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Butter, cinnamon buns, seaweed inspire three Capital Region cocktails

Just in time for the holidays, my December roundup features holiday cocktails as cozy as a hug, whether conjuring up a bonfire on the beach in winter or a warm drink sipped on velvet sofas by a grand fireplace. There’s no doubt a tight crop of local mixologists who continue to raise the creative bar, experimenting with kitchen ingredients in unexpected ways. Spices are no longer the benchmark when dried seaweed, cinnamon buns and spiced butter are finding their way into yuletide drinks.    

The drink: Hot buttered rum

Where to find it: The Argus Hotel, Albany,

Having received Best Local Bartender awards from both Times Union and the former alt-newspaper Metroland, Nick Ferrandino is a familiar face behind the beautiful bar at The Argus Hotel. The Argus Cocktail Lounge slipped onto the local drinks scene with a whisper, yet those in the know are treated to wood-paneled rooms, classic cocktails and a roaring fire. No surprise to find Ferrandino pulling an oft-forgotten seasonal drink to the forefront and whipping up a fierce hot buttered rum. He works butter, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt into a spiced batter. A scoop into a glass is topped with Gosling’s Black Seal rum and hot water, then stirred until the butter fully incorporates. Sometimes served with a cinnamon stick, Ferrandino’s fine orange zest ribbon adds a welcome citrus note to the warm, buttery drink. Perfect by the fire.   

The ingredient: CINNAMON BUN

The drink: C.R.E.A.M.

Where to find it: Nighthawks, Troy,

Bar manager Amanda Baker continues her resourceful alchemy working hand in hand with the Nighthawks’ kitchen to use menu leftovers in her cocktail list. The cinnamon bun-infused rye is made by soaking cinnamon buns left from brunch in rye for about a week before straining, freezing and straining again to remove solids. The house vanilla anglaise is also an extra from a waffle brunch special, which Baker adjusts with extra sugar to get it closer to the ratios of a simple syrup. To these she adds house-made chai syrup, a local maple syrup and freshly brewed coffee for a killer cocktail, whether you order it iced or hot, or whether it’s your first drink of the evening or after-dinner dessert. As with all of Baker’s creations, the cocktail is named after a song (in this case, “C.R.E.A.M.” by the Wu-Tang Clan). If you don’t know what the acronym means, look it up, because we think this cocktail is pretty money, too.

The ingredient: SEAWEED

The drink: Cool Water

Where to find it: Savoy on Lark, Albany;

Seaweed features twice in this superb cocktail, as both an infusion and in a house-made furikake garnish. Bartender Sam Hooker soaked nori sheets in room-temperature Suntory Toki, a blended Japanese whiskey, to impart oceanic notes to the honey-toned spirit. With tasting notes of grapefruit, peppermint, vanilla and bitter herbs in the Suntory Toki, Hooker uses it as a base to riff on an old fashioned. His Cool Water cocktail blends honey in place of brown sugar, the herbal sweetness of the digestif Genepy and the earthy, somewhat vegetal profile of artichoke-based Cynar 70. A few drops of grapefruit bitters offset the combined sweetness of honey and Genepy, and applewood smoke — poured dramatically on top from a stopped jar — is the final point. Smoke adds the peatiness you might find in a high-end single-malt whiskey and, in concert with the ingredients, evokes chilly nights sipping whiskey from a flask by a bonfire on the beach. Hooker serves his Cool Water in a rocks glass edged with his adapted take on furikake, a Japanese mix of sesame seeds and seaweed flakes often sprinkled on sushi rolls, for which he blends nori, red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and lemon for a boost of umami and acid. The result is a multifaceted and cleverly crafted drink.    

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