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Sip on this: Summery cocktails from Hilltop Kitchen and Smoke + Cedar

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on July 11, 2014 at 12:00 am | No Comments »
July 11, 2014 10:47 am
One of Dean Shivers' signature cocktails, an Old Smoky at Tacoma's Smoke + Cedar restaurant. Drew Perine/Staff photographer
One of Dean Shivers’ signature cocktails, an Old Smoky at Tacoma’s Smoke + Cedar restaurant. Drew Perine/Staff photographer

With summer heating up, so is my thirst for cocktails. Recently, I encountered two lounges with cocktails worthy of your attention. My first stop was Smoke + Cedar for the smoky creations of Dean Shivers, lead bartender at the new Tacoma restaurant. My second stop was Hilltop Kitchen, the Tacoma lounge with a menu of Latin-leaning sippers. Read on.

Lapsang souchong, a smoked tea, appears sinks to the bottom of the Smoky Palmer cocktail, made with vodka, lemon and soda. Drew Perine/Staff photographer
Lapsang souchong, a smoked tea, is an important component in the Smoky Palmer cocktail, made with vodka, lemon and soda. Drew Perine/Staff photographer

Smoke + Cedar
2013 S. Cedar St., Tacoma; 253-343-6090 or

Smoke is a curious ingredient theme percolating at Smoke + Cedar, the new Allenmore Golf Course restaurant from Pacific Grill’s Gordon Naccarato.

It’s not just a cooking method for the restaurant’s sublime prime rib and cedar-planked steelhead, it’s also the foundation for the restaurant’s signature cocktails.

Smoke? An ingredient in cocktails?

You bet. And I’m not talking peaty scotch.

The creative cocktailing is courtesy of lead bartender Dean Shivers, whom local cocktail watchers will recognize from Sixth Avenue’s Crown Bar before he left for Seattle to bartend at Ethan Stowell’s Rione XIII.

Shivers’ cocktail menu, which changes seasonally, focuses on a three-part formula with smoke at the forefront, followed by seasonal twists and “the classics,” a few 1950s-’60s’ era cocktails that should be on everyone’s must-sip list.

Two cocktails from the smoke side of the menu proved summer standouts, signature drinks that inject the nuance of smoke in a format that’s neither heavy nor wintery. In fact, they’re downright summery.

The Smoky Palmer ($8) is a twist on the classic lemonade-iced tea concoction named after famed golfer Arnold Palmer. The cocktail gets its smoke from lapsang souchong, one of the richest flavored teas you’ll find on the market. (Shivers gets his at Tacoma’s Mad Hat Tea Company.) The black tea yields its distinctive smoke flavor from drying over a wood fire.

Dean Shivers, lead bartender at Smoke + Cedar. Drew Perine/Staff photographer
Dean Shivers, lead bartender at Smoke + Cedar. Drew Perine/Staff photographer

Shivers said he had to relegate the lapsang souchong as a flavor element for fear of “turning the cocktail into a barbecue.” He tips a drizzle of lapsang souchong syrup into the base of the vodka-lemon-soda cocktail, which results in an attractive cocktail that looks like a whiff of smoke floating underneath a cloud of lemonade. (There’s a catch – diners have to stir the cocktail before sipping to incorporate the smoke.) The flavor is at once tart and bright, yet deeply earthy.

Also on the menu is the restaurant’s signature cocktail, an Old Smoky ($8), a pungent whiskey drink that’s a masculine counterpoint to the Smoky Palmer. Think of it as what a plain Old Fashioned would be if it graduated from cocktail college – a combination of whiskey, cedar bitters and something Shivers calls “cherry foam.”

“I wanted a whiskey cocktail that showed our style and embodied our name (and theme) of smoke and cedar,” Shivers said. “My head really went right away to an Old Fashioned, with scotch, obviously, that is smoky. I like scotch, but I can’t say I love it. One thing I don’t like about it, but one thing about it is the peat quality. The Islay scotch really turns me off. I wanted something … with that sophistication, but mellowed the flavor of the whiskey and created a depth of flavor, but not too peaty; less smoky.”

