Caitlin Lewis likes her tequila neat, and her martinis slightly dirty. Mezcal? Pass. Poblano liqueur? Never. Gin? No thanks. Cocktails? Ha. But just because Lewis knows the limits of her palate doesn’t mean she won’t urge you to challenge yours. Lewis is the head bartender at Beach Road Restaurant in Vineyard Haven. She works five nights a week with 13 bar seats to serve, and has plenty of playful pairings up her sleeve.
“I like surprising people and challenging comfort zones,” Lewis said. “People sitting at a bar are a captive audience.”
A light crimson-colored cocktail in a highball glass is a labor of love. It’s called the Spring Darling, and is a Caitlin Lewis original. After 15 years behind a bar, be it somewhere in Manhattan or at Park Corner circa 2010, Lewis has gotten good at concocting signature drinks. And just as the Beach Road kitchen crew does, Lewis works in the freshest ingredients wherever possible.
“First rhubarb of the season,” Lewis said, holding a ripe bundle of six or seven stalks of rhubarb.
The Spring Darling is made with rhubarb-infused vodka, fennel-infused Dolin vermouth, Lillet Blanc, and a small squirt of lemon. It’s shaken and strained into an ice-filled highball glass, topped with a splash of soda water, and garnished with a spiral of raw sliced rhubarb. The drink is just as pretty as it is popular — and more or less straight booze, contrary to how it tastes.
“Notice those hints of strawberry?” Lewis said. “That’s the Lillet Blanc. And we use a really nice dry vermouth.”
Lewis infuses the vodka and vermouth in-house — a process that takes about two days.
She starts by chopping about six stalks of rhubarb — first sliced the long way, and then a series of quick, short vertical chops. Then she adds the chopped rhubarb to a large, airtight jar, plus three tablespoons of raw sugar. Next, she pours an entire liter of Bully Boy vodka over the jar of chopped rhubarb and sugar, and lets it all sit — somewhere dark, but not in the refrigerator. In two days, the rhubarb-infused vodka is ready. The fennel-infused Dolin is a similar undertaking. Lewis slices one large fennel bulb into another airtight jar, before pouring in a liter of dry Dolin vermouth, and letting it sit for two days. Voilà.
“It was instilled in me long ago that when someone sits at your bar or table, it’s like they’re a guest in your house,” Lewis said. “You anticipate everything they want, and you get it to them before they know they need it.”
2 oz. of rhubarb-infused Bully Boy vodka 1 oz. of fennel-infused Dolin vermouth 1 oz. of Lillet Blanc 1 small squirt of lemon
Shake and strain, topped with a splash of soda water.