It's really not surprising that Michael McCarty wanted to start a farm-to-glass cocktail program at his eponymous Santa Monica restaurant. After all, he was instrumental in starting the farm-to-table movement here when Michael's opened in 1979--today, it's almost impossible read a menu without the words "seasonal" and "local" on it.
To lead the cocktail charge, McCarty discovered mixologist Jason Robey, who's now equal parts farmer and bartender for the restaurant. In addition to picking out the freshest ingredients from the farmer's market just a few blocks away, Robey started a rooftop garden to drive his new seasonal drinks program.
Now you can sit in the Michael's lounge (it opens every day at 6 p.m.) and sip creative cocktails like the Mary Rose, a fresh take on a Cosmopolitan with cranberry-ginger-infused vodka, lime, vanilla syrup and charred rosemary, just one of the many herbs he grows in the restaurant garden.
Another secret to Robey's concoctions is the infused syrups he makes in-house daily. He's created a simple honey water with avocado honey for the Schipol Layover (Bols Genever, Cynar and lemon); lemon-clove syrup for the spring-influenced Big Red Hat (Lavender, Chartreuse, repasado tequila, lime, and grapefruit foam); and there's even one with bacon. Each syrup adds a bit of sweetness, balance and flavor to every drink.
One of tastiest cocktails on the menu right now is the Karai Karai, a heady savory drink made with Yamasaki 12-year single malt Japanese whiskey. Robey makes a simple syrup with sugar, water and a few slices of fresh jalapeno and poblano peppers, which helps give just enough kick to the cocktail (check out the recipe below).
Just as the dishes change on the menu, cocktails here change with the season. Robey says he switches things up every few weeks, but it will really amp up in the summer when the produce season kicks into high gear. "I'm already thinking of drinks well into fall," he adds.
Adapted from Jason Robey of Michael's Santa Monica
Makes one drink
To make the syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
½ jalapeno, sliced
½ poblano pepper, sliced
Combine all ingredients in a pot and cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Take it off of the burner and let it sit for 45 minutes. Strain the syrup through a sieve to remove seeds, and keep in an airtight container. The syrup will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
To make the drink:
2 half slices fresh lemon
2 sprigs fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 fresh basil leaf
3 slices jalapeno pepper, plus one slice with seeds removed
¾ ounce fresh grapefruit juice
¾ ounce jalapeno-poblano simple syrup
2 ounces Yamasaki 12-Year Single Malt whiskey
Dash of chipotle Tabasco sauce
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the lemon slices, cilantro, basil and 3 slices of jalapeno. Add ice cubes, the grapefruit juice, simple syrup and whiskey and shake. Serve over large ice cube (or cubes) in a cocktail glass. Garnish with seedless jalapeno slice, a dash of Tobasco and one cilantro leaf.