An Evening at the Punch Room

Bob Peters is not messing around.  From his lair on the fifteenth floor of the Ritz Carlton in Charlotte, he is crafting cocktails.  I normally stay away from the word “craft” these days, IMG_1148because it evokes artisanal micro-green salads and small batch kale tallow soap.  Peters is a craftsman, though, and Mrs. Guitars and Gin and I headed up the big elevator one windy March evening to see the man in action and taste his wares.

Things kicked off in a distinctly 007 mood.  A R-C staff member showed us through the lobby bar (itself lively and hip enough to be a happy destination) to the elevator.  Upon emerging at floor fifteen, we were faced with a plain corridor ending in a hostess stand and what looked to be a black leather covered wall.  The Punch Room only has thirty-seven seats, and while there is, apparently, often a queue in the corridor, we were, as always, unfashionably early and walked right up.

The hostess slipped a key-card into a slot in the leather wall and then opened a leather door (it’s possible these were not real leather- they could be vegan for all I know).  This led to an ante chamber featuring a single leather-doored restroom.  From there. . . the Punch Room itself beckoned.

The first thing that happens when you enter the Punch Room is that someone hands you a glass of punch.  Peters makes up a big bowl every night of a different variety. IMG_1139 Historically, punches are older than cocktails, and the one we had was delightful (and strong) indeed.  I wish I could tell you what was in it, but I’m not even sure we found out.  He does have several punches on the menu (made in batches for two); for example, the one called “A Rad Miracle” features Milagro Reposado tequila, salted radish syrup, and Lillet Blanc.

From there, we put ourselves in Peters’ hands.  I first went to the bar to seek his advice, and he walked back to our table to ask about our preferences and favorites.  He and Mrs. G&G had a deep conversation about flavor profiles and botanicals.  I gave him the directive to treat me like a sorority sister on spring break who’d never had a drink without an umbrella.

For Mrs. G&G, he came back with this:IMG_1143

The lovely Pisco Sour, featuring pisco, muddled lemon and lime, and St. Germain foam on top. Pisco is a light amber Peruvian brandy, but unlike the heavily flavored European brandies most of us know, it is unlawful to age pisco in any sort of wood at all.  The result is a lighter, grapey-er spirit.

 

 

 

For me, the offering was a carbonated Aviation.  I hadn’t told Bob about my love for the barely-violet gin cocktail, but in his wisdom he had sussed it out.  He uses Cardinal gin, IMG_1142lemon juice, Luxardo, and creme de violette, as per tradition, but carbonates it himself with his personal. . . carbonator?  It was wonderful, combining a fine-bubble fizz with a lovely light drink.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we moved up to the bar, wanting to continue our impromptu education uninterrupted.  He let us taste the difference between green and yellow Chartreuse, let IMG_1144us in on the best-kept-secret ABC store in Charlotte (Cherry Street ABC), and further prodded our palates.  When I confessed that I had no love for the über-hip Negroni, he took it as a challenge and prepared for me a Cynar Boulevadier, subbing cynar for campari and creating a bitter-but-slightly-less-so drink that allowed the complexity and sweetness to shine through the shadows.

 

 

I haven’t discussed the luxe decor, the bar snacks, or the views of downtown Charlotte.  They’re all superb, but the real draw here is Peters.  The hours he mulled over glassware, his curating of small batch exotic spirits, his unrelenting search for new flavors, and his generosity of spirit as host and teacher: these are the real draw.  We’ll be back; stop by and tell Bob we sent you.

http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/charlotte/dining/punch-room/the-experience

 

The Last Word

IMG_0055One of our very favorite cocktails of late has been the Last Word.  Equal parts Luxardo, Chartreuse, gin, and lime juice, this refresher is citrus-forward enough to be crowd-friendly but herbally complex enough to keep the interest of the most curmudgeonly craft cocktail hipster.  The two liqueurs are unique and give a “this tastes familiar but I can’t put my finger on it” mystique.  Luxardo has become our secret weapon, with its funky bitter cherry pit flavor bringing the Tiki to the party.  The Chartreuse is the star here, though: a liqueur made in a single French monastery since 1737.  Although it contains some 130 herbs and botanicals, only two monks at any given time know the recipe.

The recipe originated during the gin boom under Prohibition, and has, like the Corpse Reviver #2, had a renaissance in the past few years.  It doesn’t hurt that the drink is beautiful to look at in the coupe as well.  We support the local boys at Cardinal Gin in Western North Carolina, and their smooth blend of botanicals complements the Chartreuse perfectly.

1 oz. each lime juice, Chartreuse, Luxardo, and gin, shaken and strained.