Reader: What are you drinking this summer? Any favorite cocktails?
Craig LaBan: I'm normally a brown-spirit drinker, but take a break when it gets hot. And it's allowed me to notice many of the creative things local mixologists have been making with lighter spirits that allow the fresh flavors of summer — citrus, herbs, produce — to really shine.
I've taken a surprising liking to the spicy-cocktail trend that's been popping up around town (like the 18th Street Heat at Harper's Garden, among others), which I elaborated on more in a recent Drink column. But I've also taken notice of many of the cocktails being made now with our growing wealth of locally distilled spirits. The new elderflower-infused gin from Philadelphia Distilling (25 E. Allen St.) is pure elegance, lending a delicate floral note to the crisp Vesper being served in frosty coupes at the distillery's impressive tasting room in Fishtown, which sits in the shadows of its copper pot stills.
At Hungry Pigeon (743 S. Fourth St.), the caraway savor of Rowhouse Spirit's "Akvavit" adds a Nordic twist to the Great White Negroni, which goes transparent with white vermouth and a Scandinavian-style herbal liquor called Besk to create a drink so refreshing, yet potent, it made the pile of ice in the tumbler almost luminous with an anise glow beneath the pinkish plume of its grapefruit twist. Get there soon, as Hungry Pigeon has the habit of frequently swapping out cocktails — especially if they get popular.
Speaking of Negronis, I don't think there's a better one in town than the classic being made at Palizzi Social Club (1408 S. 12th St.), though, since pictures aren't allowed at this members-only haunt (I got a lucky invite), you'll just have to take my word for it. It's punchy, but balanced. And this is Negroni weather.
There are some creative cocktails going on at Ripplewood Whiskey & Craft in Ardmore (29 E. Lancaster Ave.). I wasn't a huge fan of the vegetable drinks that look like they came straight from a smoothie bar, blended with pureed carrot or creamy avocado. However, with news of George Clooney's motorcycle crash breaking during my visit (he walked away fine), we drank in support of the star by diving into the Ripplewood's "Jorge Clooney." And it turns out I loved the smoke and citrus of this revamp of a "Naked & Famous," which blends mezcal from Clooney's Casamigos with Aperol and yellow Chartreuse. With a daisy wheel of lime floating just beneath its yellow surface, it was refreshingly quaffable.
Summer is a time for herbs. And no drink takes that notion quite as seriously as the Poet, a gin sour variation at Suraya (1528 Frankford Ave.) that puckers up Bluecoat gin with Persian lime syrup, genepy liqueur, fresh cucumber puree, and a fragrant dusting of Lebanese za'atar and tart sumac atop a foamy head cleverly made from vegan aquafaba (the cooking water from chickpeas) in lieu of the usual egg yolk. It's a fragrant and refreshing break from the anise power of Suraya's distinctive arak cocktails that still speaks to the restaurant's Middle Eastern character.