Cocktails to honor Big Bird and friends? That’s the spirit

By Mike Janssen

When public radio managers gathered for November’s Super-Regional Meeting in New Orleans, home to Bourbon Street and the drive-through daiquiri bar, NPR Chair and ideastream COO Kit Jensen mentioned in passing during a panel discussion that her station has its own official cocktail.

The “ideaScreamer” is a mix of Grey Goose orange vodka, cranberry juice and a twist of lime, garnished with a lightstick stirrer, according to Peg Neeson, ideastream community relations director. “It’s really quite pretty in a martini glass,” she said.

Bartender Jade Aldrighette shakes a Big Bird. (Photo: Mike Janssen)

Bartender Jade Aldrighette shakes a Big Bird. (Photo: Mike Janssen)

No one at ideastream can recall when the ideaScreamer was created, possibly due to overindulgence in the drink. But bartenders at The Passenger in Washington, D.C., still remember exactly when and how they decided to make a Big Bird, even though the drink was created as a special offering several months ago.

The Passenger is a popular bar that takes the craft of the cocktail seriously, and also — thanks to its proximity to NPR — a de facto after-work hangout for the network’s staff. Its bartenders devise daily specials that are more complex than your standard gin-and-tonic, and are often inspired by the season or current events.

After Mitt Romney mentioned his plan to end funding for Big Bird in the first presidential debate in October, The Passenger’s staff devised four drinks named after Sesame Street characters.

The most popular was the Big Bird. “Who doesn’t want to get a Big Bird?” said Alexandra Bookless, assistant general manager at The Passenger and co-creator of the Sesame Street drinks. Because the bar’s patrons usually go for gin over other spirits, Bookless and bartender Jade Aldrighette used it in the drink that would likely be the biggest draw. “A lot of people like gin drinks that are sweet and tart,” Aldrighette said.

Their creation turned out “sour and tall, kind of what we imagine Big Bird as,” said Bookless. The bartenders used Hayman’s Old Tom gin, cane sugar, lemon juice and Bar Keep organic apple bitters.

For more adventurous drinkers, there was the Cookie Monster, featuring dark Jamaican rum with Campari and sweet vermouth. The rum and vermouth imparted vanilla and baking spice flavors to suggest a cookie’s taste.

Cocktail menu

Drinkers who didn’t want a Big Bird had a few other options. (Photo courtesy of The Passenger)

The Elmo, a sour version of a Paloma, carried a pink tint, like its namesake, but with a touch of smoky mescal as well. And the Snuffleupagus, a version of a Manhattan, mingled whiskey, sweet vermouth, dark vermouth and three varieties of bitters.

Visitors from Ohio probably couldn’t get ideaScreamers at The Passenger, even if they knew its main ingredients. The bar doesn’t stock lightsticks, and bartenders wouldn’t be likely to use an orange-flavored vodka. “We tend to focus more on drinks with fresh ingredients,” rather than using pre-infused vodkas for flavor, Bookless said.

How about a cocktail for one of Washington’s public media outlets, such as WAMU or WETA? It would need a political theme, the bartenders said, and could be built around Filibuster, a brand of whiskeys that are blended and aged in Washington after a trip from Kentucky.

A Manhattan or variation on one might work, Bookless said: “It’s a powerful drink, and we’re in D.C. — I think that’s appropriate.”

This article was first published in Current Jan. 14, 2013

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