Sometimes it’s good to look to others for inspiration. Especially in the case of the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, where not only do they have a secret chef’s garden, and not only do they like featuring a “100-mile cocktail” of all-local ingredients, but they also have an elegant cocktail lounge where a random bird hops about the tile floor as you discuss their cocktail program with Ty Lounge Manager Jennifer Higgins.
“The birds come in here all the time,” she says. “It’s part of our indoor-outdoor atmosphere.”
The Biltmore is also big on letting people know they are in Santa Barbara, not just some anonymous if elegant Resortland, from Executive Chef Alessandro Cartumini’s delicious farmers-market-driven menus to the drinks at the bar.
“It’s part of the Four Seasons initiative, which is to localize the experience,” Higgins explains. “We work closely with the chef and know when things will be available from local farmers.” Not to mention they are also in the forefront featuring products from local distilleries Ascendant and Cutler.
All this experience, plus their having a full hotel kitchen in which to experiment, made me feel even better about turning to them for the always-difficult Santa Barbara fall cocktail—will the weather be hot, cold or both? What mixologist Daniel Whiting came up with works for any temperature: the Tangerine Dancer, inspired by Frank Sinatra’s version of Johnny Mercer’s slightly samba “Tangerine.” (In fact, if you play Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass while drinking the cocktail, you might teleport to an early season of Mad Men.) The drink also has tropical roots in its tangerine juice (and in the fall tangerines are just burstingly fresh to the market), but then there are warming notes, too, from the pungent spice scents, the baking notes of vanilla.
Speaking of that, here’s to the Ty Lounge’s find of Bainbridge Organic Vanilla Vodka, the first organic vodka out of Washington (one of the brand’s owners lives locally and hangs at the Lounge). A grain-to-glass product, as they call it, each bottle gets three or four eight-inch-long vanilla pods and four months bottle-aging to infuse. So, you could substitute a vanilla vodka like Stoli, but it won’t have as round and rich a taste.
Or, you could prep this cocktail and get started on holiday presents all at once. Get some of your favorite vodka, and maybe choose one you like that also comes in a gorgeous bottle (like Ascendant’s American Star). Drop three or four of the best vanilla bean pods you can afford to buy (Bainbridge uses ones from Madagascar) into the bottles, and store them away in a cool, dark place. In four months, voilà, you’ve got a great vanilla vodka and homemade presents for the holidays. The vodka will become the color of weak tea.
Indeed, while this is a recipe that can involve many extra steps (if you can, try it with whipped, and not just whipping cream, for extra richness), it keeps spinning off great side products, like the glory days of TV when All in the Family begat Maude and The Jeffersons. Simple syrup is one of the great bar tricks, as it allows you to add sweetness as a liquid. It couldn’t be easier to make: equal parts sugar and water. Boil. But it also becomes a wonderful carrier for other flavors, in this case more vanilla. Then what you don’t use for the drinks, try on pancakes or waffles or see how a dash or two of it tastes with your morning coffee or favorite bourbon.
Ultimately, the Tangerine Dancer is something both complex and unified, a bit light in alcohol (the vodka is the only fire) and a bit heavy in mouthfeel. This is sort of the adult, and way better than what you remembered from your childhood, Creamsicle of your dreams. Plus fall equals Halloween; when better for an orange-hued cocktail?
(Created by Daniel Whiting, Ty Lounge mixologist)
Makes 2 cocktails
4 ounces Bainbridge Organic Vanilla Vodka
1⁄2 ounce orgeat syrup
1 ounce vanilla simple syrup (recipe follows)
3 ounces fresh-squeezed tangerine juice
2 dashes (about 1 tablespoon) whipped cream
(or substitute heavy whipping cream)
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters (per drink)
1 dash Angostura bitters (per drink)
2 clove-dusted tangerine slices
2 whole cloves (per drink, optional)
Build vodka, orgeat, simple syrup, juice and whipped or whipping cream in cocktail shaker over ice. (Yes, making whipped cream adds another pre-step to this cocktail, unless you have some around for dessert. So heavy whipping cream can work, but the cocktail won’t be quite as rich.) Shake and strain evenly into two coupe glasses. Finish each drink with a dash of both bitters. Float a clove-dusted tangerine slice and
a whole clove as aromatic garnish for each cocktail.
(Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
11⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Bring sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Stir in vanilla extract and store in refrigerator. Simple syrup can keep for up to four weeks, and feel free to use it for other purposes. Soon you will be making simple syrups of all flavors (Jennifer likes making a black pepper simple syrup).
George Yatchisin happily eats, drinks and writes in Santa Barbara. He blogs at GeorgeEats.com