THEIR names read like a lineup of bygone movies: La Pigalle, Ginger Douro, Rio Bourriquot. But they're some of the latest cocktails from Los Angeles mixologists. The featured ingredient? Ginger.
Ginger is suddenly making an appearance on cocktail menus all over town. It's ginger martinis at Literati II on the Westside, fizzy guava juice and ginger cocktails at the Foundry on Melrose in Hollywood or white Port steeped with peeled fresh ginger in Port-and-tonic refreshers at Il Grano in West L.A.
So why ginger?
"It's like starting with a clean palate," says the Foundry mixologist Eddie Perez.
"When you build your cocktail on top of fresh ginger, it brightens and really opens up, and keeps the flavors from getting muddy. Ginger is very floral, but you've also got that heat -- together they're what you're looking for [in a cocktail]."
Mixologists are muddling fresh ginger, infusing spirits with ginger or topping off their drinks with ginger beer.
Muddling enhances the bright, vibrant spiciness of fresh ginger. Perez recommends thinly slicing ginger, then mashing it firmly with the back of a spoon to release the most juice. To complement its flavor in his La Pigalle cocktail, he adds a floral, fragrant gin and sweetly perfumed guava juice, a few drops of herbal bitters and lemon and lime juices for balance. Straining keeps the cocktail from become too hot; a generous pour of sweet, effervescent ginger beer lightens the drink and adds its lingering hint of spice.
Ginger beer also tops the tropical take on the Dark 'n' Stormy at Craft in Century City. Beverage director David Lusby starts with the classic rum and ginger beer cocktail, adds plenty of fresh muddled ginger for kick, plus ginger-lemon simple syrup and a tropical combination of pineapple, orange and lemon juices. The ginger balances the sweetness, and the ginger beer adds enough depth and punch to make a summery drink perfect for early fall.
"I'm a 'hit you in the back of the nose' kind of ginger fan," Lusby says. "But in a cocktail, you don't want the kick to be so strong it interrupts the drink . . . you want to elevate the ginger flavor without overpowering it."
Adds the Foundry's Perez: "Ginger beer has enough sugar to balance the heat of fresh ginger. It's crisp, but doesn't have the same bite."
Literati II bartender Joe Roslan hooks a chewy ginger candy on the rim of a drink he calls the Gingertini, made with ginger-muddled vodka, lemon juice and freshly pressed apple juice. A splash of simple syrup takes the edge off the liberal 12 slices of muddled ginger.
Macerating ginger in spirits lends a subtle, delicate spice to cocktails. Peter Birmingham, sommelier and mixologist at Il Grano, infuses white Port or sweet white vermouth overnight, long enough to extract the gingery spice but not its bite. He gives it a simple tonic water topper with a squeeze of lemon, a perfect combination of pleasant bitterness followed by citrusy-sweetness with an underlying spice. He calls it the Ginger Douro.
That's more bucolic than the Rio Bourriquot -- Grace wine director and mixologist Eduardo Porto Carreiro's ginger-infused Caipirinha for fall. To the Brazilian spirit cachaça he adds lime juice and sugar, along with muddled, sliced ginger for kick and tops it off with club soda. How did it get its name? Porto Carreiro says it was inspired by two of his favorite cocktails, the Moscow Mule and the Caipirinha. So you have Rio (as in de Janeiro) instead of Moscow; bourriquot is French slang for donkey. (Get it?)
As for the name of Lusby's cocktail, "Dark 'n' Stormy just didn't fit for L.A., even in the fall," he says. The name? Bright 'n' Sunny.
Total time: 8 minutes
Note: From the Foundry on Melrose. Mixologist Eddie Perez suggests Hendrick's or Boodles gin. Guava nectar is available in well-stocked supermarkets.
2 ounces gin
1 slice ginger (about 1/8 -inch crosswise)
3 ounces guava nectar
Splash of lemon and lime juice
2 to 3 drops bitters
2 1/2 to 3 ounces ginger beer, to taste
1 sprig mint
Pour the gin into a cocktail shaker and add the ginger. Using a muddler or the back of a spoon, mash the ginger well. Add the guava juice, lemon and lime juices and bitters. Fill the shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into an ice-filled cocktail glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with mint.
Each serving: 220 calories; 0 grams protein; 23 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 0 mg. cholesterol; 9 mg. sodium.
Bright 'n' Sunny
Total time: 15 minutes
Note: From Craft Los Angeles. Elixir G is available at many liquor stores, or you may substitute ginger-lemon syrup. Craft beverage director David Lusby recommends Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia. The ginger-lemon simple syrup recipe makes enough for five cocktails.
3 tablespoons sugar
1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice