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Forget The Simple Description: These Are Very Complicated Cocktails

Think these cocktails are easy to make? Look deeper. 

Chief among the inventive drinks on the menu at Gibson is the Clear Bloody Mary. 


Read more about the future of cocktails.

Adam Chapman’s drink menu at Gibson reads like an argument against itself. What he calls a Bijou cocktail ($13), which usually features gin, Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth, includes none of those ingredients. It instead swaps in vodka, strawberry, pinot gris aperitif, and cucumber foam. His Negroni ($13) has tequila in it. He uses aged vodka and gin in one of the house Gibsons, and white whiskey for a drink that calls for aged rye. Garnish is treated with great suspicion. But as it turns out, there is a method to Chapman’s madness.

“We think about a flavor and how we want to build a spirit into it,” he says. Chapman typically creates his cocktails around flavorful modifiers rather than base spirits. If the fi nal drink is close enough to a classic one, he’ll simply borrow the name. Starting points have included fig-leaf-infused vermouth that resulted in a Vieux Carré ($14); toasted oats from the kitchen that manifested in an old-fashioned ($13); and apple vinegar, the basis of a forthcoming drink.

But the darling of this apostate menu is Gibson’s Clear Bloody Mary ($14), a drink that he’s been working on for six years at various restaurants. (“Four or five different chefs have touched that drink,” he says.) The cocktail began with the concept of the wet juiciness of fresh tomatoes, as opposed to the cooked flavor of preserved tomato juice. From there, it grew to include a blend of juice from three tomato varietals concentrated by freezing and discarding the water. Shochu, sake, and vodka aged with oak chips make up the base spirit for a soft, rich, and creamy texture. Green chili vodka and ancho chili liqueur provide heat, aged fish sauce gives umami, aged tomato ponzu is added for vinegar’s acidity, cherry-blossom-infused shoyu gives it saltiness, and a housemade togarashi stands in for the standard spices. The drink is topped with a spray of pepper oil and sometimes a pickled green tomato. The menu description is simply “blended spirits, Japanese spice.” But as with all of Gibson’s drinks, the reality is far more complex.

Next: Wine country's unofficial AVA. 


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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