Drink This: French Shandy at Private Social, Plus Other Springtime Elixirs

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It would seem that spring is (kind of) here; the patios are packed, my thermostat has officially made the switch from heat to cool and all the grass is a lovely shade of emerald, at least until a freak snowstorm hits a week from now and life as we know it comes to a grinding halt. (And obviously I spoke too soon, because now it's 50 degrees and raining, but I digress.) But for now, I'm trading in my Dark and Stormys for drinks that are a bit lighter on the palate. Private Social has just unveiled its new spring cocktail menu; say what you will about their food, but their cocktail program is light years ahead of many other high-end restaurants in town. The new menu features a dozen or so drinks, a few of which are classics (the Moscow Mule, a perfectly mixed Aviation, a slightly molecular spin on the Old Fashioned) and the rest of which are original concoctions.

My favorite thus far is the French Shandy -- yet another spin on everyone's favorite Champagne cocktail, the French 75, but this is a pretty inventive one. Gordon's London dry gin is shaken with lemon and simple syrup, poured into a large snifter (the lack of bubbles means there's no need for the usual flute) and topped off with a golden hefeweizen from McKinney's Franconia brewery. The lightly sweet, wheaty beer is gently accented by the dry gin and the citrus, allowing the hefeweizen to remain the star of the show. The subbing of beer for Champagne means it's somewhat lower in alcohol -- believe it or not, I don't always want to get completely blitzed -- and a nice light way of welcoming in the warmer weather.

There's also the Pink Panther, watermelon-infused Ultimat vodka accentuated by fresh lemon and mint. Its bright, ruby red grapefruit hue and cute name may slightly deceive you into expecting something sweet, but you'd be dead wrong; it's fruity but unexpectedly light and fresh, like last summer's ubiquitous watermelon salad directly translated into a beverage. I could see myself drinking this from now well into the awful muggy days of September.

For something a bit more stout, consider the Pineapple-Vanilla Pisco Sour, a slightly tropical twist on the traditional Peruvian drink. If you're not familiar with pisco, it's a clear Peruvian grape brandy, mixed here with fragrant vanilla bean syrup, fresh pineapple, lemon and house-made bitters (devised from kumquats) and shaken to a nice froth with the assistance of an egg white. It's nicely boozy and not obnoxiously sweet or tart, nor is it served with an umbrella, as one might expect from a drink that leans toward tropical fruitiness.

That was about as far as I got into the new menu this go around; rest assured I'll be back to try the other eight drinks soon. I've sung bar manager Rocco Milano's praises before, and I'll do it again, because I continue to be impressed with the way he allows the flavors of the ingredients to shine through; he's confident enough to not muddle up a drink with 4,542 different ingredients, which is more than I can say for a lot of these gung-ho mixologists around town fixated on their "layers of flavor."

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