colder for a longer period of time. “I can sort of mitigate that dilution through the use of a vessel like this,” he adds.
If you’re drinking this cocktail, Carson suggests pairing it with Mizuna’s glazed pork belly appetizer ($13), served with Anson Mills grits, a soft-poached egg and fava beans. “I like cocktails with a heavy acidic component to pair with rich dishes,” he says, “and the pork belly is my favorite thing on the menu right now.”
“My palate seems to be very structural,” Carson says. His background is actually wine, and that’s how he got started at Mizuna, coming on board as a sommelier in May 2013. But when the position of bar manager opened up last January, he decided to move from wine to cocktails.
“I always had interest in it,” he says of mixology. “My brain likes new projects, and new subcategories of the beverage business.” He found that he liked to shake cocktails, and fell in love with tiki drinks. “Since I got into this,” he says, “I err more toward the shaken and fun and whimsical cocktails. Daiquiris and margaritas are my favorite cocktails to make. I love tiki drinks and I like people to have fun.”
“I love it,” he says, of his new role behind the bar. “It’s so much fun. I absolutely love it.”
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He also loves music, which gives him an endless source for new cocktail names. He has tickets to see Wilco at Red Rocks this summer, where he’ll probably hear songs from their album Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. When he does, he’ll probably be thinking of his next cocktail.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2 ounces raspberry infused Leblon cachaca
.75 ounce fresh pineapple juice
.5 ounce pineapple gum
.5 ounce fresh kale juice
1 ounce lemon juice
Orange blossom water
Pour all ingredients into a shaker tin filled with ice. Shake, and strain into a copper mug filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a pineapple wedge.