Food & Drink July 10, 2024

Cocktails and Dreams

Sun Valley’s sweet summer sips

During an Idaho summer, there’s a certain time every afternoon when the sun is not yet setting but has just dipped enough to relieve the intensity of its beaming heat. The breeze takes on a rhythmic ebb and flow, accompanied by the intermittent sounds of rustling leaves, the rolling river and ethereal bird calls. There is plenty of daylight left to enjoy, but any undone duties of the day can easily be pushed off until tomorrow. This perfect summer afternoon moment calls for just one thing: a cocktail.

To properly take advantage of these resplendent summer happy hour moments, you’ll need some things: a few ingredients and a little know-how. Learning the art of the perfectly crafted cocktail can be intimidating. However, like most culinary endeavors, it proves far simpler once you begin, and it will allow you to turn any summer afternoon–whether in the backcountry or the backyard–into a proper cocktail hour. And there has rarely been a more auspicious time to take up the craft of cocktail making.

The culture of cocktails in America has been experiencing a dramatic rebirth in the past 15 years. Call it a renaissance if you prefer to gussy it up. Cocktail menus across the country have ditched the outdated standbys in favor of the intricacies of new modern classics and original concoctions brought to life by the creative willpower of local mixing maestros. At this moment, cocktail historians (a real profession on a growing list of livelihoods I wish I’d known about in my youth) have declared the craft cocktail renaissance over, as the culture of cocktail drinking is no longer in the act of changing but rather has changed. The American drinker now expects that every fine establishment he or she saunters into will have a well-appointed cocktail list ready.

In this regard, today’s cocktail aficionado has far more in common with Americans living in the 19th century, during a period coined the Golden Age of the American cocktail, which was abruptly ended by Prohibition. Many of the cocktails and techniques created in our cocktail heyday have made their return, and all can be easily mastered by the novice home enthusiast.


A victim of the wavy lines of the Idaho liquor code, you won’t be able to enjoy any infused liquors at any of the Wood River Valley’s venerable establishments as they are expressly outlawed. But at home, this exceedingly simple technique can elevate simple classic cocktails into memorable drinking experiences.

To infuse a liquor, one needs only to fill a container with the desired spirit and add flavoring ingredients. These flavoring ingredients can be just about anything, permitting the mad scientist inside all of us the latitude to try some flavors on the fringe or play it safe with tried-and-true combinations.

Because the best infusions begin with fresh ingredients–think fruits, vegetables and herbs–summer is truly the best time of the year to dabble. Once your spirit and desired ingredient(s) have been combined, an occasional shake or stir will aid the infusion process. The exact amount of time an infusion takes to reach the perfect flavor really depends on the ingredients being used. For example, a diced jalapeño pepper may need only 15 minutes to impart the desired heat, while subtler flavors from fruits can take weeks. The best way to know is always to taste frequently and trust your palate. When finished, strain the flavoring ingredients, return the spirit to its original bottle and store it in a cool, dark place.

Fat Washing

A relatively new trend, fat-washing spirits came to fame in 2007 at Please Don’t Tell, a cocktail bar in New York’s East Village. The Beverage Director, Don Lee, created a drink called the Benton’s Old Fashioned, which called for bacon fat-washed bourbon as its principal spirit. The popularity and notoriety of the drink arrived swiftly, and today, fat-washing has become commonplace among high-end cocktail establishments.

The differences between fat washing and infusions are few and far between. What you are essentially doing at the outset is infusing a spirit with fat, such as rendered bacon fat, brown butter, toasted sesame oil, and even clarified fats from meats and cheeses. You need only one to four ounces of the select fat for an entire 750ml bottle of spirit as the flavors are strong.

Combine the spirit and the rendered fat in a wide-mouthed jar or a proper Cambro to keep it industry-approved. After stirring to combine the two liquids, let the mixture sit out for four hours. Place the container in the freezer until the fat hardens into a cap on top of the liquid. When hardened, simply remove the cap of fat and strain the remaining spirit through a fine sieve back into its original bottle.

With summer grilling in full swing, the rich flavors of fat-washed spirits in your cocktails will pair brilliantly.

