El Che’s Cocktail Experts Have Some Tips for Your Holiday Drinks
Their beverage team offers advice for mixing up something new this season
It’s time to up the ante on your holiday gatherings. Today, we’re not talking turkey, but cocktails. For this, we turned to El Che Steakhouse & Bar in Chicago. There, they roast fresh pineapple on the grill and juice it for their fall margaritas and frequently concoct unexpected recipes, like the Thyme for Apples, which features apple-infused vodka, elderflower, lemon and thyme syrup.
We spoke with Alex Cuper, the general manager and wine director, along with Agustina Sofo, the beverage director, to learn how to make cocktails just as impressive…and at home. Below, our top takeaways from their tutorial.
All You Need Is a Pineapple
A pineapple will transform any drink into a fancy cocktail. (Pro tip: If it’s out of season, canned pineapple will work just as well.) Grill the pineapples, which adds depth to the flavor without using an additional ingredient. Then, add them to mezcal, tequila or rum drinks as a garnish. Or, add the pineapple to a simple syrup by mixing sugar and water in the same ratio on the stove until the sugar dissolves. Take the grilled pineapple and steep it (soak the pineapple in the hot simple syrup until it softens) for 10-20 minutes to add the flavor, and pour the simple syrup, which should now have a hint of pineapple, into the same type of drink — and add more pineapple as a garnish. It adds a natural sweetness to the cocktail without making the drinks too sweet. This would also add a foam on top, and it would make the drink smooth in a way that sugar can’t accomplish.
Don’t Be Afraid of Heat
Take any piece of fruit — from apples to pineapples — and pop it onto the grill to add a subtle smokiness that won’t taste artificial. It won’t taste like a smoking gun was used on it, and it’ll add more of a flavor dimension. It will feel like you did something extravagant and cool without doing anything over-the-top. Don’t have a grill? If you have cast iron, it will have the same effect if you add a touch of oil. You can also use a broiler in the oven, but keep an eye on it, as the fruit can go from being undercooked to burned to a crisp very quickly. Alternatively, you can slow-roast fruit in the oven, adding brown sugar or baking spices, cinnamon sticks or cloves. You can do this with apples, melons or even ginger (don’t worry, when you heat the ginger, the spicy flavor will dissipate). Then, put the fruit into bourbon, gin or vodka and your drink is done.
Make a Syrup or an Infusion
With home cocktails, it’s easy to do a syrup or an infusion. Syrups last up to three months, and it’s a great way to add different flavors. You can make the syrup with any type of fruit, plus equal parts sugar and water. It really elevates the cocktail. Store the simple syrup in an airtight container in the fridge.
DIY Mulled Wine
This time of year, mulled wine is delicious. Take beautiful roasted fruit and grill it, warm the wine and use the wine to steep the fruit further. Simple is better, so use a white, red or rosé wine. Experiment with the flavors of the wine and fruit to see what you like.
Channel Your Cooking Instincts
When you’re making your cocktails, think about them the same way you think about cooking. What flavors do you think will go well? Experiment.
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