Spring took its time to arrive this year, and as this post goes live, a late season storm is on its way to make Angelenos wonder if the sun ever showed up at all. With Memorial Weekend only a couple of weeks away, the time is now for Drago Centro to debut its Spring Cocktail Menu. As before, Beverage Director Michael Shearin and Head Bartender Jaymee Mandeville have collaborated on the new list, which takes Drago Centro’s clientele into consideration and results in drinks that are consistently balanced and nuanced, rather than overpowering or spirit-forward.
Last night, Shearin invited me and Jessica Borges for a hosted preview of the new cocktails, ahead of a special menu launch event on Wednesday (see below). Thanks to a rare traffic-free rush hour drive to downtown, I arrived early enough to start with a Negroni, one of three Classici (along with the Americano and Venetian Spritz) featured alongside the signature creations on the spring menu. Jessica joined me not long after I took my first sip, and we dove right into the preview.
First was the American Graffiti: ROOT, Rock Sake Junmai Ginjo, Luxardo Morlacco, Bar Keep Baked Apple Bitters. Even though ROOT isn’t new to Drago’s back bar, the American Graffiti marks the first time it’s been featured in one of the cocktail menus. The herbaceous root beer liqueur and organic bitters (created for Bar Keep by Marshall Altier) make for an interesting flavor profile, with a retro-soda fountain style that should work well after dinner, daddy-o.
When Drago’s Winter Cocktail Menu debuted several months ago, fans of the brown stuff lamented the absence of a bourbon or rye-based cocktail. Fortunately, the spring menu features one of each, and if you’re like me you’ll want to try both. The Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Bulleit Rye, Cynar, Pineapple, Sage, Lemon) deftly balances the bold flavors of its ingredients to create a subtle and enjoyable sipper. Drink this one responsibly, but be aware of the crushed ice melting and watering down the cocktail.
Shearin is a native of North Carolina, and he lent his fantasy football team’s name to our next cocktail, Carolina’s Finest: Four Roses Bourbon, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, LAMILL Earl Grey Tea, Angostura Orange Bitters. As the cocktail opened up during the preview, its various elements were revealed in return sips, from the floral, sweet bourbon to the bitter amaro and the distinct Earl Grey in the finish.
Then came our favorite spring cocktail, the Green Flash: Sombra Mezcal, Marie Brizard Apry, Coconut Cream, Kiwi, Lime, Cilantro, Navan Infused Raisins. Shearin and Mandeville said the Green Flash is their favorite as well, and they were understandably proud of this one. Anchored by the smoky mezcal, balanced with bright fruit and citrus notes, with texture and body from the coconut cream, the Green Flash is going to be the hit of the seasonal menu. And even though Rachel Maddow may not approve, when my bartender tells me to eat the speared raisins soaked in Navan (Grand Marnier’s vanilla-infused cognac), I listen. I’ll do it again, too.
For a Disney fan like Shearin, naming the Maelstrom as a nod to the third Pirates movie was a no-brainer. Despite its ominous name, the Maelstrom (Dos Maderas 5+3 Rum, Ramazzotti, House Made Blueberry Thyme Syrup, Meyer Lemon) is hardly a destructive force of nature. The Green Flash was a tough act to follow, though the vanilla and caramel notes of the aged Caribbean rum and the orange-anise amaro did their best.
If it weren’t for the preview, it’s likely I would have overlooked the Orange Blossom Special: Karlsson’s Vodka, Harry’s Strawberries, Orange Blossom, Rose Water, Orange, Black Peppercorn. And that would’ve been a shame, since it’s such a light, fruity and dangerously sippable cocktail. Here’s hoping Drago starts selling it by the carafe when patio season is in effect.
They say every cocktail tells a story, so based on our next cocktail I’ll hazard a guess that Shearin is an Outkast fan. The So Fresh & So Clean is made with Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, Crème Yvette, Lillet Blanc, White Balsamic and Cucumber. Mandeville said the vinegar provides acidity, instead of having to rely on more common citrus ingredients. It’s an appropriate approach for the uniquely floral Nolet’s, which can be difficult to work with, but plays well with others here. So Fresh, So Clean…and So Good.
The Soothing Sedation (Tru Organic Gin, Bénédictine, House Made Blackberry Marmalade) took me somewhat by surprise. I was expecting a lighter, fruitier drink, but the Bénédictine imparts a nice bitterness that elevates the cocktail beyond its simple recipe.
For those who crave something savory and spicy, head straight for the Tomāto / Tomăto: Casa Noble Crystal Organic Tequila, Creole Shrubb, Cherry Tomatoes, House Made Ancho Chili Tincture, Lemon. Mandeville said that they’d been trying to work a tomato drink into the menu for some time, and the Tomāto / Tomăto is the result of a long development process. The blanco tequila is enhanced by the Creole Shrubb’s bitter orange and spicy kick, with even more heat from the tincture. It’s a standout for being different than the other spring cocktails, and a drink that would be at home in many of the city’s top agave dens.
And finally, the Verona Swizzle: Francoli Grappa, Velvet Falernum, Raspberry, Basil, Lime, Angostura Bitters. As colorful as a Pimm’s Cup in its appearance, the Verona Swizzle makes good use of the falernum to cut the fragrant grappa, while the fruit and basil offer balance to the frosty and refreshing tall drink.
Once again, Shearin and Mandeville have created a seasonal cocktail list with wide-ranging appeal. A shortened spring means Angelenos need to get to Drago Centro soon to check out the new menu, whether it’s the superb Green Flash, the savory and spicy Tomāto / Tomăto, or bright, refreshing drinks like the Orange Blossom Special and the Verona Swizzle.
To celebrate the launch of the Spring Cocktail Menu, Drago Centro will be offering drink specials on all of the new libations for one night only. The signature drinks (normally $12 each) will be specially priced at $8 after 5pm on Wednesday, May 18th.
Drago Centro Spring Cocktail Menu Launch
Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
5pm to close
Spring Cocktails: $8
525 S. Flower St., Suite 120
Los Angeles, CA