Shivers found a more desirable level of smoke by aging whiskey with cedar and botanicals – citrus combined with gentian root and cinchona bark – for several weeks to create a bitters syrup. Next, he injects smoke into whiskey using a smoke infuser. The finishing flavor is a sweetened cherry “foam” he creates by shaking together egg whites with cherry and lemon juices – adding sweetness with a light frothiness. The cocktail is topped with an amaretto-soaked cherry, which is better than any maraschino cherry you’ve ever encountered.

Watch the Smoke + Cedar cocktail menu for more smoky additions.

A pisco sour from Hilltop Kitchen's spring menu. The current version of the pisco sour is made with goji.
A pisco sour from Hilltop Kitchen’s spring menu. The current version of the pisco sour is made with goji.

Hilltop Kitchen
913 Martin Luther King Way, Tacoma; 253-327-1397 or

A nog is a seasonal cocktail like no other. Bourbon, cream and sugar. Whip the eggs until they’re nice and frothy. Finish with a grate of nutmeg and it’s a taste of Christmas in a glass.

Few eggy cocktails make the must-sip summer cocktail list because by the time we swap our parkas for sandals, egg-based drinks taste too heavy.

However, there’s one bartender trick that turns an egg-based cocktail into a summer sipper – simply ditch the yolk.

Sandal season had me searching for a frothy summer cocktail. A trip to Hilltop Kitchen, the stylish Latin-themed Tacoma craft cocktail lounge that’s nearly a year old, turned up an ethereal egg-based elixir: a pisco sour ($10), a South American cocktail with a foamy finish from shaken egg whites.

Consider it a distant cousin of a 19th century flip, a family of cocktails seeing a revival in craft cocktail circles.

Chris Keil, who co-owns Hilltop Kitchen with Matthew Schweitzer, changes his pisco sour with the season, but it’s always on the menu. The spring version combined pisco – a South American grape brandy – with elderflower liqueur and lime juice, finished with a feathery layer of egg whites and a spicy surprise of cayenne. The latest version on the newly released summer menu incorporates goji berries.

Keil divulged a few tricks for achieving perfectly shaken egg whites for a pisco sour, if you’re inclined to shake one up at home.

Start with a shot of pisco, lime juice and, if desired, a small amount of sweetener (agave or simple syrup are best), then add a dash of a favorite bitter or liqueur. The egg whites are the most complicated part of the drink, but even that’s not all that complicated with Keil’s advice. (Plan B: Just go to Hilltop Kitchen and order Keil’s – it’ll be better than anything you make at home).

Skip the fresh egg whites, which is a plus for those with immunity issues that scratch raw egg yolks off the ingredient list. Instead, go to a well-stocked grocery store (such as Proctor’s Metropolitan Market) for powdered egg whites.

Chris Keil also uses smoke as a flavor element in Hilltop Kitchen cocktails. Pictures here is the Bootstrap, mezcal, with amaro, chocolate bitters and lapsang souchong bitters, over hand-cut ice.
Chris Keil also uses smoke as a flavor element in Hilltop Kitchen cocktails, as well. Pictured here is the Bootstrap, mezcal, with amaro, chocolate bitters and lapsang souchong bitters, poured over hand-cut ice.

He advised first shaking the cocktail without ice to achieve a superior level of foam, then finish with ice.
You’ll need to shake the cocktail much longer than you think you should – until your arm aches, Keil said.
“It’s almost like a meringue-style foam, once it separates out,” Keil said. “Every drink with egg in it – whole or otherwise – should do that. Bartenders don’t understand they need to shake it like they mean it. … You need to shake it for 20 seconds vigorously.”

For those in search of cocktails with an emphasis on frothy, Keil’s Hilltop Kitchen concoctions offer both flavor and texture.

On his new summer menu, diners will find a banana-rum drink with an egg white float, similar to the pisco sour (How Rude, $10).“I’ve got another drink with Mexican yogurt. It gives it this rich, creamy texture,” Keil said of the new summer cocktail Discipline Problem, $10. “Texture’s really important. You taste first with your eyes – and it has to feel good on your palate as well.”

Sue Kidd dines anonymously and The News Tribune pays for all meals.

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