Modern Caribbean Rum

Home mixologists can get crafty with ice molds, retro modern cocktails

As the craft cocktail movement gains fans and aficionados, it’s natural that more and more home bartenders enhance their repertoire with sophisticated drinks that taste (and look) like they just came from the local speakeasy. One of the best ways to do this is with something as simple as ice.

To put the ice spheres to the test, we prepared the appropriate cocktails
To put the ice spheres to the test, we prepared the appropriate cocktails. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, February 2014)

See below: Recipe for Ginger Grant, a craft cocktail from The Atomic Grog

If you’ve been to any modern cocktail den lately, you’ll likely notice many drinks with large blocks or spheres of ice instead of the traditional cubes or crushed ice. While the science is a bit more complicated (check out the links below for further reading), the general concept is that by using one large piece of ice, the result is an overall smaller ratio of surface area to volume that ensures less dilution of the drink. And the sphere’s shape gives it the geometric minimum ratio. It doesn’t hurt that they look pretty darn cool too.

The ice sphere was actually popularized in Japan, and you’ll sometimes see them called Japanese ice balls. They’re traditionally carved from a large block of ice [see video], a skill that’s probably out of the question for all but the most meticulous mixologists. Luckily, there are many affordable products entering the marketplace that make it a bit easier for laymen and professionals alike.

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Minimalist Tiki

Innovative watering holes fuel rise of craft cocktails in Palm Beach County

The craft cocktail scene in Palm Beach County has come a long way in a very short time. No longer must residents trek south to Fort Lauderdale or Miami to get a wildly creative adult beverage skillfully made by talented mixologists.

Nowhere is this recent explosion more evident than in a list of the Ten Best Bars for Cocktails in Palm Beach County published this week on the food blog Clean Plate Charlie on the Broward/Palm Beach New Times website. Only one of the 10 existed before 2009, a testament to the impact these establishments have had on the local food and drink scene.

The Dead Ringer cocktail (Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, Dandelion & Burdock Bitters, plum bitters) at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach
The Dead Ringer cocktail (Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, Dandelion & Burdock Bitters, plum bitters) at Sweetwater Bar & Grill in Boynton Beach. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward, June 2013)

While such lists are always subjective, I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with writer Nicole Danna’s top picks. I’ve been singing the praises of Sweetwater Bar & Grill (No. 1), Kapow! Noodle Bar (No. 2), and Hullabaloo (No. 4) for the past several years.

And I’m eager to check out No. 3 on the list, HMF, which is technically a new venue (est. in late 2012) but is housed in The Breakers, Palm Beach’s historic hotel originally built by railroad pioneer Henry Morrison Flagler (aka “HMF”) in 1896. The grand hotel’s main bar was re-imagined as a swank cocktail den inspired by mid-century style, classic cocktails and delicious small bites (it was featured in an episode of Emeril’s Florida on the Cooking Channel).

The other three joints are a bit more accessible to the Average Joe, but they all offer spectacular food and drinks that are far from pedestrian. Sweetwater, which opened in 2009, remains my second favorite spot in all of South Florida to indulge in those pleasures (trailing only a certain 57-year-old Polynesian palace in Fort Lauderdale). The food menu may be small, but ingredients are always fresh and the dishes decadent and delicious. I can’t get enough of the tacos (pork or fish), sliders (beef or bison) and flatbreads.

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Sweetwater introduces new cocktails, voluminous spirits menu

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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Sweetwater Bar & Grill: A shining beacon of light in South Florida’s food and drink wasteland

Update: Sweetwater introduces new cocktails, voluminous spirits menu

Unbeknownst to most of South Florida, a craft cocktail revolution has swept the country over the past decade, elevating mixology to heights not seen since the heady days following the repeal of Prohibition. With rare exceptions, our tourism-driven marketplace has no room for this kind of creativity.

From left: The freshly made Bacon Old Fashion, Skinny Dip and Airdrop cocktails. To the right is a 22-ounce Yeti Imperial Stout. Sweetwater offers something for all tastes.
From left: The freshly made Bacon Old Fashion, Skinny Dip and Airdrop cocktails. To the right is a 22-ounce Yeti Imperial Stout. Sweetwater offers something for all tastes.

But since opening in April 2011, Sweetwater Bar & Grill has with little fanfare become the area’s preeminent hidden gem for inventive adult beverages, plus gastropub-style food that’s just as decadent and delicious. The cocktails are indeed outstanding, but Sweetwater’s true triumph may be this perfectly timed head-on collision of the craft food and drink movements.

In 2012, being under-the-radar doesn’t necessarily mean a dingy back-alley location in the wrong part of town. Sweetwater is located in plain sight on South Federal Highway in Boynton Beach, but it might as well be a secret unmarked speakeasy. While foodies flocked to Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue and West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street, locals in south-central Palm Beach County probably thought they had Sweetwater to themselves.

But despite no advertising and little traditional media attention, word has slowly but surely circulated about the unique dining and imbibing experience awaiting at Sweetwater. We joined the chorus, raving after our initial visits in June and July. But teasing you with just a taste is quite unfair. To truly enjoy this establishment, you have to go for the gusto and sample items from across the menu, as we had the pleasure of doing on multiple occasions this summer.

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Craft cocktail bar goes ‘swankadelic’ this Saturday

Sweetwater Goes Swankadelic
Click on the image for the Facebook event

Boynton Beach’s Sweetwater Bar and Grill, one of the cool off-the-beaten-path treasures of the South Florida cocktail scene, will vastly expand its scope of entertainment this Saturday when DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones spins some out-of-this-world “retro-active” tunes.

“Sweetwater Goes Swankadelic” starts around 9 p.m. and will likely continue into the wee hours at the small, year-old speakeasy on Federal Highway, just south of Woolbright Road. Sweetwater’s classic and inventive cocktails and decadent small-bites menu have garnered rave reviews from many critics, including The Palm Beach Post and New Times.

Liz Balmaseda wrote in The Post in early June that Sweetwater “exalts its boozy identity, wraps itself up in a speakeasy aesthetic, and defies its unexpected location in a Boynton Beach plaza. Yes, rarely thrilling Boynton Beach is home to Sweetwater Bar & Grill, one of the county’s funkiest bars.” She praised the “fresh and wild infusions, barrel-aged rum, mad assortment of bitters and homemade syrups, extensive craft beer menu and nicely curated wine list.”

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