With the proliferation of craft cocktails—that change with the seasons, no less—one has to wonder how bartenders come up with so many names, which range from appropriately descriptive to funny, dirty, and downright weird.
Inspiration can come from anywhere: puns, inside jokes, favorite songs or bands, book or movie characters, and of course—sometimes regrettably for us—customers. But what most bartenders have in common when it comes to cocktail names is that the name is typically harder to conceive of than the drink.
Here are the stories behind five cocktails that caught our eye on menus around town.
The cocktail: Sam from the Building
Where to get it: Billy Sunday (3143 W. Logan Blvd., Logan Square, billy-sunday.com)
What’s in it: Bonded Rye, refined palm sugar, Tagliatella (fruit brandy), and rue (bitter herb)-infused grappa
The story: In need of a name for this fruity, spicy mixed cocktail, Billy Sunday’s bartenders looked inward—quite literally—to their building’s landlord. “The landlord is a character who always stops in,” said one barback when we visited. “He writes us notes and slips them under the door that are always signed ‘Sam from the building’.” Owner Matthias Merges confirmed that his landlord inspired the drink.
The cocktail: Swipe Right
Where to get it: The Dawson (730 W. Grand Ave., River West, the-dawson.com)
What’s in it: Reyka vodka, Rhine Hall apple brandy, cardamaro, spiced cranberry, and lemon
The story: Laced with preserved apple, cranberry, citrus peel, and warming spices such as ginger, clove, and cinnamon, this vodka-based cocktail was created to shine in the fall and winter months. While most may know that the cocktail’s name is a nod to the action you take if you like what you see on the dating app Tinder, what some may not realize is “both of our bars are swamped with Tinder dates every night,” says Clint Rogers, beverage director and general manager. How do they know that, you ask? “Let’s just say, we know.”
The cocktail: Daddy Moved to Aspen (and He's Never Coming Back)
Where to get it: Barrelhouse Flat (2624 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Park, barrelhouseflat.com)
What’s in it: White wine, Cocchi Americano, St. George pear brandy, honey, ginger, and spices
The story: The idea for this warm mulled wine cocktail came from bartender Jessica Tessendorf’s desire to create a variation on a Smoking Bishop with white wine, ginger, and peppercorns for a drier, less fruity mulled wine cocktail. The name was the convergence of bartender banter and the owner’s decision to move to Aspen for the season.
“Drinking mulled wine, at least in our contemporary terms, is kind of bourgeois, so we were making jokes about hot wine and ski lodges. Not long after that, I called one of the owners to go to the bank for me and found out he had moved to Aspen for the season. I joked, ‘You’re never coming back, are you?’”
He has, in fact, come back. “That’s what Daddy does, I guess,” she added with a laugh.
The cocktail: The Pastry War
Where to get it: The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square, whistlerchicago.com)
What’s in it: Agave de Oro reposado tequila, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, apple, almond, cinnamon, beetroot, and lime
The story: Like many of the others, the name came second for this spiced, beguilingly nutty, tequila-based cocktail. Created by co-owner/bartender Robert Brenner, the Pastry War is made with tequila (from Mexico) and cognac (from France). Its name is appropriately derived from the name given to a five-month conflict between France and Mexico in the 1830s that launched because of an unpaid bakery debt.
“It also accurately describes the overall taste of the drink, as there are some sweet pastry and baking spice flavors in there which are perfectly balanced with a dose of tequila's best friend, lime juice,” adds co-owner Billy Helmkamp.
The cocktail: Mustakrakish
Where to get it: Sable (505 N. State St., River North, sablechicago.com)
What’s in it: Old Grand-Dad bourbon, housemade orgeat, absinthe, and prosecco
The story: In this clean, bright, acidic champagne-style cocktail, potent 100-proof bourbon and a heavy dose of anise-like absinthe are shaken briefly with housemade almond- and orange-flavored orgeat syrup, then topped with dry prosecco and lemon peel. National bar education manager Mike Ryan got the name from a Finnish river troll that appears in “Metalocalypse,” an animated series about a death metal band.
“Mike often uses lofty references in his cocktails,” says head bartender John Stanton. “I’m guessing the absinthe was heavy on Mike’s mind and he went through a mental association to come up with this one.”