Chicago’s drink scene is arguably among the country’s most dynamic. From the celebration of Midwest supper club classics at The Pink Squirrel and an endless library of sherries at Black Bull to the tiki pioneers at Lost Lake and Three Dots and a Dash, things are happening in the Windy City with no signs of slowing down. And with that, the attention to detail extends to not just the drink itself, but also the ice over which it might be poured.
Cut to Sepia, the West Loop favorite defined by its elevated, rustic American fare and equally refined bar program. Currently, Head Bartender Keith Meicher is getting more and more inventive behind the stick, and the current bar menu’s “20,000 Leagues” cocktail shows it. “At its core, 20,000 Leagues drinks a bit like a bulked up pisco martini, with the sharp herbaceousness of the pisco balanced out by the smoky/earthy mezcal,” Meicher explains, adding that “the bright floral notes from the blanc vermouth complement the bitter grapefruit flavors in the Luxardo.” Bringing us back to the non-traditional ice phenomenon, Meicher details what gives this particular drink its edge: “…the obsidian ice orb that floats in the middle, made of squid ink.”
“I wanted to use squid ink as an ingredient in a drink, and saw this as an opportunity to play with a central component of any cocktail that often gets overlooked: the ice; as the ice slowly melts and dilutes into the drink, the color of the cocktail will slowly change from clear to opaque black. It’s a chance for the guest to experience a drink not only through taste, but also through sight as well,” he shares.
While a black ice orb might seem a bit too esoteric to make at home, Meicher assures that it’s quite the opposite. Squid ink can be purchased at specialty stores around the country or online, and it’s simply mixed with water before being frozen. Here’s how to make Sepia’s 20,000 Leagues cocktail at your own home bar.
SEPIA CHICAGO’S 20,000 LEAGUES:
1.5 oz. La Caravedo Pisco
.5 oz. Bozal Mezcal
.75 oz. Dolin Blanc vermouth
.25 oz. Luxardo Bitter Bianco
2 tsp squid ink
Preparation: Mix squid ink with 6 ounces of water. Pour into ice mold (preferably spherical) and place in freezer until frozen solid. Stir pisco, mezcal, vermouth, and bianco and pour over squid ink ice. Garnish with lemon swath and serve.