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Emma Enchanted

May 31, 2019

Picture drinking a stunningly brilliant craft cocktail in Albany. Seriously. Stop for a second and imagine it. Your mental picture doesn’t have to be in the present day. But I do want you to visualize the full experience. Where are you. Who else is there. And what does the bartender look like.

I’ll wait.

Here’s my hunch. For the longest time, the Capital Region cocktail scene was dominated by a sole and masterful presence who mixed a mean drink, and was easily identified by his long beard and intense focus on classic techniques. When he left dp brasserie to run Speakeasy 518 he was no longer slinging pop rock rimmed cocktails, but instead was bringing back deep cuts from drink menus of the distant past. And that’s when the local cocktail culture took a sharp turn for the better.

But Robert Mack has been gone for years. And in his absence, there have been people who have stepped up all around the region. Hopefully you already know about Emmanuel Treski, Sonia Castellani, and Katy Aitchison. If not, we can talk about them in the weeks to come. But today, I want to spend a minute making sure you know about Emma Sawyer at Savoy Taproom.

Why her?

Well, yesterday she just released a new seasonal cocktail menu for the spring season. I might argue it’s more early summer, but there’s no reason to split hairs trying to figure out exactly what to call late May in Albany after a winter that just would not let go of its icy grip. And to be fair, it’s not all Emma. She has a team of very very talented bartenders including but not limited to Trudy Steier who created some seriously impressive drinks for the Third Annual Albany Distilling Company Cocktail Competition.

But Emma is the jefe of this crew, so she gets the credit. Especially since I explicitly see her hand in a drink called Life on Mars. In the photo below, it’s the red one on the left.

For the curious it’s a combination of sloe gin, mezcal, and bitters, with a half rim of dehydrated lemon and spicy pepper salt, and garnished with a slice of lemon zest. It’s the spicy pepper salt that makes me think of Emma.

The first time I met her was last year at a Savoy Taproom Cocktail Battle Royale. The restaurant’s bartenders and chef were competing to try and get one of their drinks on the spring cocktail menu. Emma was just taking over from George Fiorini, who was leaving the region, and her drink featured a spicy pepper salt, which she really wanted to get on the menu. Since then, I haven’t been following Savoy’s cocktails too closely, but I’m glad to see this on the menu.

For those who may be skeptical of a sloe gin cocktail, I should note this is Hayman’s Sloe Gin and is quite different from the one you may have had at college parties or sampled from your grandmother’s liquor cabinet. I’m very much looking forward to giving this a try.

The drink that looks most up my alley is the one called Depeach Mode. And again, it reads more like a summer evening on Cumberland Island in Georgia, eating peaches and drinking whiskey by the bonfire. For the cocktail, the peach is grilled to order. That’s intense, but so is the use of applewood smoke. At its core, the drink is based on Old Forester Signature 100 proof bourbon and gets additional complexity from Kronan Swedish Punsch. Peach tea brings down the heat of the bourbon. Aquafaba adds body. Lemon balances sweetness. Angostura and the applewood smoke add depth. And the grilled peach garnish brings it all together.

How the Savoy team is putting flowers in ice cubes is still a mystery to me, but I love it. I got to experience some of the joy of discovering aromatic vegetation trapped in ice with one of Trudy’s drinks in the Albany round of the ADCo Cocktail Competition.

What I know from talking to Jason Pierce, one of the owners of Savoy, is that their cocktail program is very collaborative. There is something about the human mind that wants to believe the auteur myth. Here’s a little video about it that focuses on video games. But it extends to movies, electronics, and pretty much everything.

Still, every team needs a leader. And Emma has put out a really interesting menu which includes unusual touches used in smart ways, like aloe liqueur, Himalayan pink salt, Salers Labounoux Aperitif, basil seeds, and more.

It’s enchanting, and I hope to make it down there to sample some of these out before I leave.

One Comment leave one →
  1. albanylandlord permalink
    June 2, 2019 4:09 pm

    Thanks, I have been meaning to get there for years. THis will help.

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