What if I told you one of the best-selling cocktails at my bar was made with carrot juice? Like many of the guests who sit in front of me, you’d think I was hopping mad. But it’s true, and to understand why I mix Bugs Bunny’s dietary staple with booze, you need to take a brief trip down memory lane with me.
A few years ago I was mixing drinks and using only color association, sticking to one-hued ingredients. As a lapsed painter, my therapy is working through this sabbatical or block of mine with a foot firmly shoved in a “taste the rainbow” kind of door. This also coincided with a phase of exploring vegetables in cocktails, which sounds pretty strange until you give them a go. My thought process was, how can I get a dose of something curative in my daily cocktail, oh sorry, I mean “remedy.” I figured that osmosis would balance the two out and leave me with less guilt for my indulgence.
A few of my experiments included bitter green melon with mint and Midori, yellow beets with turmeric and amber ale, rhubarb with rosewater and sparkling rosé. By far, though, my most often tinkered with combination was and still is carrots with Aperol — it’s got long long legs and then some.
Both ingredients have a glorious, brightly hued, slap-you-in-the-eyes orange color that demands to be noticed in a dining room, and their flavors are incredibly complementary. What’s Aperol? The Wikipedes will tell you it’s an Italian aperitif (a drink to whet your appetite — literally it causes you to salivate, thus making you hungry). Aperol is made using a combination of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and several other secret botanicals. It’s those bitter orange and herbaceous notes that bring out the earthy qualities of carrots, and vice versa.
A classic cocktail using it would be the Aperol spritz, one of comedy queen Chelsea Handler’s obsessions of last summer. Containing 2 parts Aperol, 4 parts sparkling wine such as prosecco, and 1 part soda water, it gets served on the rocks in a wine glass. It’s light, refreshing, won’t get you tipsy before dinner and has the bonus side effect of encouraging your body to produce both saliva and enzymes to assist in digestion, though unlike me you might not want to think too much about bodily secretions as you drink it.
An Aperol spritz is a category of drink that is called “sessionable,” meaning you can have two to three in a session without getting tipsy. Perfect for lightweights, myself included these days, who want to enjoy an evening out without feeling the pain and moroseness of that dreaded loutish gate crasher, Mrs. McCrankypants the hangover, the next day.
Most of my cocktail menus include at least one if not two of these lightweight, session-style drinks. The current carrot Aperol concoction blowing all other refreshments out of the water at Accomplice is our riff on the aforementioned Aperol spritz, using equal parts fresh carrot juice and Aperol, tarted up with Japanese yuzu and sparkling yuzu sake. Cardamom and a wee drop of vanilla create depth and complexity. Just-for-fun garnish comes in the form of an abundance of almost cherubic carrot curls and flowering broccoli to make you feel even less wicked for partaking in a tipple.
1 ½ oz. carrot juice
1 ½ oz. Aperol
¾ oz. yuzu juice (or lemon juice as an alternative)
½ oz. simple syrup (1:1 ratio sugar to hot water; cool before using)
2 dashes Scrappy’s cardamom bitters
1 drop vanilla extract
1 ½ oz. Banzai Bunny (yes another bunny) sparkling yuzu sake or similar
Add all ingredients except the sake into your shaker tin with 2 or 3 ice cubes.
Shake hard for 5 seconds, then pour the sake into the tin. Strain into an ice-filled vessel of your choice; we use a stemless wine glass.
Top with shaved carrot and flowering broccoli if available.