With peak seasonality in both spring and fall, there are few veggies that offer as much versatility in cocktails as carrots. “With it’s subtle earthy sweetness and bright color, carrot juice has a lot more potential than we give it credit for,” says bartender Robin Kirk Wolf of The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar in Paso Robles, California. “While it may not be as much a staple as citrus, it’s freshness and ability to add savory notes to a drink is wonderful, and it plays well with many herbs and other flavors.”
Cooks know carrots work well with a myriad of secondary ingredients like ginger, orange, lemon and honey, but when it comes to the base spirit for a carrot drink, most bartenders reach for vodka because its neutral template allows the juice to shine through clearly. Turmeric-infused vodka sets an exotic tone for the Lunar Eclipse cocktail from Victor Tango’s in Dallas, and vodka also serves as the base of the Two Charlies from Scofflaw, where bartender Zach Overstreet aims to keep things fresh and simple. “The Two Charlies works because it’s based on a basic flavor profile: carrot, ginger, lemon and a pinch of salt. The ginger doesn’t bully the flavor of the carrot juice, but it also doesn’t let the carrot juice dominate the palate,” he says.
When bartenders aim to go beyond standard flavor pairings with carrot, they sometimes turn to spirits like gin and aquavit to season the juice the same way ingredients like caraway, dill, coriander or orange peel might enhance roasted carrots in cooking. At Charleston’s Gin Joint, gin brings a bright layer of botanicals to a mix of carrot juice, yellow Chartreuse, kümmel, lime juice and lime oleo saccharum in James Bolt’s Jessica Rabbit cocktail, and gin also brings interest to the 24 Carrot Gold Punch from the bar at Cardinal Spirits in Indiana. Aquavit forms the base of the brunch-friendly Carrot Mimosa from Alma Cafe in Minneapolis, where the bar staff has been known to throw anything from beets to parsnips and butternut squash into cocktails. The mimosa combines carrot juice with apple, orange, aquavit, bitters and sparkling wine.
Barkeeps are also playing with less obvious spirit matches, like agave spirits or whiskey. Tequila creates an earthy baseline for carrot juice, banana liqueur, blanc vermouth, bitters, lemon and pineapple juices in the Spicy Carrot Cooler from Bad Hunter (one of our 2017 bars to watch). Mezcal brings a similar agave-centric character to the Orange Maria from NIDO in Oakland. And back at The Hatch, Wolf blends bourbon with carrot, lemon and dill in The Silly Rabbit cocktail. “Whiskey’s sweet bite and subtle oaky-ness are a good anchor for this cocktail. A lighter spirit would fade into the background easily here and I like to taste the spirit I’m featuring,” she says.
At The Good Lion in Santa Barbara the bar team introduces amari to the mix in their 24 Carrot Gold cocktail (a popular name for carrot drinks), with gin, Amaro Montenegro, carrot cordial, citrus and vanilla bitters. “We found that there was a lovely relationship between carrots, oranges, lemon, some baking spices (specifically cinnamon and vanilla), and the botanicals in Broker’s gin (with another cinnamon influence),” says owner Brandon Ristaino. “Montenegro leans in the orange direction, and it’s inclusion seemed like a no brainer as we wanted to have a bitterness present to balance out some of the inherent sweetness of the carrots. The orange bitters amplify and zip up the cocktail, while maintaining the integrity of the food pairing relationships.”
Want to experiment with carrot juice cocktails at home? Invest in a good juicer or blender, and be sure to use the juice right away, as the flavors will break down and become dull the longer it sits. Or, take inspiration from Ristaino’s 24 Carrot recipe and make a cordial instead. “We go 1:1 with organic sugar and fortify it with overproof neutral grain spirit. In our opinion, it makes for a more consistent cocktail and has much better shelf life, stability, and freshness,” he says.
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