Restaurants without a hard liquor license, and only beer and wine offerings, have to be creative with their cocktails. For them, using low ABV (alcohol by volume) spirits, like sake and vermouth, can be a game changer. The cocktail menu at new East Village restaurant Chao Chao stands out because not only are varied flavor profiles represented but you would never know that the drinks are low ABV. “We never wanted our cocktails to feel like dumbed down versions of full-proof drinks,” says Chao Chao’s owner and chef Stephan Brezinsky. “They are great drinks because they are refreshing, complex and have tropical or exotic flavors. They’re the kind of drinks that you could drink several of easily, not just because they’re delicious but because the lower ABV means you won’t get drunk quickly.”
Below, Brezinsky shares his three favorite cocktails from the bar menu at Chao Chao.
“Kaffir Lime is a very distinct Southeast Asian flavor,” says Stephan Brezinsky. “Combined with the creaminess of the egg white you get the same harmony that you would find in Southeast Asian food (coconut milk and kaffir) but without any of the richness and heaviness. Despite such a few ingredients this is a surprisingly complex drink.”
“What makes this drink so great is that it’s a take on a South Side Fizz, a classic cocktail made with gin,” says Brezinsky. “However in this case with the addition of blueberries and sparkling sake you get a very balanced drink with a tropical feel that is easy to sip all night (and day).”
“This is one of those cocktails that on paper sounds really weird, but once you take one sip you’re hooked,” says Brezinsky. “Both the coconut water and pineapple sambal are fermented in house, which gives them both unique and powerful flavors that you don’t see often in cocktails. This is like an amped up pina colada.”