Chicago’s belated shift to sunny, spring weather calls for a spirited palate-cleanser. Bartenders are reaching for bottles of lighter liquors — gin, vodka, light rum, apéritifs — and we’re drawn to them like bees to honey. Their inspiration? Everything from a classic Vietnamese cooler to the Kentucky Derby.
Cool in a Jar at Allium
Fresh spring herbs and vegetables are the stars in this slightly sapid cooler served over ice ($16) at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Chicago’s new-American dining room. House-made basil and cucumber juice are blended with cucumber-infused Purity vodka, and then finished with lime juice and Belvoir Elderflower Presse — an effervescent English soda.
Vietnamese Salted Lemonade at Embeya
At this recently opened, progressive Asian restaurant in the West Loop, the Vietnamese tradition of chanh muoi — salted, pickled citrus fruit — is the base for a semi-savory yet refreshing soda ($10). Meyer lemons are preserved in salt until their juices are spent, made into an ’ade with sugar and water and then combined with gin or vodka for a punch.
Horse’s Neck at Bernard’s Bar
The Kentucky Derby is less than a month away, and handsome Bernard’s Bar at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Waldorf Astoria Chicago is offering a nod to the classic Horse’s Neck cocktail ($14). Based in bourbon, the drink is doused with ginger syrup and cardamom bitters before being topped with soda.
Épernay Lillet at Rebar
Named for France’s famous Champagne trading post, this delicate drink at the bar at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is modeled after the classic champagne cocktail ($18). Sweetened with a sugar cube soaked in barrel-aged blood orange bitters, the Lillet blanc apéritif cocktail is completed with a healthy dose of Veuve Clicquot.
Photos Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, Embeya and Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago