As the days grow warmer and evenings grow longer, professional and amateur mixologists alike focus on cocktails with a fresh, spring vibe.
At Granada Hotel and Bistro in downtown San Luis Obispo, that means new creations inspired by patio lounging and tiki bars, featuring garden-fresh ingredients.
“Tropical and vegetal” is how bar manager/head mixologist Dominique Gonzales described her latest cocktail, No Thyme to Say Hello, part of Granada’s new spring menu launched earlier this month.
No Thyme to Say Hello combines carrot juice and a honey rose syrup — embodying the White Rabbit and his tea party — with Cara Cara orange juice, passion fruit juice, thyme and kumquat liquor made by Re:Find Distillery of Paso Robles. The result is a fresh, smoothie-like concoction, punched up with just enough of Re:Find’s grape-based gin to take it from breakfast to weekend brunch or afternoon refreshment.
“We’re always looking to feature local distilleries,” Gonzales said. “We’ve got great producers around here and they’re all just a bit different.”
Granada bartender Ulisses Avina channeled the Hawaiian gods of war and peace in crafting his tiki-style cocktail, Lono & Ku. The clash of the gods is personified in two rums — smokey, South American Demerara and bright, San Luis Obispo-made Calivore blonde — spiked with absinthe and mellowed with fresh mint.
“Tiki drinks are about duality,” Avina said. “They’re super strong but also really good.”
Vote For Cedro — bartender Jake Brosseau’s nod to the movie “Napoleon Dynamite” — aims to be the perfect aperitif for a sunny day, bringing Paso Robles-based Krobār Craft Distillery’s vermouth together with citrusy Acqua di Cedro liquor, Pisco brandy, orange juice and tonic water.
“It’s a simple patio cocktail — refreshing and a little bit bitter,” Gonzales said.
While the end results aim to be fun, creating new cocktails at Granada is serious business. Set up like an internal cocktail competition, the process starts with Gonzales bringing in new products and throwing down challenges at the bistro’s more senior bartenders.
The bartenders take a couple of weeks to research and experiment before presenting their creations to their peers, who evaluate the drinks on taste, aroma and presentation. The most promising creations get refined, whether that means swapping out spirits, adding more sweet or bitter flavors or playing with garnishes.
Diving into deeper study, the bartender then gives a presentation on the spirit’s history, production and characteristics, and proposes a name for the cocktail that reflects its roots, flavors and mood. Only then does a new drink make it onto the menu, which gets overhauled each spring and fall, with seasonal refreshes in summer and winter.
Drinking a cocktail should be an experience, Gonzales says, and the process is designed to emphasize that.
“We fall in love with the story of who makes the brand, the producers who put heart and soul into their spirits,” she said. “It’s an experience and story we try to tell through our cocktails.”
Granada Hotel and Bistro
1130 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Sunday brunch starting at 10 a.m. Reservations recommended.
The scene: A rustic but chic and romantic vibe throughout the brick-walled bar and patio decked with string lights, plenty of pillows and flickering flames.
The offerings: About a dozen house-crafted cocktails, extensive wine list, gourmet small plates and charcuterie and updated takes on classic main dishes.
Expect to spend: $12 to $13 for cocktails, $5 to $30 for menu items.
A spring cocktail to savor
Bittersweet, a cheery spring cocktail using Dominique Gonzales’ Root Elixirs mixers, is one of the signature drinks at Granada Hotel and Bistro in San Luis Obispo — and it’s easy to make at home. Simply combine the following ingredients over ice, and top with a strawberry or another fresh garnish.
1.5 ounces vodka
Bar spoonful of Campari (up to a half ounce if you like it more bitter)
4 to 5 ounces Root Elixirs strawberry lavender soda
Courtesy of Dominique Gonzales