While I love sipping a glass of crisp white wine while making dinner or casually drinking a cold beer to cool down on a warm summer day, cocktails reign supreme in my hierarchy of adult beverages.
I readily admit to a past filled with dancing late into the night will sipping vodka cranberries. But these days, the well liquor drinks of my college days have been replaced with an insatiable desire to learn about–and taste–as many classic and craft cocktails as possible.
Similar to my self-education process for beer and wine, I’ve found that the combination of ordering an unfamiliar cocktail with mysterious to me ingredients, Googling, and asking bartenders for guidance even if I feel embarrassed, is the best way to learn.
So, today begins a new series in which I’ll share some of my favorite boozy encounters in Orlando and beyond, in hopes that you’ll find a new drink to expand your comfort zone. At the very least, you can laugh alongside my quest to learn about the art of the cocktail (as I furiously google ingredients while looking at menus to figure out what I’m drinking), and enjoy some pretty pictures in the process.
DoveCote: The Dove 75 and DC Corpse Reviver
Restaurants don’t always nail drinks AND food. Some excel in just one area or the other, but such is not the case at DoveCote in downtown Orlando. While I’ve been for brunch and dinner, I especially love the brunch cocktails, which are crisp and bright and pair perfectly with the savory offerings.
One of the more popular drinks, the Dove 75, is a spin on a French 75 jazzed up with a little color-changing tableside magic and orange oil sugar.
When the drink arrives, it’s a deep bluish purple hue, which slowly morphs into a pleasant magenta/pink as the remainder of the drink is poured into the glass tableside. The color comes from the cocktail’s mystery ingredient: butterfly pea flower. What the heck is butterfly pea flower? I asked myself the same question.
A Google search and a click later, I found an Eater article detailing the uses and properties of the butterfly pea flower. Two things I found really interesting about this ingredient: 1) it really is a flower, and 2) it’s a completely natural way to dye food and drinks. The flower is native to Asia and can also be used to make tea.
As much as I love a normal French 75, the interactive element of DoveCote’s cocktail turns a boozy Sunday brunch into an entertaining spectacle. And luckily, it tastes just as pretty as it looks.
I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself talking about this next drink, the Corpse Reviver, because I owe the discovery of it to the bartenders at The Guesthouse. (More on that later.)
Diving into some internet research, I found that there are actually two popular Corpse Reviver recipes. One made with brandy and vermouth, the second a mix of gin, absinthe, lemon, Cointreau, and Lillet. The one offered at DoveCote is the latter variety.
This punchy-flavored mix of spirits creates a day drinking-friendly cocktail, which functions equally as well as a “hair of the dog” libation.
Once available on the brunch menu (it has now sadly disappeared), DoveCote’s Corpse Reviver cocktail was a zippy companion to my favorite item on the menu: the fine herb omelet. This pillowy, cloud-like omelet stuffed with Boursin cheese and topped with chives is a reminder of how fantastic simple food can be when prepared with care. I’ve tried to replicate it at home, but am convinced there’s some kind of kitchen sorcery going on in the restaurant. While the cocktail has gone, I’m glad the omelet is there to stay.
Bitters & Brass: Queen’s Park Swizzle, Tiki drinks, and one very dirty martini
Many of the cocktail bars I’ve visited in Orlando have a hip, trendy vibe that can feel intimidating during a first visit. The antithesis to that? The dark, simplistic, and welcoming interior of Bitters & Brass in Sanford. The no-fuss interior sets the stage for the cocktails to be the stars.
The distinctions don’t stop there; the bar is owned and operated by bartenders, freeing up the team to experiment and focus on their craft. And the menu features 20+ classic cocktails plus flights of bitters and more.
If you’re new to the cocktail world, the gigantic menu may be cause for a mild panic attack accompanied by the realization of just how little knowledge you possess about booze. Classic cocktails are listed on the main menu, while a rotating selection of bartender originals can be found on the chalkboard in the middle of the bar.
I remember the feeling of looking over the menu for the first time, alongside my friend Brooke, and recognizing little else than the main spirit in each drink. Brooke kept it classic with an Old Fashioned and a Dirty Martini (both thoroughly enjoyed). I took a chance on a drink made with rum and then watched in amazement as the Queens Park Swizzle (pictured at the top of this post) was crafted by our bartender, Chris.
The drink, which dates back to the 1920s from a hotel in Trinidad, is made with Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum, lime, Demerara, mint, Angostura bitters, and Peychaud’s bitters. It’s garnished with mint on top, enhancing the sensory experience of the drink with each sip. While tall and colorful, it wasn’t overly sweet and perfect for sipping on a warm Florida day.
As we talked more with Chris, we discovered he’s the host of Bitters & Brass’ weekly “tiki night” on Thursdays featuring an exclusive tiki drink menu. He’s got a clear passion for tiki (check out his concoctions on Instagram @millstikidistrict) and I can’t wait to get back to this bar soon to try a few for myself.
PS: check out the monthly cocktail class.
The Guesthouse: The Corpse Reviver (when in doubt, ask your bartender)
The first few times I visited The Guesthouse in Orlando’s Mills 50 district, I ordered off the small cocktail menu available at the bar without considering asking for a custom elixir.
That all changed one afternoon when John and I visited the bar again during a weekend staycation and decided to chat up our bartender to try some new drinks. And that’s how I first got acquainted with the Corpse Reviver (#2).
I vaguely remember the bartender telling me how the drink was named for its potent properties that could raise the “dead” aka severely hungover. But, of course, drink too many and your corpse may return to its previous unrevived state. Here’s a little more info on the drink and its resurgence.
The drink certainly packs a punch, thanks in part to the absinthe rinse. But it’s also pleasant for daytime drinking. I imagine it was given to me partly because I was drinking barely past noon. (In case you’re wondering, I wasn’t hungover when consuming the drink so I can’t speak to it’s reviving properties…more research needed on that front.)
Upon further research, I found this cocktail is most well known for its appearance in The Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock. Turns out, he was a pretty big deal in the cocktail world, working as the head barman at the Savoy’s American Bar (named the World’s Best Bar in 2017) beginning in 1925.
John, in the mood for whiskey, asked for a custom cocktail as well. The result was a beautiful, layered drink that knocked both of our socks off. I’d venture to guess it was a whiskey swizzle (that’s a thing). Whatever it was, it didn’t last long.
The moral of this story: don’t be afraid to chat up your bartender. Ask questions. Admit you don’t know much, but want to learn. Try unfamiliar drinks to learn what you like, and then go home to research more on your own if you’re a bit too shy to ask questions. When in doubt, trust your bartender.
And…just keep sipping.