Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach, one of South Florida’s premiere spots for craft cocktails, has raised the bar again with the debut of some long-awaited new concoctions plus a monster spirits menu that runs a whopping 70 pages.
I stopped by last night to sip a few cocktails and take a gander at the tome-like menu. Presented in a three-ring binder on narrow pages with appropriately retro typography, the menu is incredibly detailed, more like an encyclopedia of spirits than a throw-away guide. Mixologist Sean Iglehart has out-done himself with this carte du jour of every bottle in the house.
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You could spend hours pouring over the menu’s minutia, but don’t confuse Sweetwater with a library of liquor. The cocktails are the real stars of the show, and the first page lists three house specials for December. I went straight for The Heavyside ($10; raisin-infused Smith & Cross rum, Velvet Falernum, Black Cabra Malbec, Bittermens Orange Cream Citrate).
Not your typical rum drink, this heavy sipper has that same early 20th century feel that makes many of Sweetwater’s whiskey cocktails shine. It’s very clean yet sophisticated, the liquors hitting you hard (in a good way). Smith & Cross is a high-proof yet flavorful rum, and it takes on a new hint of extra sweetness via the raisin infusion. The addition of Black Cabra Malbec, a red wine from the Argentine Andes, gives the drink added punch and a unique flavor. The spicy falernum and tart orange tincture (note: it’s not a bitters) complete this complex picture. It’s served in a rocks glass with a large ice block and orange peel.
The Heavyside is well-balanced yet strong, something rum-fanciers should definitely enjoy. As you continue sipping, your palate opens up to the many distinctive flavors and you begin to feel a slight burn (again, in a good way) from the Smith & Cross. I’m sure I’ll need a few more drinks to fully appreciate this one.
The other new cocktails on the menu are the Ménage à Trois ($11; featuring cognac, fresh lemon juice and a wildly eclectic mix of liqueurs and bitters), and the bottled Adam’s Apple Fizz ($11; featuring plum-infused gin, Applejack, plus house pumpkin butter and spiced syrup). The latter drink places Sweetwater squarely on the cutting edge. Bottled, carbonated cocktails are a hot new trend, and I’ll definitely be checking this one out on my next visit. The menu warns: “Enjoy while they last, limited supply.”
Iglehart is unabashedly pushing the envelope with these new cocktail offerings, proving that he’s on the cusp of creative craft mixology. Though they may be a bit less accessible than some of the bar’s earlier, more simplistic drinks, they make up for it in sheer creativity. The front page of the menu also features spirit flights featuring West Coast gins and Knob Creek whiskeys (three samples of each for $14 and $15 respectively). [See the menu]
The new menu’s design will allow for frequent changes to these specials. The fact that it’s marked “Early December” seems to indicate that Sweetwater will be doing lots more updates to these featured drinks. The second two pages of the menu feature 10 “Sweetwater classics,” such as Death & Taxes, Whiskey Ultimatum, Skinny Dip, and Mexican Cockfight. There are also a few returning to the menu after a long absence: The Blind Swine and Pickadilly Circus. [Menu: Page 2 | Page 3]
I tried the Pickadilly Circus ($10; Dancing Pines Cask rum, Aperol, Luxardo Maraschino, fresh lime juice, pomegranate molasses), a delicate rum drink served in a stemmed cocktail glass with an orange peel. It’s very similar to The Airdrop, which was on the previous menu, though I’d give this one a slight edge. Dancing Pines is an excellent mixing rum, blending perfectly with the sweet and tart flavors.
The rest of the massive menu is dedicated to Sweetwater’s vast collection of craft spirits. Each section features a cover page with a history of the spirit [see sample], plus detailed descriptions of each bottle along with the city/state/country of origin [see sample].
There are 58 gins (including London Dry, Old Tom, and Genever categories), 103 whiskeys (Bourbons, Rye & Canadian, American), 68 scotches (Highland, Speyside, The Islands & Islay, Blended, Campbeltown, Lowlands, Japanese, Irish), 45 tequilas (Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, Mescal), 41 r(h)ums, 25 aperitifs and disgestifs (Amaro, Vermouths, Brandy), and even eight absinthes. [See the menu]
The back of the menu is dedicated to the small but well-curated collection of 22 wines and 20 beers. Not everyone will take the time to explore this wide assortment (the good ol’ boy sitting next to me actually ordered a Miller Lite and shot of vodka – no joke), but Sweetwater deserves huge props for making it easily accessible.
This impressive volume is a great resource, and it should provide endless hours of reading material for craft cocktail geeks as they sip away the time in Sweetwater’s comfy environs. It’s on par with or better than many hardcover books you’ll find on Amazon. Pull up a stool and educate yourself about a cornucopia of great spirits.
Sweetwater Bar & Grill is at 1507 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach, in the Las Ventanas development. Free parking garage directly behind the bar. Call (561) 509-9277 or e-mail info@Sweetwater33.com.