Let’s be honest: Arkansas can have some pretty miserable weather. Winters are usually wet (even if they aren’t freezing), and summers are full of sweltering days that make air conditioning almost necessary to survive. But still, there are a few months every year where Arkansas is perfect, and spring is certainly one of those times. This is patio dining and drinking weather, my friends. So it’s no surprise that chefs and bartenders around the city have special menus ready to go just for the occasion.
That includes Brett Bassett, beverage director for Yellow Rocket Concepts. Bassett has updated the cocktail menu at Big Orange for the season (new menus coming soon at Local Lime and Heights Taco & Tamale Co.), so I decided to stop by to see what he has to offer. And trust me when I say, you’re going to want to do the same.
“You want something fresh, something clean,” said Bassett on creating cocktails for the springtime. “The weather is starting to warm up, people are getting out and about, so you want to keep it really light and fresh if you can.”
Bassett has updated the menu with four seasonal cocktails, each of which are strong in their own right. The first drink I tried is the Smoke Show. On inspection, there first doesn’t appear anything smoky about this nearly crystal clear cocktail. But hold it to your nose, and the two different mezcals instantly bring to mind the aromas of a pleasant outdoor cookout. Most of the smoke is in the nose; the sip is remarkably delicate and balanced, with Genepy, vermouth and crème de violette swirling around the agave spirts. While it doesn’t look like much, this is a very satisfying tipple that will give your palette a workout.
The most visually striking spring offering is the Wise 55. This is an egg white cocktail that keeps things simple in the glass, with an extra amontillado sherry serving as the only source of alcohol. But the egg white topped with Angostura bitters and fresh rosemary (which really opens up your senses) not only put on a show but play with the sherry in a fun way. And look, I know some of you are going to be tense about ordering a drink with egg whites, but this is one I think you should put on a brave face and order anyway. It is worth the apprehension.
Bassett was quick to credit Big Orange bartender Luigi Uzcategui with the creation of the tiki-inspired cocktail Peg-Legged Swede. This looks (and even somewhat tastes) like a classic pina colada, but there’s so much going on in this whimsical beverage. Plantation rum and rancio wine (wine that has been allowed to oxidize) are the foundation for Swedish punsch, pineapple, lime juice and some special housemade bitters. This is a drink that will make you want to go to the beach and sip your worries away with your toes in the sand.
The final new beverage is a classic looking cocktail that has some hidden depth to it. The Fleur de Asti is a gin cocktail, with Byrrh, Cocchi American Rosa, lemon juice and fresh muddled blueberries giving the drink a fresh pop of flavor. The color here is stunning; this is one that people will want to order when they see a server delivering it to another table. Gin lovers will also enjoy this, as the play of citrus and aromatics is one that will keep you interested.
In addition to the new cocktails, Big Orange Midtown is barrel-aging a Campari-based cocktail called Eeyore’s Requiem. There is also the full lineup of draft wine and craft beer for you to enjoy. The weather is finally perfect. I encourage you to head to Big Orange Midtown and enjoy Mother Nature, as well as one of these standout cocktails.