LEWISTON — Rachel Jalbert has created The Bobcat. The Plum Mule. The Sweet Beet Martini — which is, as it sounds, beet-tastic.

She likes to mix, soak, tinker and taste, and has for a while.

As it turns out, she’s very 2014.

“Thumbs up to me, I’m in the trend zone,” joked Jalbert, head bartender at Fuel.

Before you head out for your next Saturday night on the town, here’s news you can use (responsibly):

Craft cocktails — whether spins on a classic or new, wholesale inventions — are hot this fall.

Sour beer? Oddly, hot.

A take on mulled apple cider designed to melt your insides? Also hot and, well, HOT.

A lot of it’s locally sourced, high-end or both.

“Foodies are looking for quality and stuff in food — it falls into drinking,” said Tom Ardia, bar manager at Marche Kitchen & Wine Bar, across the street from Fuel on Lisbon Street. “I don’t want bad beer or bad wine or bad cocktails.”

‘Their eyes light up’

Ardia said a lot of his drink knowledge grew from his own foodie-ness — what to pair with what. He picked up his bartending experience on the job, moving out to Los Angeles for 10 years before heading back East four years ago.

“It opened me up to a lot of stuff, craft beers, cocktails,” he said. “I feel like the craft beer scene kind of popped the craft cocktail scene.”

At Marche, Ardia said he’s seeing more people try cocktails at a 50-50 split between the sexes. To a degree, it’s situational. Thirsty? He’ll suggest a beer instead.

“People aren’t going, ‘I want six cocktails,'” he said.

He’s seeing better distilling and better ingredients. “You’re not using sour mix anymore, you’re using fresh fruit,” Ardia said.

Ardia’s been mixing rye whiskey and rum made by New England Distilling out of Portland, adding syrup and bitters and calling it a New England Old Fashioned. Then he’s taken that a step further this fall with A Mighty Toddy, a drink with rye whiskey, rum, orange juice, apple cider tea and a few other ingredients, served hot.

“It’s just strong, it warms the body up,” Ardia said.

Two months ago at Fish Bones American Grill on Lincoln Street, bar manager Meghan Anthoine had a challenge: Invent a drink for the closed-door reception with actor Patrick Dempsey the night before the Dempsey Challenge.

Tequila-maker Patron is an event sponsor, so she ultimately mixed Patron tequila and Patron Citronge and fresh lime juice to create Dempsey’s Margarita, adorning the rim with salt mixed with cilantro that she crushed and mixed herself. 

“It has a little bit of a lime-y hint to it for an herb,” Anthoine said. “Of course, there’s nothing like a margarita on a Friday night after work.”

For Fish Bones’ fall/winter menu, she concocted the Elderflower Old Fashioned, a cocktail with elderflower liquor, bitters and lemon zest, and the Apple and Cinnamon Sangria, a mix of pinot grigio, rum and apple cider, splashed with ginger ale and cinnamon.

“You don’t really think (about) pairing a rum and a wine together,” said Anthoine.

Like Ardia, she grew up in Lewiston and got her bartending experience while going to college in Rhode Island. 

“Newport’s a really touristy bar scene,” she said. “I love the fast pace of everything. Creating new cocktails is really fun, mixing flavors, seeing people’s reaction to something I built.”

With the new Hampton Inn across the street, Anthoine said she’s seeing lots more businesspeople walk in at night looking for a beer or a glass of wine. 

Fish Bones only keeps Maine beer on tap, six of them. When someone from away asks for a Blue Moon, she recommends Allagash White. 

“Baxter IPA, we can’t keep it in-house, it goes like that,” she said. “A lot of time people are coming in for an IPA. (She’ll say,) ‘Try this.’ Their eyes light up.” 

Ardia has seen a trend toward sour beer.

“It’s (sour) on purpose,” he said. “There’s different levels of sweet and sour; they’re very popular among women. It reminds them of cider. The carbonation reminds them of champagne.”

New flavors, ‘instant gratification’ 

With a half-dozen label-less bottles lined up on her bar with mysterious dark red, warm red and orange liquid floating inside, Jalbert at Fuel has been called a mad scientist and at least once, a sorcerer.

It’s cool.

“I take it as a compliment,” she said.

She’s developed a specialty of infusing alcohol — for instance, soaking sweet and tart cherries in bourbon (the dark red bottle), strawberries in tequila (the warm red bottle) and chipotle flavors in tequila (the orange bottle). The concoctions sit for at least five days in chilled gallon jugs.

