Explore uncharted flavors in these new cocktails. Photo: Nate Evans
Writer: Mathany Ahmed
Ever since they first worked together, local bartenders Ben Bourland and Nate Evans bonded over their shared philosophy: A good cocktail is one you actually want to drink.
That means ditching the gimmicky ingredients in favor of carefully balanced flavors and replacing vague menu buzzwords with a two-way conversation between bartender and patron. “It’s about doing things the right way,” Evans said.
Now, Bourland and Evans are ready to share their strong opinions and stiff drinks in a “Semester Abroad,” a cocktail tasting event Feb. 1-3 at Django. They’ll serve a flight of six cocktails that feature spirits from around the world, each inspired by the bartenders’ own travels. They’ve worked with the Django chefs to pair each cocktail with a small bite, which is also inspired by a foreign destination, but the unique drinks will take center stage.
“From what I’ve seen, none of the drinks we’re doing have been on other cocktail menus in Des Moines,” Bourland said. “There will be new flavors and new combinations that diners haven’t seen yet.”
Here are a few highlights from the tasting tour:
“Portugal. The Drink,” Portugal
The cacao-infused port in this Portuguese-inspired drink starts with a peachy taste, evolves into a minty chocolate and finishes with the bitterness of dark chocolate. “It’s all about what it tastes like, not just how you made it,” Evans said. “Everything in each drink has a purpose.”
“Venetian Sunset,” Italy
The bittersweet and aromatic notes of Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif, find harmony with citrus fruits. Evans and Bourland adjusted the pH level of blood-orange juice with citric acid to achieve just the right level of tartness. “We wanted that acid punch to balance out the cocktail,” Bourland said.
“Drink in the Sights,” France
The two types of brandy featured in this cocktail — armagnac and cognac — mix with a bitter spiced syrup to recreate the moody ambiance of a Parisian dive bar Evans once visited. “It reminds me of sitting in a dim bar, relaxing, sipping on a cocktail and watching people walk by on the streets,” he recalled.
Book your flight before tickets run out and don’t worry: They won’t make you gate-check your bag.