Contributed by Kaitlyn Goalen
We've passed into a new cocktail era, moving from the resurrection of classic drinks to the redemption of maligned ingredients.
The latest glory story: the humble banana.
It's understandable that this tropical fruit has been sidelined until now. Fibrous and "unjuiceable," banana has been most commonly used to flavor drinks by whirring it in a blender. Thus, the fruit was typecast donning a Hawaiian shirt instead of a natty vest and suspenders.
Then along came Giffard Banane du Brésil ($35). Unlike lab-synthesized trainwrecks of the past, this liqueur is made from a four-week maceration of real Brazilian bananas, and then fortified with cognac.
Introduced to the U.S. market in early 2013, the spirit has been adopted quietly but fervently at some of the country's best bars. The cocktails that have emerged prove that the banana is not only a viable ingredient behind the bar but also a crucial one.
Take the Bananarac at Nitecap, a new New York bar from David Kaplan and Alex Day. The funky-sweet nectar-like notes of the liqueur bring out a fecund depth in the New Orleans-perfected Sazerac pairing of rye whiskey, bitters and absinthe in this concoction by bar manager Natasha David.
At Extra Fancy in Brooklyn, bartender Robert Krueger matches Banane du Brésil with its countryman, cachaça, in the zippy Iz Bananaz. Says Krueger of Banane du Brésil: "It's the only real banana liqueur I know of, and tastes like a complete banana dessert: buttery, with roasted caramel notes."
There's further monkeying around happening, too. Maxwell Britten, suspender aficionado and head barman at Maison Premiere, also in Brooklyn, takes fresh bananas and transforms them into a finely strained puree. He then prepares a spiced banana syrup, with which he makes the Louisville Jockey Club Julep. Met with bourbon, mint, lemon juice and lemon bitters, the drink has all the sophistication of a thoroughbred at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
Everybody loves a comeback.
Kaitlyn Goalen is a writer, editor and cook based in Brooklyn and Raleigh, N.C. She is the editor and co-founder of Short Stack Editions, a series of single-subject, digest-size cookbooks, and has contributed to a variety of national publications.
(Illustrations courtesy Ariel Dunitz-Johnson)