Scott Beattie on Winter Citrus Drinks

Scott Beattie, a third generation San Franciscan, began tending bar while studying toward his English degree at U.C. Berkeley. He's worked at such popular establishments as Perry's on Union Street, the Blue Light, and Postrio. From 2001-2005, Beattie manned the celebrated "Cellar Bar" at Pat Kuleto's Martini House in St. Helena. As the mixologist at Cyrus, Beattie stocks the bar with hand-crafted, small-production liquors, with special attention given to spirits born in the Bay Area, including single-malt Scotches, small-batch Bourbons and high-end tequilas, and marries them with local, seasonal, organic produce. His favorite drink is Guinness Draft.

Simple Winter Citrus Drinks
Wintertime brings us some amazing and unusual citrus fruit from both northern and southern California. Especially early in the season, around December, the acid levels in these fruits are on the higher side which makes them perfect for tasty cocktails. I'd like to present a little methodology for some simple, three-ingredient drinks that are essentially variations on the famous Brazilian caipirinha. These classic concoctions can be reinvigorated with the help of Meyer lemons, Key limes, Rangpur limes, and kumquats.

The skins of these fruits are laden with intense and aromatic oils. To get the oils incorporated into a libation you'll want to cut the fruit into eight pieces and then muddle the fruit down well in a mixing glass, thus juicing it and releasing the oils simultaneously.

Try to use fruit that is no larger than a common lime; Meyer lemons can get quite large, so find smaller ones with thin skins. Key limes might require a lime and a half, and kumquats might be about 4 'quats cut in half. Rangpur limes, which are the most difficult to find yet the most rewarding, are usually about the perfect size.

With a little experimentation, you might find a combination of two or three fruits that is particularly tasty to you, and is attractively multi-colored. In any case, add about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup (50/50 dissolved superfine sugar and hot water) to the glass. Now it's time to pick your booze.

With each of these drinks you want to use about 2 oz. of liquor. If you want to taste just the pure fruit in your drink, feel free to used straight vodka. Trust me when I say this: save yourself the money and use Smirnoff. Use the more expensive stuff for straight martinis. You will only notice the difference in your bank account, and not on your palate.

However, using some of the fantastic, all natural, and local enhanced vodkas from Domaine Charbay and Hangar One could produce something really special. Great combinations that I've found are Charbay Meyer Lemon with Meyer lemon (duh!) and Hangar Kaffir Lime with Key lime. If you find the enhanced vodka flavor too intense, use 1 oz. enhanced vodka and 1 oz. straight vodka. (I do this with many of the drinks at Cyrus.)

Vodka will work fine, but I much prefer using rum or cachaça—there's much more flavor. Resist the urge to buy cheap, mass-produced rum. Splurge on rums like Oronoco, 10 Cane, and Charbay Cane Rum. All of these are light-colored rums that haven't been extensively aged in a barrel, nor been altered with caramel or molasses. Basically, you'll taste more of your fantastic fruit if you use these. Cachaça is a very close relative of rum coming from Brazil that will work quite well. After all, we're making variations on the caipirinha, aren't we?

To make the drink, add your liquor to the muddled fruit and simple syrup and then add as much ice as the size of the glass you're going to eventually serve your drink in. A "rocks" or "tumbler" glass is ideal. A "Collins" glass is way too big. Shake or stir your concoction well and then dump it into your glass. Now taste it. A great cocktail should have a happy balance between sweetness and acid. The nice thing about these drinks is that they can be easily adjusted to suit your taste. Add more simple syrup if you find it too tart, more juice or muddled fruit if it's too sweet for your taste. If you do adjust it, make sure to re-shake or re-stir it well so the ingredients mix properly.

I'm not going to give you any recipes because it's way too much fun to seek out exotic citrus—there are dozens more varieties to be had, many of which I've never even had the good fortune to have played around with, and it's fun to experiment at home. I've laid out for you the basic formula: muddled fruit, simple syrup, booze. You'll probably make some bad drinks. But you will definitely make some great ones too. Good luck.