“I shake them everyday to make sure flavors don’t settle,” Jalbert said. “I do a beet-infused gin and that takes a little bit longer. Seeds, nuts, they take longer.”

She’s worked in restaurants, food stores and even a fish market and turns to cookbooks and chefs for inspiration.

“When I was a kid, I didn’t come home from school and watch cartoons, I would watch cooking shows,” Jalbert said. “My poor parents — I would recreate what I’d see on TV. I used to tear my parents’ kitchen apart.”

Jalbert, who also grew up in Lewiston, discovered as an adult that the front of the house spoke to her.

“Meeting new people and talking to people and putting something down in front of them and seeing that smile,” she said. “Instant gratification.”

For Fuel’s new fall drink menu, Jalbert invented The Bobcat cocktail — she was given the name of the Bates College mascot and challenged to make a drink. Bates’ colors had her thinking maroon, which led to its cherry bourbon base.

She also invented the Plum Mule, inspired by the traditional Moscow Mule with plum- and ginger-infused vodka, fresh lime juice and ginger beer.

Her answer to the pumpkin-inspired everything this time of year? A spiced lemonade served warm. It’s bourbon, lemon juice, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla — all warmed in a pan, with the cloves and lemon rind — and served in a coffee mug.

“I’ve seen my guests become more adventurous,” Jalbert said. “They trust me. I think I’ve earned that from them and I think I’ve broadened their horizons, which is really cool.”

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The right drink for the right occasion

You’re meeting over drinks for the first time.

You hope he looks like his profile picture. His smile was cute, cool, confident.

But it was closed-mouthed.

You suddenly hope he has teeth.

You hope you come off as cute, cool, confident, dazzling even. You hope all of your buttons are buttoned.

He’s here! He sat down. He’s Ryan Reynolds-esque. He has teeth! This could be great.

Now you wonder, WHAT TO ORDER?

Relax. We’ve already asked for you.

Three scenarios and three answers from three experts on the L-A bar scene.

Drink you’d recommend for a first date?

Tom Ardia, bar manager, Marche Kitchen & Wine Bar: Gin and tonic. “Simple, refreshing. It doesn’t have a name this long” — holds out his hands — “with 80 ingredients in it. It’s something you can sip on. You’re not going to pound it, basically.”

Rachel Jalbert, head bartender, Fuel: If one party is sneaking in early to grab a drink before the other arrives, she said she’d ask how much they can handle; no need to greet your date from under the table. If both parties are there, “I’d probably lean toward a martini. Nothing that’s going to stain the teeth. I would steer away from something with cocktail onions in it. Simple, classy, not over the top.”

Meghan Anthoine, bar manager, Fish Bones American Grill: “I’d want to go with something a little bit lighter, maybe sangria for the lady, unless she’s trying to impress him, (then) maybe an Old Fashioned. Or a glass of wine. I feel like for a guy on a first date, a martini or one of the local beers. Or, if they want to loosen up, they could go for an Old Fashioned.”

Drink you’d recommend after a hard week?

Ardia: Neat bourbon. “It’s simple. After a long week, you don’t want to think about stuff — you want to not think.”

Jalbert: Dirty martini. “I’ve noticed that as a huge trend.” “Dirty” means adding olive juice, which adds a briny, salty flavor and makes it more sip-able. “It’s going to mask a lot of that burn you’re going to get from the alcohol.” 

Anthoine: “Either a Dempsey Margarita or Dirty Blue Martini, something strong, depending on how hard a week it was. I can really tell by the ahhh! (sigh) ‘Ahhh! I’m ready for a drink.'” A Dempsey Margarita has Patron tequila and Patron Citronge and cilantro salt on the rim. A dirty blue has olives stuffed with blue cheese.

Drink you’d recommend for a night out with friends?

Ardia: Wherever you’re at, explore the menu and try one of the house’s specialty cocktails. “I want to see what they’re doing. If it’s something they created at the bar, that’s what I want to try first.”

Jalbert: “That’s when I’m going to push your boundaries. My first question is, ‘Do you like spicy?'” She likes to see friends ordering different drinks, then sipping and sharing. “It’s also going to be something they can talk about when I walk away.”

Anthoine: Experiment with the wine list and pick a bottle for the whole table or each order a different flavor Cosmo to sip and share. “I think the possibilities are endless: blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, blood orange . . .”


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