How Chicago Bar Experts Are Taking Sangria to the Next Level

Tea infusers and slushie machines give the drink fresh flavor
May 27, 2015
by Sarah Freeman

An elegant, refreshing staple of Spanish drinking culture, sangria has developed an unfair reputation in the U.S. as a sad backyard libation. Fortunately, Chicago bar experts are coming up with creative ways to reinvigorate the fruity drink. 

At Bin 36, owner Enoch Shully was disappointed by the city's sangria selection, so he set out to create the best glass in Chicago. The wine expert hand-selects dry red wines such as Syrah or Grenache to be poured though a cold-drip tower, traditionally used to extract flavors from tea. The wine is macerated with fresh fruit, cane sugar and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac. Then, the tower's chamber is filled with seasonal herbs and spices, including coriander, cinnamon, stars of anise and pink peppercorn. As the sweetened wine is poured though, it picks up subtle spice notes. This slow infusion process takes a day, resulting in a delicate drink with layered flavors.

Meanwhile, Oak + Char’s Tyler Mendoza decided to change the way the drink is presented. By freezing it, he turned an already summer-friendly sipper into the ultimate patio refreshment. In order to achieve a slushielike consistency that retains the delicate ting of alcohol and sweet body, Mendoza replaced brandy with white rum. He also shunned the one-wine-only rule by combining both red and white wine in the base. It is sweetened with a locally made pineapple cordial, orange juice, oranges, lemon and cinnamon sticks before it takes a spin in the slushie machine. The final product is called Marcy (it's named both for Mendoza's mom and a regular at the restaurant), and can be ordered the pitcher or glass.

On the horizon, Goose Island is developing a sangria-inspired beer. Originally schedule to be released next month, the brewery’s first cocktail inspired beer is spending a bit more time in the barrels. “For us, this sangria beer represents a style that’s never been done before,” brewer Quinn Fuechsl says. The beer has been in development for the past eight months, beginning with a road trip to Crown Valley Winery in Ste. Genevieve, MO, to secure wine and brandy barrels from the hybrid winery and distillery. Back in Chicago, the barrels were filled with 50 pounds of pears, oranges, limes, blueberries, pineapples and mangoes as well as saison beer. After six weeks, the barrel-aged beer was added to a wit beer base and brewed with black-style malts (to give the final product a mahogany hue).

Beer and sangria nerds alike were offered an early taste of the beer, named St. Genevieve, during Chicago Craft Beer Week. Did brewers Fuechsl and Taylor Nelson achieve their goal of making a drink that drank like beer but tasted like sangria? Yes. The easy-drinking beer comes in at 5% ABV and has subtle fruit notes that evolve with each sip, from citrus and hops to mangoes and malt. It’s a complex creation worthy of its muse.