Almond Takes Locally-Sourced Cocktails to a New Level

Photo by Lindsay Morris

The first thing you need to know about Steve Roux and Nick Maracz—respectively, head bartender (“mixologist”) and host (sometimes “mixologist”), at Almond Bar & Restaurant—is that they are just as jazzed about locally-grown ingredients as Chef Jason Weiner. Suffice to say, Almond is not the sort of establishment that serves Marilee Foster’s tri-colored carrots with a commercially bottled margarita mix.

On a recent afternoon, summer finally rearing with a hot sun and a salty breeze coming down Ocean Road, Steve, Nick, Jason, and Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Blutstein were upbeat, preparing for that evening’s dinner shift. In the kitchen, Jason and Jeremy were chopping and chatting, while at the bar, Steve and Nick were laying out what looked like an apothecary’s dispensing table. Enormous bottles of varying bright but murky-looking liquids, plastic containers labeled with hand-scrawled messages like “Lovage Syrup June 7” or filled with wedges of fresh fruit and juiced extracts, lined the bar; a zinc tub was being filled with ice and stocked with small, unlabeled glass bottles of pretty-colored liquids sealed with jewel-bright tops.

Summer is when the cocktails—hand-made with names like the Pink Caddy—get lighter, and include things like hibiscus flower syrup, and muddled watermelon and berries. In winter, drinks tend to feature brown liquors, infused wines, stewed ginger syrup and pomegranate juice. The names are as unique as the drinks themselves (and often hilarious): the Linda Rondstadt, the Calm Demeanor, the Cali Kid. The Tigerlily was named for Jason’s daughter, Rive Tigerlily, and invented originally for her birthday party. Channing Daughters Tocai Friulano Petillant Bianco was subsequently substituted for gingerale on the grown-up menu and the Tigerlily is now enjoyed by all (other ingredients in the Tigerlily include house-made ginger syrup, cassis, and love).

Jason is known for literally trudging through the fields with local farmers, looking for ingredients as well as inspiration. The guys at the bar follow a similar path. The newly-created lovage simple syrup, for instance, was created using local honey and a batch of lovage Steve’s girlfriend—who works at Quail Hill Farms—gave him. “I thought, there’s cucumber syrup, why not lovage syrup?” Steve said. Indeed, the lovage syrup smells and tastes deliciously cucumber-y, and is bound to make it into a new summer cocktail any day now. “We work as a team to test and match cocktails with the current menu,” explained Nick. “Which means some ideas get shelved if the timing is not right for what’s being made in the kitchen, even if they’re good ideas.”

This summer, the team is looking forward to creating several cocktails based on Sagaponacka Vodka, from the new Foster family distillery. A current hit with patrons is the Pink Cadillac margarita—the “Pink Caddy”—made with homemade hibiscus syrup. The flowers are steeped, like tea, into a gorgeous pink concoction, and the mix sits in a large glass cooler on the bar looking frosty and delicious.

Mocktails can be created using any of the cocktail formulas on and off the menu. Ask for a Linda Rondstadt with Pellegrino and lime instead of gin; a Lemongrass Cosmo can easily made a virgin.

Two signature Almond drinks—the Calm Demeanor (whiskey, Antica vermouth, spiced pear liquor, Amaro) and the Lemongrass Cosmo—are bottled in-house, cracked-open on demand and poured over ice in casual summer-style. All ingredients, as well as the bottled drinks, are batched out every two days, which is about as long as they last before being guzzled by patrons.

Soon, a greater variety of fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers will be blooming and ready to pick: at Amber Waves, Quail Hill, Goodwater Farms, and other local farms. No doubt many of these goodies will end up in the kitchen at Almond, transformed and presented as delectable fare. And not a few will end up at the bar in summer’s most refreshing and unusual drinks.