Smile Politely

Buvons mixes up its business model

It was 10 p.m. I had a cocktail list in my hand, a DJ projecting art media to my left, and a young, hip crowd around me. Suddenly, I wanted to say, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in downtown Urbana anymore.” But we were.

Buvons, the wine bar attached to Corkscrew, which I talked about in Wine Bar Wars: part two, recently began hosting themed cocktail nights on the last Friday of every month, with a cocktail list created by one of their staff, Erin Fein. Though Buvons primarily focuses on wines, it certainly doesn’t neglect beers or spirits. Buvons branches out for weekly (or more frequent) beer tastings, occasional whiskey and other spirits tastings, and now, these monthly themed cocktail events.

February’s cocktail night was themed “Mixed&Chilled” and featured Kirkwood West with some low-key, downtempo house music and art media he projected on the wall, timed to the music. Fein creates the focused list of four drinks for each event, including two classic cocktails and two non-traditional cocktails. On this night, the drink list contained the Kyoto Sour and Pomegranate Martini, two of her own variations on recipes, and the Gin Sling and Mint Julep, two classic cocktails.

On a previous cocktail night, Fein combined huckleberry and rosemary in one of the drinks, and she plans to continue experimenting with interesting flavor combinations. She said she prefers “sweet cocktails that have a savory ingredient, because it adds a beautiful dimension to drinks.” That night, I wanted to walk through her list, and the Kyoto Sour was first.

We talked while she muddled the thin slices of jalapeño, fresh mint, and supremes of fresh white grapefruit, and I could smell the garden-like essence wafting across the bar. After shaking the muddled mixture with sake and simple syrup, she poured the drink into a rocks glass on ice. Some people might strain the drink, but she likes it with the added texture, “pulpy and chunky like a mojito,” Fein said. And I, personally, enjoyed seeing the tiny julienned slivers of jalapeño among the ice cubes in my drink.

I expected, at first, for the spice to overwhelm the drink, but the heat was never ruinous and only added a layer to the flavors of the drink. It seems the more you muddle the jalapeño, the more spice you get, but with so few slices of jalapeño, the flavor never tasted overly spicy. At home, Fein adds a couple of the jalapeño seeds back in to elevate the spice level to her own taste (and I would probably do the same), but for customers that night, she just used the deseeded jalapeños.

Before the event was over, I heard more than one patron exclaim that the Kyoto Sour tasted like spring, a garden, or a meadow in a glass. Here’s the recipe:

Kyoto Sour

  • 2 oz sake
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 4 julienned pieces of jalapeño
  • 3 to 4 slices of fresh grapefruit supremes
  • 4 to 6 mint leaves (depending on size)
  • Mint sprig for garnish Ice

In a rocks glass, muddle jalapeños, grapefruit, mint and simple syrup. Fill glass with ice. Add two ounces of sake. Pour contents of glass into a shaker. Shake the living shit out of it! Pour back into glass and add a little extra ice so it’s packed tight and really cold. Garnish with mint sprig.

Fein brings previous bartending experience with her from several other places, including time at Luna in Downtown Champaign. There, she says co-owner Raquel Aikman encouraged her staff to be creative both in the kitchen and behind the bar, so Fein got to experiment with a variety of spirits she hadn’t used before, and it seems she’ll continue to do the same at Buvons with the creative support of manager Todd Fusco.

As do many mixologists and cocktail aficionados, Fein enjoys her cocktail history. She always researches the drinks she puts on the list, so you might get a little additional history from her if you ask. While I was drinking my Mint Julep, she filled me in on the old Kentucky Derby tradition where drink makers used silver cups with a mound of ice, the alcohol, and a sprig of mint to create an experience like an “adult snow cone.”

But Fein loves more than the history. She loves creating cocktails so much that she even planned her own signature cocktail for her wedding and prepared the key fresh for the caterer herself: The Holy Commitment Cucumber Gimlet. Try her gimlet variation for a holy experience.

Holy Commitment Cucumber Gimlet

  • 1 1/2 oz gin
  • 1 oz fresh cucumber puree
  • 1/2 to 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz fresh squeezed lime juice Soda water
  • Ice
  • Slice of cucumber or lime wedge for garnish

Fill rocks glass with lots of ice. Pour in all ingredients. Pour into a shaker. Shake it like a polaroid! Pour it back into the glass. Top with a touch of soda water for a little fizz. Garnish with slice of cucumber or lime.

Buvons will host the next cocktail night on the last Friday in March. Tentative plans include a traditional jazz orchestra and New Orleans inspired cocktails, but stay tuned to the Corkscrew email newsletter or Facebook page for updates.

Buvons is located at 203 N. Vine St. in Urbana.

Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!

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