There was a time in New Jersey when you'd have to drive into NYC for an interesting cocktail. No longer. New Jersey mixologists are creating a national following with their flavor-driven creations. Even small-town cocktail lounges are emulating a big city intellect as mixology ideas flow from behind the bar.
We visited with a two local mixologists who are creating fall-centric cocktails in the Garden State.
Chakra Restaurant, Paramus
Paramus is a bedroom community to NYC. This area of Bergen County is one of the most affluent in all of New Jersey, if not the country. The young, moneyed resident base demands some very sophisticated drinks for their (formerly) big city thirsts.
Chakra mixologist/sommelier/owner Evelyn Ciszak is uncompromising with the handmade elements she uses in her internationally-inspired cocktails. She believes that filtered water ensures a great ice cube, as does freshly squeezed juices to add spark and acidity.
Her signature fall drink-the Cherry Blossom cocktail-features handcrafted flavors such as opulent brandied cherries, freshly squeezed lime juice, fresh mint and small-production Brazilian cachaça to add new depth in this intensely flavorful cocktail reminiscent of a Caipirinha.
Evelyn takes muddled hunks of lime and sugar, and then goes further by the addition of brandied cherries and more citrus juice and sugar. These sweet and tangy flavors act as an anchor to the sharply delineated aromatics of the artisan cachaça. The drink doesn't taste hot from the alcohol; all the flavors are tied to the spark of the citrus fruit. This is the perfect cocktail for the type of cuisine that Chakra cooks-a world regional menu with Asian overtones.
PHOTO: WARREN BOBROW
Watermark: Asbury Park
Asbury Park is suddenly hot! [Somebody phone The Boss. -Ed.] This extremely diverse town with many year-round residents features an eclectic mix of ex-pats from NYC and an exciting, affluent crowd from surrounding towns.
These customers demand a certain level of flavor in adventuresome cocktails that seek to blow the lid off the myth that "you cannot get a great cocktail in New Jersey." Asbury Park has awakened from the bad old days (that would be the '60s through '90s) to a rediscovery of fashion, styles and creativity. New restaurants and cocktail lounges have popped up overnight in this still mostly undeveloped beach town just an hour from Manhattan.
Watermark, the four-year-old lounge/tapas bar is located right on the Asbury Park boardwalk. They mix it up nightly in the form of creative, handcrafted cocktails. Lindsey Diana, formerly of NYC, is the mixologist behind the broad, modern bar. She is passionate and pragmatic about her "mostly made from scratch" ingredients.
"We're enthusiastic about juices and scratch-prepared ingredients here," she says. "We make our own syrups and infusions-everything that we can possibly do by hand we will. Our cocktails are different from other places' because we take that extra step necessary in regard to flavor!"
Russell Lewis, owner of Watermark, describes the tangy acidity of Watermark's freshly extracted juices as the key to setting his lounge ahead of "typical" cocktail bars that might not have such a high standards for flavor. He stresses the flavor characteristics of the cocktails as "essential" and "mandatory" to "achieve our goal of offering the best for our customers' experience."
The multi-page cocktail list is testament to their commitment. Each drink speaks clearly of the bar's engagement with the customer. They offer a series of infused liquors and prepare tea-infused spirits in house. Every flavor is true thanks to the provenance to the high-quality ingredients.
Lindsey states that rum is her favorite ingredient. "It's so versatile! Dark, light, aged, even spiced-each has its own unique terroir and flavor. "Rum is like an instant vacation in a glass," says Lindsey with a smile.
PHOTO: WARREN BOBROW
Her Red Harvest, a tip of the hat to author Dashiell Hammett, is clearly one of her favorites. She combines 12-year-old Flor de Caña Centenario rum from Nicaragua and freshly pressed apple and lemon juices with her house-made spicy ginger beer, Petit Canne (sugarcane syrup from Martinique) and a splash of intensely aromatic allspice liquor. Shaken in a cocktail shaker until frothy, the cocktail is served on the rocks in a tall, narrow glass that focuses the perfumed blast of freshly squeezed lemon juice directly into the imbiber's memory.
courtesy of Lindsey Diana
1.5 oz. Flor de Caña Centenario12 Year Old Rum
1oz. Apple Cider
.75 oz. lemon juice
.5 oz. ginger beer
.5 oz. cane syrup
Dash St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
Apple slice garnish