Over-Crafted Cocktails

Horchata Tropical

A classic craft cocktail need not be complicated.

Take the Martini, the Old Fashioned, the White Russian, the Negroni. Even the Moscow Mule in its pretentious little copper cup is but a three-ingredient drink stirred with ice and maybe a wedge of lime. These drinks are popular, time-tested and drunkard approved. So how is it that craft cocktails have gotten so showy, so utterly ostentations that you wouldn't dream of re-creating them at home?

Don't get me wrong: I'm a sucker for pomp and circumstance and a general aficionado of fanfare — bring on the formal wear and secret societies — but sometimes the production that goes into a drink is enough to make my head spin. And that's before I've started drinking.

While Oakland's Calavera remains one of my favorite East Bay venues to munch on hand-made tortilla chips and order entrees I have no prayer of pronouncing, they also serve three of the most ridiculous and overly thought-out (albeit delicious) cocktails I've ever seen.

Foam-topped MargaritasMany a Mexican joint can be judged by its margarita. In Calavera's first year of operation, just shy of a dozen iterations have appeared on its menu. My first was made with Milagro blanco, orange liqueur, and lime juice, while my most recent was comprised of an Espadín mezcal and orange curaçao. The kicker on each was the whipped foam that topped the glass. While the cloud on the first margarita was deemed “salted air,” the foam on the second was said to hold the essence of salt, chili pepper — and worm larvae.

Dreams of CoyoacánAll eating stops when a decanter of smoke comes to your table (in addition to a vessel of booze and glass of green ice). To make this ode to the Mexico City, where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived, a tincture of tequila, mezcal, apple juice, and green Chartreuse is dumped into swirling curls of applewood smoke, and then poured over a globe of celery-rosemary ice. The overall concoction is as herbaceous and delicious as it is ridiculous. And it is, of course, garnished with flowers. Frida would approve.

Charlie & the Chapulin FactoryCalavera brought out some fine featured cocktails for Día De Los Muertos, including this mezcal concoction mixed with peanuts, pineapple, egg whites, lime, and chipotle morita (an ingredient made by slowly smoking red, ripe jalapeños over a wood fire). The real extravagance wasn't in the drink, but in the rim, which is coated with a grasshopper salt — as in, crushed roasted grasshoppers — and dusted with gold. You're left wandering if the effect is supposed to be decadent or disgusting. Pass the Corona and lime, please.

View Comments