A couple of days ago, when the web was awash with tributes to David Bowie, I came across a unique one on Facebook by my good friend Lara Desmond, a bartender extraordinaire, artist, and bike tour operator who hails from New Orleans. Lara had concocted a series of Bowie-inspired cocktails – not for the occasion of his death, but, coincidentally, a few days earlier to celebrate his birth, January 8 (the same day his latest album was released). In her words, here’s why:
These drinks came about because I decided to throw a Bowie Birthday Party at the bar I currently bartend at, Sidney’s Saloon. Why? Well, obviously because, David Bowie; but also, because I have two badass girlfriends who happen to share the same birthday and are huge fans. Let me re-state, huge fans – one even named her daughter after the genius (Amelie Bowie).
I searched online for Bowie-inspired cocktails, but all that I found was a bunch of articles that linked back to the same set of garbage: all blue curaçao and red fruit punch – drinks they (jokingly?) recommend garnishing with slime; drinks meant to be served with dry ice or under a black light.
I could’ve cried. What soulless wretch could have ever associated these over-processed, shock-value, syrupy drinks with one of the bravest, most innovative and inspirational artists of our time? The only way these could work as a tribute to Bowie was if someone would rename every one of them, “I’m Afraid of Americans.”
In the face of self-imposed crisis and outrage, Lara did what any self-respecting New Orleansian would: She made up her own, and nailed it. Following are her recipes. They’re worth the extra minutes it will take you stir and shake them up tonight. Once you have, tip your glass to the Thin White Duke and to Lara; it’s time to get your Major Tom on.
Words, recipes, and photos below by Lara Desmond.
1. The Space Oddity
For whatever reason, I immediately saw the Space Oddity (pictured at top) as as an absinthe drink. We have a locally made absinthe here in New Orleans – Toulouse Red – that I thought would be perfect. It’s flavored and colored with hibiscus which gives it an unusual look and beautiful botanical kick. I balance the sweet anise flavor of the absinthe with Lillet and Bittermens Amere Nouvelle.
1 1/2 ounces Toulouse Red
1/4 ounce Bittermens Amere Nouvelle
1/4 ounce Lillet
Add the first 3 ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a champagne coupe. Garnish with a fresh orange twist. Be wary: This drink is potent.
Note: Other than the Lillet, these ingredients might prove harder to find outside of the New Orleans market.
This one had to change colors, but I really don’t like using artificial dyes because they generally impart a horrible chemical flavor to anything. So I went for natural, botanical chemistry tricks. Acids, like citric acid, bring out the red in red cabbage, while alkaline components turn the cabbage blue or green. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Cabbage in my cocktail? Gross.” Trust me, you won’t taste it. To ensure people keep an open mind, just vaguely describe it as a botanical infusion.
Blue botanical infusion
8 ounces finely chopped red cabbage (about 1/2 a small head)
4 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
To make the infusion: Place chopped cabbage in a saucepan and pour boiling water over it. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain liquid into a bowl and stir in the baking soda. The alkalinity will turn the mixture blue. (Be careful not to add too much, or your drink will taste like baking soda.) Allow solution to cool completely before making the cocktail.
To make the cocktail: Build the first five ingredients into a 9-ounce glass, leaving a little room at the top. Pour the botanical infusion into a 1-ounce shot glass. Serve the two side by side so that the drinker can add the blue shot to the cocktail and watch the magic as it changes from colorless translucence to purple and then magenta.
3. Ziggy Stardust
I was hellbent that this drink should have “stardust” in it. Here, the natural particulate from the cider and the gold flakes in the Goldschlager create that aesthetic.
2 1/2 ounces apple cider
1 1/2 ounces Goldschlager
Chill cider and liqueur together then strain into a 4-ounce cordial or other narrow glass to highlight the “stardust.”
4. Rebel Rebel
This absolutely had to be a whiskey drink, with no ice and no garnish. I’m a big fan of rye whiskey, so I started with one of the most underrated ryes I know, Old Overholt, and then gave it an extra kick with Ancho Reyes, a delicious chile liqueur.
2 ounces Old Overholt (or other rye)
3/4 ounce Ancho Reyes
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
Chill and strain all ingredients into a rocks glass. Adjust Ancho Reyes according to your spice tolerance.
5. Jean Genie
There are few people who ever will embody glam as much as Bowie, and there are few drinks that are as glam as bubbly. So, I thought, what the hell, bubbles for glamour, gin for Bowie’s British heritage, and berries because the man loved color, dammit.
1 ounce berry purée (recipe below)
1/2 ounce London Dry Gin (I used Beefeater)
3 ounces dry bubbly (I used Montemarte)
fresh blueberries and raspberries for garnish
1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup raspberries
1/4 cup cranberry cocktail juice
1 ounce simple syrup
To make the purée: Blend all ingredients, strain, then mix resulting purée with 1 ounce of simple syrup. If you use a sweeter sparkling wine, balance the flavor by cutting back on the simple syrup.
To make the cocktail: Build the ingredients in a champagne flute; top with a few fresh berries.