Expert Answers to 6 Burning Bar Questions

Philly's best bar minds help us navigate the world of beer, wine and spirits
February 14, 2014
by Danya Henninger

Drinking is hard. Ok, not really, but as bars continue to up their game, choosing which beer, wine or cocktails to drink and when can be a challenge. We reached out to the city’s best bar minds to get their help on six of our burning booze questions. Check out their expert answers, and then get to sipping.

Zagat: What’s the difference between an apéritif and a digestif?

Anwar Morgan (The Fat Ham): The word apéritif comes from the latin aperīre, “to open,” and these are drinks intended to excite the appetite without overwhelming the palate. They’re usually low-ABV wine-based spirits like Lillet or Dubonnet, or those with a blend of secret spices and botanicals like Campari. A digestif is intended to be the closer of a meal (and perhaps aid in digestion). Traditionally these are straight spirits like brandy or cognac, or a sweet cordial like Grand Marnier. Lately, amaros like Fernet and Averna have become popular too.

Zagat: Bloody Mary, mimosa, Bloody Mary, mimosa, Bloody Mary, mimosa. What are some great alternative drinks for brunch?

Phoebe Esmon (Emmanuelle): I am a fan of the Seelbach Cocktail (c. 1917, Seelbach Hotel, Louisville, KY). One of the last cocktails developed before Prohibition, the recipe was lost somewhere in that 13-year dry stretch and dwelt in un-sipped obscurity until it was rediscovered in 1995. It’s made with bourbon, curaçao, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, and sparkling wine. There’s also a whole group of classic drinks referred to as “Eye Openers,” including the Morning Glory Fizz and the Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Zagat: Is wine always better when paired with food? Is there any wine better for sipping on its own?

Kate Moroney (Vintage, Philly Wine Week): Always is a strong word so I would have to say no. However, the right pairing will make the wine taste better and the food taste better. As far as sipping wine on its own, it’s all up to personal taste. If you like strong flavors, you’ll enjoy an Australian shiraz or California cabernet. If you like sweeter sips, try a German Riesling (look for keywords on the bottle like Spatlese). Sourheads can go for high-acid white wines like sauvignon blancs from New Zealand or Sancerre. Hey whiskey drinkers: wine gets aged in barrels too, so embrace those baking-spice qualities in bold reds like a Crianza from Spain.

Zagat: What’s the difference between tequila and mezcal? Can they ever be used interchangeably?

Brian Sirhal (Cantina Feliz, La Calaca Feliz, Taqueria Feliz): Tequila can be made with only 100% blue agave and must be from the state of Jalisco (with a few exceptions) whereas mezcal can be made with any agave and is often from Oaxaca (but can be made in a few other states). Mezcal is almost like a moonshine and is often made in a much more rustic manner. The flavor profile ends up very different: mezcal has a smokier flavor than tequila and is often described as peaty, like Scotch. I think they can be used somewhat interchangeably, depending on what you’re going for, but for many people, mezcal is an acquired taste. Recently I made myself a Manhattan but substituted mezcal for rye. It was great.

Zagat: When does a beer pairing work better than a wine pairing?

Jesse Cornell (Sbraga): I don't necessarily think that beer pairs “better” than wine. However, I’m excited to see beer recognized not just as a drink good for frat parties but as a sophisticated beverage capable of standing up as a flavor match to a variety of fine foods. Right now at Sbraga, we have Corsendonk Christmas Ale paired with our roasted duck, and the fruit notes play incredibly well. We are also serving Evil Twin Cowboy (a smoked pilsner) with a pasta dish of smoked bucatini, grilled clams and fresno chile peppers.

Zagat: What bitters are essential for a home bar, and what drinks can be made with them?

Mike Treffehn (The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co.): The holy trifecta of bitters is Angostura, Peychaud's and orange (for orange, I like Regan's). They can be used pretty liberally in any cocktail - it really depends on your tastes. Classic for a Manhattan is Angostura, but I like throwing a bit of orange bitters in there. I also like to add a few dashes to simple sours and Collinses - try a bourbon Collins with Peychaud’s.