What's your first thought when you hear the word "cocktail?"
Gin & Tonic? Cranberry Vodka? Whiskey and Ginger?
What if I told you that proper cocktail creation can be as complicated as building a house, preparing the perfect beef wellington or brewing the most flavorful batch of craft beer.
The latter has become wildly popular since 2005 with the passing of the "Pop the Cap" law, removing the six percent alcohol limit on beer in North Carolina.
Last December I was fortunate enough to travel to New York City as the winner of a global contest to compete against seven other trained bartenders from all over the world to become Belvedere Vodka's Global Ambassador. Our assignment was simple: create a cocktail using Belvedere Vodka and present it to the judges.
As the other contestants were measuring out milliliters of lemongrass paste, angostura bitters and rosewater collected from their grandmother's garden, I slapped a wad of The PIt's barbecue on a George Foreman grill and muddled it into a Pork and Pineapple Bloody Mary. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn.
Unfortunately my efforts fell short but my eyes were opened to a cocktail culture that I had previously been blind to. While extremely progressive on several fronts, Raleigh and its neighboring Triangle counterparts are severely behind when it comes to the world of cocktail creation.
The better news: Raleigh's latest cocktail lounge, Fox Liquor Bar, is raising the bar with the help of Karin Stanley, owner of legendary New York CIty cocktail lounge, Dutch Kills.
Before I proceed, yes, cocktails at the aforementioned establishments are typically a bit more expensive than a house vodka and cranberry. Here, you are paying for quality: fine spirits, fresh fruits and herbs, homemade colas and juices and hours of labor behind the bar.
The menu at Fox is comprised of 11 perfectly-balanced concoctions. My favorite, the "Penecillin," is built with a blended scotch whiskey, honey, fresh lemon, ginger, topped with a few eyedrops of single malt Islay Scotch Whisky, served "on the rock" and garnished with a candied ginger.
The Islay Scotch, known for its peaty quality, is extremely smoky and is absolutely wonderful when tasted on top of the hand-carved "rock" in your glass.
Hand-carved rock? That's right people. At Fox, several cocktails come "on the rock." Expect one ice cube, carved down from a massive cake in order to ensure a slower dilution rate once it meets your glass. This means your drink stays colder longer and maintains full flavor until your last sip.
In addition to its well-crafted cocktail menu, Fox provides an wonderful ambiance with several leather couches tucked off in the back half of this underground hideaway.
Whether you're looking for a great date spot, a quiet corner to enjoy a stiff drink, or an alternative to the same old Fuzzy Navel, trust me....step inside Fox and soak it all in.
My recommendation...if it's your first time, forgo the menu all together and ask the bartender to make you one of their own creations. You won't be disappointed.