March 19, 2019 – Spring begins this week. And now that we have an extra hour of daylight “saved” for the end of the day, how best to spend it?
Few things fortify better than a 5pm cocktail and the creative team at Soif are debuting a few new libations this week that are truly dedicated to the season. The beloved downtown Santa Cruz restaurant is known for its local and seasonal fare and these new cocktails are similarly inspired.
“We’re fortunate to have really great ingredients here, so we absolutely use everything in the kitchen,” says Soif bar manager Matt Barron.
Like chef Tom McNary in the kitchen, Barron sees himself as an environmental steward. He carefully uses “leftover” trimmings from ingredients in the kitchen’s dishes—this week, everything from mushrooms and citrus, to lavender and butterfly pea flowers—and transforms them into infusions, waters, bitters, and shrubs (drinkable vinegars). As a result, every drink on the menu is utterly new right now: multi-layered, complex and fresh, and in unexpected and delightful ways. They’re like spring candy, for adults.
“If we’re using oranges in a recipe, we’ll be reserving and drying the peels, and then infusing them in homemade vinegar and agave nectar, making a syrup,” he adds.
We caught up with Barron earlier this week and he walked us through his impressive list of repurposed ingredients.
To craft the new Rubidus & Rye cocktail, they collect fragile candy cap mushrooms, (lactarius rubidus) which taste like maple syrup, infusing some in rye whiskey and capturing others in translucent, amber-toned glacé for an elegant garnish. Combined with a simple syrup of orange and demerara sugar, this updated Old Fashioned has a soft umami quality mixed with maple that will blow you away.
Cherry blossoms and dehydrated strawberries give a sustainable artisanal mezcal and Dolin Comoz bitters a run for their money in Ryūko. Named after an anime character, here we see some staff influence on the menu: “We love anime, and like the character, this cocktail is sweet but dangerous,” says Barron.
An immediate favorite is likely to be Sessions. A “very seasonal, very bright,” refresher with a low alcohol content, it is fruity and tangy, a lighter option. That doesn’t mean simple, however: a beet-blood orange shrub lends color and sweet tanginess to St. George Terroir gin and a splash of vermouth. It has me longing for the day Soif does a Saturday brunch, because it will be absolutely perfect.
Aficionados will be heartened to hear that most house favorites are not going anywhere. And fans of the “old-school Prohibition-era stuff,” like Yellow Jacket #3, or the double-rum-and-almond Zombie, or the heavenly gin-and-lemon concoction known as French Lavender 75, with ingredients sourced from the local Homeless Garden Project, may just love these new iterations.
The cocktail menu ranges in price from$11 to $14, with the exception of the also-debuting Vesper, the “original James Bond Cocktail,” which is priced at $20, and as a heavenly blend of Monkey 47 gin—a distillation of 47 botanicals from Germany’s Black Forest—the finest Russian vodka, and cocchi Americano, the nineteenth-century aromatized wine, it’s a rare treat.
Also staying, thankfully, is my favorite, Bishop—a perfect intersection of tequila, jalapeño, orange, agave and lime.
“Our patrons really go for tequila—it’ll never leave,” says Barron.
Spring forward, indeed.