This a great time for spirits aficionados. Thanks to the resurgence of classic cocktails, and the expert mixologists who have turned cocktail making into an art form, the cocktail scene on the Midpeninsula is growing steadily.
Here are five signature drinks from local restaurants and bars, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to craft them at home.
The Village Pub, 2967 Woodside Road, Woodside
The Village Pub's About Thyme is a complex, refreshing -- and necessary -- libation for California's climate. The bourbon-based cocktail demonstrates the balance of three major elements of both classic and contemporary cocktails: sweet, sour and bitter, said Brandon Clements, bar manager for the Michelin-starred restaurant in Woodside. "I love this cocktail because it offers a bit of everything," he said. "You've got your bourbon, which is among my favorite spirits, and literally as American as apple pie, the sweet and sour combination of strawberry and freshly squeezed lemon, and the herbaceous and bitter notes of the thyme ... and Nocino -- all distinct flavors working in perfect harmony." Nocino, a bitter green walnut liqueur, is an "under-appreciated" digestif (a post-meal libation said to aid digestion), Clements said. "I've always loved (it) on its own, and wanted to find a way to incorporate its bold flavors into a cocktail," he said.
1 sprig of fresh thyme
5 medium-sized strawberries
1 1/2 ounces of Bulleit bourbon
1/4 ounce of Monteverdi Nocino della Cristina liqueur
3/4 ounce of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
Step 1: Brush the thyme along the rim and inside of an old-fashioned glass.
Step 2. In a cocktail mixing glass, muddle four strawberries. Pour the bourbon, walnut liqueur, lemon juice, sugar, bitters and ice into the glass.
Step 3: Cover the glass and shake vigorously for about 20 seconds.
Step 4: Using a mesh cocktail strainer, double strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass and garnish with fresh thyme and a whole strawberry.
Pizzeria Delfina, 651 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Named after Bar Director Alex Philips' favorite 1970s claymation TV show about two cats named Mio and Mao, Pizzeria Delfina's Mio Mao is for gin and citrus lovers. The gin is spiked with Aperol (an Italian apertif made of bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, among other ingredients) and mixed with fresh lemon, mint, cucumber and simple syrup. "Guests love it because it's a perfect balance of something boozy and citrus-driven," said Craig Stoll, owner of Delfina Restaurant Group. Philips uses City of London dry gin to allow the citrus flavors to shine. If you're making the drink at home, experiment with your preferred brand of gin, Philips recommended.
1 ounce of City of London dry gin
1 ounce of Aperol
1 ounce of fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce of simple syrup (water and sugar)
3 mint leaves
2 slices of cucumber
Step 1: Pour the gin, Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker with the mint leaves and cucumber slices; shake.
Step 2: Using a mesh cocktail strainer, double strain the mixture into an 8-ounce glass filled with ice.
Step 3: Garnish with mint sprig pierced through two thin slices of cucumber.
Madera, 2825 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park
It's hard to conceive of a cocktail party without a classic drink like the Manhattan. The boozy and sophisticated drink is made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters. At Madera in Menlo Park, bartender Oscar Lopez crafts the restaurant's signature drink, the Madera Manhattan, with Angel's Envy Bourbon instead of whiskey, and infuses the bourbon with orange peel and vanilla bean. "It makes the drink a little bit more complex and unique," Lopez said. The smokiness of the bourbon, he said, complements the vanilla and orange flavors. "It's really easy on the palette," Lopez said. "It's a smooth drink that you can really enjoy." A tip: This drink is best served stirred, not shaken, Lopez said. (Sorry, James Bond.)
2 ounces of Angel's Envy Bourbon
1 ounce of sweet vermouth
2 dashes of angostura bitters
1 vanilla bean
Step 1: Infuse the bourbon with the peel from one orange and one vanilla bean for two weeks.
Step 2: Pour all the ingredients into a metal cocktail shaker filled with ice and stir for 30 seconds to chill.
Step 3: Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a bourbon-soaked cherry (bring 1 cup of bourbon and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over low heat; stir until the sugar dissolves; pour the syrup over 4 ounces of cherries into a glass jar and leave overnight) and vanilla bean-infused orange peel.
Aged-rum old fashioned
Timber & Salt, 881 Middlefield Road, Redwood City
The default setting for the classic old fashioned is booze, bitters and sugar muddled into water to form a simple syrup. But Brian Matulis, bar manager and partner at Timber & Salt in Redwood City, adds an unusual twist to the old classic: housemade Mauby syrup, a Carribbean syrup made from bark from a buckthorn tree. The syrup adds a sweet spice and slightly bitter finish to the "spirit-forward" drink, Matulis said. The old fashioned can be made from robustly flavored spirits, from whiskey and brandy to tequila, mezcal, rum and genever (the juniper-flavored national liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium). Matulis opts for Santa Teresa 1796 aged rum, which is solera-style (an aging process that blends different vintages of spirits, owner Stewart Putney explained ) from Venezuela. "The idea behind the drink is to riff on the traditional American old-fashioned cocktail, but using Caribbean ingredients," Putney said. The drink-making process is fun to watch to boot: Customers love to watch bar staff cut ice cubes for the drink from a large block of ice, Putney said.
2 ounces of Santa Teresa 1796 Rum
1/2 ounce of Mauby syrup
3 dashes of orange bitters
Step 1: Stir rum, Mauby syrup and orange bitters over ice until cold.
Step 2: Pour cocktail into a rocks glass with a large ice cube and garnish with an orange twist.
Cascal Spanish Tonic
Cascal, 400 Castro St., Mountain View
Cascal's Spanish Tonic is an easy-drinking, tart and sweet cocktail that features Spanish gin mixed with the citrus kick of grapefruit and the warm floral notes of St. Germain, a liqueur made from elderflower. "It is a fresh Spanish twist on a traditional cocktail that fits with our Pan Latin-inspired theme," said Brad Daley, partner and general manager of the downtown Mountain View restaurant. The grapefruit provides a puckery sweet-sour flavor, which is balanced by the gin and tonic water.
1 ruby red grapefruit
1 ounce of St. Germain
1 1/2 ounces of Mahon Gin
Fever-Tree tonic water
Step 1: Dice half of a ruby red grapefruit, pour 1 ounce of St. Germain over the diced grapefruit and let it soak for an hour.
Step 2: Muddle 3 tablespoons of the liqueur-soaked grapefruit in the bottom of a glass.
Step 3: Fill the glass with ice and add 1 1/2 ounces of gin. Fill the rest of the glass with the tonic water. Stir and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.