A World’s Best Bartender Knows How to Mix the Perfect Holiday Drink
(Bloomberg) -- Editor’s note: As we leave our home kitchens to dine out more, the weekly Lunch Break column has evolved to highlight dishes from a variety of sources: a new or reopened restaurant; a newsmaking person, place, or recipe; or, of course, a great cookbook.
If you’re making a list of people you most want to mix you a drink this holiday season, Lynnette Marrero should be at the top.
Marrero is the winner of the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award, part of the World’s Best Bars celebration, which took place in London on Dec. 7. The award is the result of votes from the drinkmakers at the top 50 bars. “People buy you a lot of drinks, there was lots of celebrating,” said Marrero, who was in the U.K. for the ceremony.
She won in part for her terrific reputation, most recently as beverage director at the Peruvian food and drink destination Llama Inn in Brooklyn, N.Y., and at the ambitious Peruvian Japanese restaurant Llama San in Manhattan. Marrero has garnered an international following as well as the co-founder of Speed Rack, the decade-old groundbreaking bartending competition for women that has raised more than $1.25 million for female-led charities.
Marrero is also renowned in some circles for her signature cocktail, the vibrantly colored, powerfully flavored Llama del Ray. It’s the bestselling drink at Llama Inn and has been since the place opened on a Williamsburg corner in 2015. It’s based on the classic Peruvian purple corn drink, chicha morada.
The Lllama Del Ray is also Marrero’s inspired version of sangria, one of the most universally popular, simple-to-make, alcohol-fueled beverages. It’s her go-to holiday drink at home. For one thing, it checks the box of easy-to-serve punch. It’s also versatile. “It’s great as a welcome drink with a plate of charcuterie, or as a beverage to enjoy throughout a meal, because it’s got a lot of acidity,” says Marrero. “It’s not too sweet and heavy.”
At the restaurant, Marrero offers a sophisticated version made with homemade grenadine, grilled pineapple juice, and pink peppercorns that’s so popular itis served on draft. But she has created a simpler version for home bartenders. Rather than orange juice—the staple of too many too-sweet sangrias—she uses pomegranate juice, which brings in bright, fun acidity.
Her hack is to also make use of flavored teas—the kind everyone has lying around in the pantry. One is hibiscus, which adds tannins and aromatics to the punch, not to mention a bold red hue; the other is an apple spice blend, which adds warm hints of cinnamon and ginger.
The drink is spiked with pisco, the Peruvian/Chilean grape brandy that is becoming increasingly available in U.S. liquor stores. Marrero recommends one of the new-to-the-north single-origin ones such as Suyo Pisco, or a Peruvian option like Macchu Pisco, Barsol, or 1615. You can substitute a fruit brandy, preferably apple or pear, if you have one handy, or a floral gin like the Botanist. Aged rum and red wine—preferably a Spanish rioja that’s light, refreshing and dry—punch up the beverage as well.
To animate the cocktail further, the star bartender suggests using pomegranate seed-studded ice cubes and frozen grapes and pineapple slices as a garnish. Another of her go-to home tricks for punch is to use half-pint plastic takeout containers to make large rounds of ice that can cool down a punch.
While you’re drinking, consider the name. “I love Lana Del Ray; I love her moody Brooklynite attitude,” says Marrero. “I’m expressing her artistry in cocktail form,” says Marrero. “It’s reflective of her music: On the surface it might look like sangria, but it goes much deeper.”
Tester’s Note: This drink can easily be doubled to serve more people. If you’re not planning to serve it over ice, make sure the juices and teas are chilled before serving.
Llama Del Rey
Serves 4 to 5 people
5 oz pomegranate juice
2 ½ tbsp honey, agave nectar or cane sugar
5 oz brewed chilled hibiscus tea
8 oz dry red wine, preferably Spanish
3 oz aged rum
3 oz pisco or pear or apple brandy or a floral gin
3 oz lime juice
4 oz pineapple juice (see Note)
4 oz brewed, chilled apple spice tea
Frozen grapes, apple slices, and/or fresh pineapple slices, for garnish
In a pan, combine the pomegranate juice with the honey, agave nectar, or cane sugar. Heat in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until heated through, and the sugar is dissolved (if using it). Add the hibiscus tea and let stand for 20 minutes; let cool and chill, if you have time.
In an ice-filled punch bowl or pitcher, combine the remaining ingredients. Add the infused pomegranate juice, garnish with frozen grapes, apples, and/or pineapple slices. Serve over ice.
Note: If it’s an option, grill pineapple slices, then juice them; it will add smoky flavor to the drink.
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