The Cocktail: Ouroboros
The Bar: Canlis
The Bartender: José Castillo
Made in Mexico from the heart of the agave plant, or the piña, mezcal is tequila’s cousin, but historically hasn’t been a mainstay cocktail ingredient. The spirit’s strong, smoky flavor can be hard to match with other ingredients and is intimidating to some drinkers. With the Ouroboros (named after a mythological snake devouring its own tail), Canlis bartender and Peruvian native José Castillo (10 years at Canlis, in various roles before taking up the bar) wanted to create a balanced and approachable drink to help people become better acquainted with this south-of-the-border favorite.
He starts with Los Amantes Joven mezcal, a lighter member of the mezcal family, with a little sweetness before a softer, less abrupt, smoky finish. He adds the Mexican liqueur damiana, made from the damiana herb (slightly bitter but still savory), and a house-made tarragon honey syrup that helps smooth the edges. A citrus spike from a little fresh lime and lemon juice matches the ménage perfectly.
Canlis recently remodeled and expanded its bar/lounge area, which is headed by amiable bar manager James MacWilliams. New art and ostrich-skin lounge chairs are highlights. But even with updates, the staff never forgets the restaurant’s long history. In this drink, that history is reflected in an exotic ingredient, yuzu koshō, a fermented Japanese paste made of yuzu peel, chile peppers and salt. Mingling with the other players in the glass, it delivers a luscious savory quality, as well as a shout-out to Canlis’ heritage: After all, it was only 20 years ago when servers still wore kimonos. The final touch is the garnish: a tarragon frond and a brilliantly colored pansy flower. Diners will discover exquisite garnishes on all of Canlis’ well-made cocktails; the drinks mirror the space and the best-dressed bar staff in town, always perfectly attired in sharp gray suits and black ties.
Sit in the lounge area and relish the cocktails (along with bar snacks, or order from the dining room menu), without having a restaurant reservation. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the Canlis experience when you don’t have time for a full, multicourse meal.
You can find yuzu koshō at Asian grocery stores, such as Uwajimaya.
>> Ice cubes
>> 1 ½ ounces Los Amantes Joven mezcal
>> ½ ounce damiana
>> ½ ounce tarragon honey syrup (recipe below)
>> ½ ounce fresh lime juice
>> ¼ ounce fresh lemon juice
>> ¼ teaspoon yuzu kosho
>> Tarragon frond and pansy
>> flower, for garnish
Directions: Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with ice cubes. Add the mezcal, damiana, syrup, juices and yuzu kosho. Shake well.
Pour everything into a highball glass. Garnish with the tarragon and flower.
Tarragon Honey Syrup Recipe
>> 2 cups honey
>> 2 ounces pineapple juice
>> 5 fresh tarragon sprigs
Directions: Stir the three ingredients together in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
Bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
Pour through a strainer into a container with a good lid. Store in the fridge.
Canlis, Lower Queen Anne, 2576 Aurora Ave. N, 206.283.3313. canlis.com