Recreating the best cocktails of Tales ’17

Heading into Tales of the Cocktail 2018 next week, I find myself thinking back to my top five cocktails of last year’s Tales. Some may prove continually elusive: will I ever have that many Rutte flavors before me ever again? Do I trust myself to experiment with chicken essence? Will I ever find the patience to make my own vanilla grapefruit shrub or track down a commercial version? Unlikely.

But I have attempted to recreate two of those top five.

IMG_20170720_124104397_HDRMequignon’s Pandanuze at TotC’s Do You Suze? 2017

The Pandanuze conundrum

Here’s how I lauded Thibault Mequignon‘s Pandanuze last year:

Pandan is still a relatively unfamiliar ingredient where I drink, but Méquignon tells me that the French use it like Americans use vanilla. “We put it on our ice cream,” he said. It was sweet, herbal, energizingly bright, and perfect. Pandan will haunt me until it hits these shores.

The error, of course, was that pandan is already here. It’s plenty common in certain culinary traditions.  A Richmond, California Asian grocery store led me to frozen pandan leaves and subsequently my first attempts at pandan simple syrup.

Thibault was kind enough to share his recipe. It’s more straightforward than I would have guessed:

by Thibault Mequignon

  • 25ml Mezcal
  • 25ml Suze
  • 25ml Lime
  • 25ml Pandan syrup

Shake with ice and strain into a Nick & Nora glass.

His was better than mine, so I have some fine-tuning in the realm of pandan concentration, type of mezcal, and dilution. Experimenting is delicious.

The yuzu impossibility

My top drink of Tales 2017 was a pisco sour variation at What Would Pisco Do?, hosted by the Trade Commission of Peru in Miami.

A year ago I prophesied:

My goal in the next six months (hell, I may be haunted my whole life) is to find the right pisco and the right proportions of other ingredients to recreate this memory.

Abeja Limena

Six months? How naively optimistic.

My first research source: Dale DeGroff. Not only was Dale the expert who introduced and discussed the drink as it was served, he’s a celebrated champion of pisco and the driving force behind its presence in the contemporay cocktail scene.

DeGroff has put many, many (many) pisco sour recipes out into the world, but those versions  I found with the right ingredients — aromatic single grape pisco, yuzu, honey — didn’t take me back to that tasting. The recipe posted on my original article? Far from the goal.

When DeGroff hit San Francisco for a Gamblers, Whiskey, & Flying Horses talk/tasting and, yes, I quizzed him on this single, long-ago drink. He shared an interesting technique for simple (start with 2:1 agave syrup, then make a 2:1 honey syrup using the agave syrup) but admitted that he did not have the specific drink ratio on hand. He also, oddly, claimed that yuzu should be used in such small quantities because it’s intensely sour. I have not had the pleasure of tasting the yuzu he has tasted, because my experiences are of a floral citrus far less acidic than lemon or lime.

Other favorites

I am not attempting to recreate the Rebel Rebel Ruby Red by Deep Eddy Vodka, as sourcing/making vanilla grapefruit shrub has proven intimidating. I love to cook but my shrub game isn’t quite up to snuff.

And how about I not try chicken essence. That is 100% Michael Callahan’s jam. My aim is not to create or recreate such brilliance; I am simply an adventurous consumer.

And finally, the sheer number and creativity of Rutte’s nine drinks rendered it an experience. And great experiences are far less repeatable than mere drinks.


You can’t go home again. The divine bursts of citrus divinity and savory mischief were a la minute. In those moments I tasted and felt things I can’t necessarily recreate at home.

I’m fortunate enough to have the Pandanuze recipe (and many thanks to Thibault Mequignon, the most generous of mixologists). I also learned how much I value a zippy citrus burst in my cocktails, which makes me a smarter consumer.

If I ever figure out that pisco sour variation, though, expect an update.

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