These cocktail recipes trade boring and basic for remarkable flavor, thanks to the help of special syrups.
By Ben McBee
At the moment, sipping a cocktail made with simple syrup just doesn’t seem right—because let’s face it, nothing about the past year has been simple. Fortunately for those in need of a drink, Laguna Beach mixologists tend to let their creativity flow into more intricate flavors to excite and satisfy the palate. These libations, found around town, incorporate unique syrups that serve as unexpected yet intriguing ingredients to amp up your happy hour, whether it’s on a local patio or in the comfort of your own home.
Reunion Kitchen & Drink
Although enjoying an Old-Fashioned is befitting of a soiree, Reunion Kitchen & Drink’s take on the classic isn’t confined to evening consumption. No one will judge if you order the vanilla Old-Fashioned during a boozy weekend brunch, especially considering the ingredients: Maker’s Mark 46 bourbon, Licor 43, orange bitters and maple syrup. This spirit-forward drink carries vanilla to the nose, warming your insides and tantalizing the taste buds in a sweet—but not too sweet—manner. “We wanted a whiskey cocktail that was approachable and comforting,” says restaurant owner Scott McIntosh. As for what to eat with it, he suggests some equally sticky and delicious dishes. “The maple notes in the vanilla Old-Fashioned do great with the richness of the short ribs. Or, if you’re feeling brave, try it with a stack of pancakes and a side of sausage for breakfast.” (949-226-8393; reunionkitchen.net)
Turning to flowers for some of its special sweeteners, Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook incorporates a house-made lavender syrup in The Greeter, its signature cocktail. According to Gabe Whorley, Sapphire’s beverage director and partner, the staff makes simple syrup—sugar dissolved in water—from scratch, then, while the liquid is still warm, infuses it with flowers or herbs and lets the flavors steep. Once cooled, the syrup is double strained to remove the herbs, leaving behind only the essence of their flavor. To create The Greeter, a refreshing slushee, the lavender syrup is combined with vodka, watermelon seltzer, Aperol, angostura bitters, cucumber and lime, then served in a ceramic mug reminiscent of the location’s past as The Pottery Shack and garnished with a sprig or two of fresh lavender. (949-715-9888; sapphirelagunabeach.com)
Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill
For proof that you don’t have to leave the mainland to experience a bit of island living, look no further than Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill in north Laguna. “The tasty, tropical Bahama Mama has a surprisingly complex flavor profile that never disappoints,” says Maro Molteni, owner and executive chef at the iconic restaurant. “It’s a blended drink and a crowd pleaser. It’s all about balance and integrating high-quality ingredients.” The star of those ingredients is a house-made passion fruit syrup, expertly crafted by simmering freshly pureed passion fruit in water with brown sugar. Combined with Atlántico Reserva gold rum from the Dominican Republic, coconut-filled RumHaven, pineapple juice, mint and a dash of bitters, the drink is vibrant Caribbean sunshine in a glass, perfect for celebrating the weekend or unwinding after a long day at work. And don’t let hunger bring you down: Pair the Bahama Mama drink with a range of appetizers like a Hawaiian-style ahi or salmon poke, tossed in a spicy soy marinade with minced red onions and fresh ginger, and served alongside sweet potato chips. (949-715-1470; royalhawaiianfiregrill.com)
Harley Laguna Beach
Although most of the cocktails at Harley Laguna Beach are crafted by the eatery’s bar manager, Gregory Austin, one of its newest concoctions was dreamed up by the restaurant manager, Lauren Earl. “With Greg Austin being furloughed after we had to go to takeout only, the name Clockwork Orange is inspired by Greg’s tendency to name drinks after books,” explains chef/owner Greg Daniels. Earl, being a big tea drinker, was inspired to incorporate the ancient beverage in the new cocktail, which was just added to the menu in January. Crafted with an orange tea syrup that is made in house by steeping the tea with sugar and water, this unique addition is mixed with clove-infused gin, lemon and triple sec to complete the drink, with a dehydrated orange slice added as the finishing touch. With a floral accent and natural tannins, the flavor of the tea is the perfect complement to both the gin and the orange liqueur. “We love making syrups and infusions in house, because most of us are looking for something we wouldn’t normally make at home when ordering takeout,” Daniels says. The Clockwork Orange can currently be ordered to-go at Harley. (949-715-1530; harleylagunabeach.com)
The Deck on Laguna Beach
A slightly more piquant cousin of the margarita, the Silver Surfer makes a splash with waves of tasty ginger puree and Milagro silver tequila to help quench your thirst just steps from the beach. To add a touch of sweetness, The Deck on Laguna Beach’s bartenders turn to a plant that gives this beverage its bite, providing a subtle symmetry in flavor: agave nectar. Similar to maguey syrup, agave nectar is produced by crushing the leaves of the blue agave plant to extract sap before boiling it down to a refined form. Amber in color and thinner than honey, its faint flavor is used in an agave lime sour. The simple drink also gets some added flavor from fresh cilantro. As you sip (and indulge in The Deck’s array of coastal Californian cuisine), the ocean vistas from the sand will leave you in awe of Laguna’s beauty. (949-494-6700; deckonlaguna.com)