By Jenna Jay
Trend alert: Bartenders across the county are shedding artificial ingredients for stripped-down yet refreshing flavors, and the result is a bevy of new exotic cocktails whipped up to quench thirsts this summer.
Martini sippers and cocktail toters along the coast will find these novel tastes at some of the county's top-tier watering holes, and connoisseurs can expect to savor exciting bursts of flavor stemming from a most "natural" place: the ground.
Herbs — ranging from traditional mint and basil to more eclectic flavors such as thyme and rosemary — are all the rage behind the bar at many North County establishments, including the Lobby Lounge at The Grand Del Mar.
Boasting an on-site garden where chefs harvest herbs and vegetables, The Grand Del Mar has plenty of fresh ingredients to get creative with. According to Humberto Ramirez, Lobby Lounge manager and mixology specialist, creating that perfect summer drink is all about exploring local ingredients and natural flavors.
"We talk about the freshest fruits like berries and citrus, and when we blend those two, we try to use local produce," Ramirez said. "We live between the coast and the desert, so we like to use sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme and basil."
These fresh fruits and herbs combine to satiate palates at the Lobby Lounge and accompany infused spirits in drinks such as the Tangerine-Rosemary Martini, served with a rosemary sprig, as well as the Citrus Lavender Martini, which puts a twist on traditional summertime martinis with lavender-infused vodka.
For many bartenders across the county, infusing vodkas, tequilas and even gins has become regular practice, and simple syrup infusions are also on the rise. At Nine-Ten in La Jolla, bartender Sarah Lemke uses basic elements such as vodka or tequila and adds a kick with spicy pepper infusions.
Using "spice, bite and kick" for inspiration, Lemke crafted her signature taste with pepper infusions that signify the summer heat. Tasters brave enough to sample a dull green martini yet unnamed and not on the menu find a combination of a serrano chili pepper simple syrup, tequila, crème de violette, and orange and lemon juices, pulling together fresh, seasonal ingredients into an original cocktail with a bite.
Of course, Nine-Ten patrons can also cool off with the So Fresh and So Clean, a crisp cocktail featuring Hendrick's gin and a fresh cucumber-basil puree. When it comes to summertime trends in mixology, Lemke reiterated a key point in local findings: "I go for pure. I don't like any of the pre-made or flavoring (in drinks)."
While infusions are the hot new trend for summertime in San Diego, bar hoppers can't get enough when it comes to vodka. Flavored or infused, shaken or stirred, vodkas still reign supreme at establishments across the county.
"People are really on vodka," said Chris Simmons, chief mixologist at L'Auberge in Del Mar. "I don't see anybody dethroning vodka for a while." Simmons has adapted to this trend in several of the signature cocktails at the Bleu Bar, including the Opalescent — a L'Auberge specialty featuring Ketel One vodka and a name stemming from the purple hue released by the original key ingredient, opal basil.