I’ve known Gates Otsuji for about 10 years now. He was a bartender (eventually head bartender) at the trendy downtown hotel where I first learned how to make drinks - and, full disclosure, he’s probably the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mentor. Understandably, I wanted to get one of his original cocktails on our site. So here’s a drink called The Snakecharmer, compliments of someone who, in my obviously unbiased opinion, is one of the very best bartenders out there.
The origin of this drink lies in the fact that Gates used to live down the block from a place that served durian sticky rice. He was a fan and decided to try a cocktail with durian - but that ingredient can pose a challenge due to how assertive it is. “I thought it would help to go with a simple structure (like the classic sour),” says Gates, “and use other flavor points which were recognizable and widely enjoyed like peaches.”
Next, Gates needed other flavors to help build out the drink and give it dimension. He found that with Bitter End’s Curry Bitters and [a gin] with some especially bright botanicals (notably, saffron). As for the name, that came from the visuals. “The colors are electric and hypnotizing,” says Gates, “like the tapping of a snake charmer’s foot that resonates with the snake.” In other words, this a drink that makes an impression, and you should whip a few up the next time you need to cause a small scene.
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- 2 oz Empire Spirits Project Noho Gin (or, in a pinch, whatever gin you prefer)
- 3 drops Bitter End Curry Bitters
- .5 oz durian peach cordial
- .75 oz lemon juice
- .25 oz Combier
- Cornflower petals for garnish
For The Durian Peach Cordial:
- 450g white sugar
- 500ml water
- 8g durian fruit powder
- 450g peach slices (or nectarine or apricot)
Step One: Durian Peach Cordial
To start things off, let’s prep our cordial. First, mix your sugar and durian powder. Next, place your peaches in a sealable container, and coat them evenly with your sugar/durian mixture. Once coated, pour any remaining mixture on top, seal the container, and put it in your fridge for three hours. After removing from the fridge, place this mixture in a saucepan, add your water, and warm everything until the sugar is dissolved and the skin is falling away from the fruit. Finally, strain and allow your cordial to cool.
Step Two: Lemon Juice
Nearly every good (shaken) cocktail needs a punch of acidity, and this one is no different. Juice a fresh lemon, and add .75 ounce lemon juice to your cocktail shaker.
Step Three: Durian Peach Cordial
Remember that durian peach cordial you just made? Pour .5 ounce in your shaker
Step Four: Combier
Step Five: Curry Bitters
This where we really start to flesh out our cocktail. “Between the durian and peach, there’s a tropical sweetness that’s really pleasant,” says Gates, “but you need something earthy or bitter, so the drink doesn’t taste flat.” That’s where Bitter End’s Curry Bitters come in. Put three drops into your shaker.
Step Six: Empire Spirits Project Noho Gin
Finally, it’s time for gin. Gates is a big fan of Empire Spirits Project Noho Gin because it was created by a chef, and “everything they tell you that’s in that gin you can actually taste.” With its saffron, chamomile, pine, and citrus, it’ll help amp up the complexity of this cocktail - but if you put in a good-faith effort to find this gin and somehow come up short, you’re more than welcome to use your go-to brand.
Step Seven: Shake, Strain, Garnish
Now, add a handful of ice to your shaker, and shake your drink vigorously for about 20 seconds. Strain it into your coupe (double strain with a fine strainer for extra credit), and garnish with some dried cornflower petals. Why cornflower petals? The answer is simple. Gates likes the color contrast. They’re a purely aesthetic addition, so, if you don’t happen to have any on hand (our cocktail is actually pictured with dried hibiscus), don’t panic. Just omit the garnish, and drink your electric-orange cocktail.