After the snow-less holiday bonanza of recent weeks, it was easy to pretend Pittsburgh might waltz through a mild winter. However, now that January is here, my visions of drinking gin-and-tonics on the banks of the Mon have been quashed. In search of more satisfying seasonal drinking, I went to see Lynn Falk, co-owner of the South Side's Acacia, for his suggestions on bundling up snugly in a liquid coat for the cold trudge through the coming months.
"Winter is our favorite time to create menus," says Falk, gesturing to the small team of experienced bartenders who dream them up. "You can tell we love cardamom, apple and spice." All of these warm flavors did feature on the menu, woven into the brown liquors common in winter cocktails, like brandy, dark rum and whiskey. Following this model, the "Christmas in Bermuda" is a piquant, almost creamy mingling of dark rum, vanilla, Grand Marnier, ginger, simple syrup and expression of orange. This is exactly the kind of drink one would want handed to her, numb-nosed, when coming in out of the snow.
Eggnog is another storied cold-weather favorite. Though it's typically made with brandy, Acacia uses gold rum and some lime zest, along with the important instruction that to be its best, it should sit overnight. This frothy delight is so popular that the staff goes on "nog watch," hoping not to run out. "Most people have never had homemade eggnog," Falk sighs, admitting that he has drunk his fair share out of the carton.
For those seeking a less traditional approach, Acacia's menu suggests mezcal. The "Pera en Escabeche" uses that spirit along with housemade spiced pickled pear, ginger, Allspice Dram and Hellfire bitters to satisfy drinkers who want a cold-weather drink without the heaviness of dark liquor. Its smoky flavor, perfectly balanced by the vinegary sweetness of the pear, adds depth and heat, making this a unique but effective winter warmer.