Clarified Milk Punch

Unlike the new trend of fat washing, clarified milk punch dates back to the 1700s, and the name is rather misleading. The emphasis is on the word ‘clarified,’ and while milk will be used, the resulting cocktail is likely a far cry from the milky image in your mind’s eye.

This technique can be used to create a clarified and wildly nuanced version of any citrus-based cocktail. Think daiquiri, bee’s knees or even a margarita, anything with a good punch of citrus and a healthy portion of bitters. For the amount of time and love that goes into a clarified cocktail, you’ll want to make a batch size totaling at least four cocktails to make the juice worth the squeeze.

First, prepare the batch of the cocktail of your choosing, omitting the shake that usually accompanies a citrus cocktail. Into another container, add whole milk at a volume of roughly one-fourth the total volume of your cocktail mixture. Then, pour your cocktail into the waiting arms of the dairy goodness. As the milk slowly curdles, thanks to the citrus in your cocktail, the curdles will actually go to work, acting like sponges that will soak up harsh, bitter flavors as well as a decent bit of color. You will need to let this sit for at least four hours, with even greater results achievable by leaving it to work overnight.

The final step is filtration. Using coffee filters or even paper towels over a fine sieve, filter the curdles out of the final cocktail by slowly pouring through the filter. This can be a painstakingly slow process, but the result is a stunningly beautiful cocktail with a luxurious mouthfeel, and the good news is you’ve made a nice-sized batch. So, invite the neighbors over and knock their socks off with a clarified milk punch. Extra credit for using clarified ice to complete the look.

Recipe 1

Source: Warfield Bartender – Jess Rempe


4 oz Mint Banana Milk (see below)

1.5 oz Dark Rum (e.g. Flor de Caña)

1 oz Lime juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and pour into a tiki mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and serve with a straw.

Mint Banana Milk

4 cups small ice cubes

2 cups unsweetened almond milk

2 cups Demerara sugar cubes

3 bananas

12-15 mint sprigs

Blend ice, milk, sugar cubes, and bananas together. Once smooth, add mint leaves and blend until mixed.

Recipe 2

Source – Warfield Beverage Director, Justin Hockemeyer

Spring Slumber

1 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon

1 oz Sazerac Rye

1/4 oz Domaine de Canton

1/4 oz St Elizabeth Allspice Dram

2 dashes Scrappy’s Cardamom Bitters

2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters

Garnish with a lemon and orange twist

A lighter, playful combination of an old fashioned, combining Bourbon and Rye mixed with sweet ginger, allspice and cardamom flavors perfect for a spring and summertime après adult beverage!

classic daquri

Recipe 3

Source – Cole Criollos – Bar Manager The Covey

Classic Daquiri

1.5 white rum (I like Plantation 3 stars)
.5 Rhum Agricole (I like the grassy notes this offers)
.95 Lime
.6 Simple syrup (easy to make at home 1:1 sugar: hot water)
3 Drops saline solution (200g hot water and 50g Maldon Salt, or you can just toss a few flakes of Maldon in while making)

Garnish with a dehydrated lime or lime wheel. Daiquiris are fun because there are a lot of different rums to play with. For example, I made a daiquiri the other night with Koloa Kaua’i Coconut Rum, Stiggins’ Fancy Pineapple Rum and 3 Stars. Always shake this drink. It’s important to aerate a drink with citrus. The fresh lime will become frothy making the drink have texture and drink smoothly.


Recipe 4

Source—Cole Criollos—Bar Manager The Covey


The Negroni is also fun to experiment with. To me, this drink is essentially a spirit, a bitter and a sweet that all balance each other out. There are a lot of sweet vermouths out there. Bitter Amaros, not so much, but they do exist! Mondino is a good one. You can also play with using Aperol for a sweeter/ brighter Negroni.

1 oz Del Maguey Vida Classico Mezcal
.75 oz Campari
1.25 Botanica ‘Flower Girl’ Vermouth
4 drops of saline (Maldon based)

Stirred and no citrus zest.

The drink is earthy and bitter yet sweet and savory! It’s definitely doable at home if one can get a hold of the interesting South African vermouth.

This article appears in the Summer 2024 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.