Booze and Brine

All photos by Aliza Kellerman. 

Cardinal Sour with Fin de la Baie
Cardinal Sour with Fin de la Baie

Somewhere in the vast pool of the internet, I read that hard liquor makes oysters indigestible. Luckily, this is patently false, and I spent one lovely Wednesday night slurping and sipping with Julie Qiu at The Leadbelly NYC. Julie is an oyster aficionado and loves these mollusks as much as I love Martinis. Her take of the night can be found here.

Richard Scarry+Montauk Pearl
Richard Scarry+Montauk Pearl

Tucked away on Orchard Street, The Leadbelly is a gauzy, ambient restaurant with equally romantic cocktails. While Manhattan is peppered with plenty of raw bars, The Leadbelly carefully balances an extensive oyster selection with an air of approachability. Not many of us have Julie’s oyster knowledge, so it was great to be in a friendly place with no snobbery and an accessible drink list. Plus, there’s ample seating room. Bartender Alex McNeely prepared proprietary drinks for each oyster we sampled. I have to say, before this night I’d never slurped an oyster, I’d always pried them out of their shells and chewed them. I’ve been doing it wrong, everyone! Here’s the skinny.

Oyster: Montauk Pearl

Cocktail: Richard Scarry

Lush Life with Kumies
Lush Life with Kumies

This Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin (winner of a rare Double Gold in the 2012 NY International Spirits Competition) based cocktail was packed with fall flavors like apple tarragon syrup and Velvet Falernum. A lot of people think “Fall” or “warm” cocktails and call to mind brown spirits like golden rum or bourbon. But Barr Hill’s non traditional, honey based gin worked really well here. The deep spiciness of the cocktail balanced out the saltiness of the oyster, but there was just a hint of juniper at the end driving the floral flavor of the drink home. As Julie pointed out, the cocktail almost tasted with a spicy mignonette.

Oyster: Kumamoto

Drink: Lush Life

At the opposite end from Barr Hill on the gin spectrum is Fords, a juniper-heavy, traditional style gin. The Lush Life called for this crisp, classic spirit infused with the seeds and membrane of Jalapeño, Fidencio Mezcal and Thai Basil Infused Dolin Blanc Vermouth, lime salted cordial, and soda. Kumamotos, affectionately known as "Kumies," have a natural vegetal tang that would go well with a jalapeño inspired drink, but Julie found that the Kumies were unusually mild and got eclipsed in the smoke. Perhaps Kumies were a little too soft of a choice for this “hint of gasoline” cocktail, but I love, love, loved the drink. It’s a perfect intro for someone who’s never tried mezcal: balanced, subtle, and dare I say it, gentle.

Oyster: Fin de la Baie

Cocktail: Cardinal Sour

Easily my favorite cocktail of the night, The Cardinal Sour is kind of similar to Amanda Schuster's Fetal Position. Calling on bourbon, chai-infused Amontillado Sherry, cranberry shrub, and egg white, this succulent flip complemented the Fin’s zinc-infused, metallic tang with creaminess. This isn’t a typical bourbon cocktail: I could’ve sworn there was Calvados (even while writing this article, I made sure to double check) in it. However, the dessert sweetness of the egg white tangos with a vinegar quality I adored. A+

Oyster: Mantunuck

Cocktail: Copper Cup No. 4

Copper Cup No. 4 with Mantunucks
Copper Cup No. 4 with Mantunucks

Copper cups win my heart every time. They’re the sole reason I ever order Moscow Mules.

This Absolut Elyx based cocktail also called for carrot juice, lemon, cumin, freshly-pressed ginger, Aperol, and Phenol Cherry. Anyone who follows me knows that I’ve been on this quest to rescue vodka since I started drinking, and cocktails like the Copper Cup No. 4 provide me with that validation. Like the Mantunuck, Absolut Elyx is simple and basically provides this exotic juicer with what it needs: a pinch of booze. Though this drink was off-the-menu, The Leadbelly always rotates a copper cup drink, so stay tuned. The presentation was beautiful, as you can see.

The most dangerous thing about pairing oysters and mixed drinks is that, well, oysters are tiny and cocktails are potent. It should be noted I only had a few sips of each drink so as not to end up face-first in a dish of brine.

Visit The Leadbelly NYC:

14 Orchard St,

New York, NY 10002

Follow them on Twitter @TheLeadbelly