There will always be a place for boozy Martinis and stiff Manhattans, but many craft-cocktail bars are beginning to enhance menus with low-alcohol options. Shim cocktails – also called session or low-proof, depending on who you talk to – are having a moment as patrons are looking for ways to enjoy several creative libations while still remaining upright.
At Flyover in Columbia, Missouri, guests can enjoy the Theater Spritz, a simple sparkling cocktail. Co-owner and bar manager Daniel Dethrow designed the drink around a vermouth amaro from Cocchi called Dopo Teatro. “It’s a really neat hybrid product,” Dethrow says. “An amaro can sometimes be really bitter, and that bitterness can knock people down. Dopo Teatro has quinine added, which gives it a little lightness. As a spirit, it’s really mellow, with some great botanical elements and a flower aroma.” Dopo Teatro originated in Italy more than a century ago; it was traditionally enjoyed by theatergoers who sipped it chilled at sidewalk cafés before and after shows. At Flyover, the Theater Spritz combines the Dopo Teatro with Pinckney Bend Distillery tonic syrup, club soda, Angostura bitters and lemon zest. It’s the perfect summertime drink – the kind that quenches your thirst and allows you to drink a pitcher’s worth without losing lucidity. “For us, there’s an additional advantage to this drink,” Dethrow says. “It opens the conversation with our guests, so we can start talking about vermouths and amaro and how we use them in different cocktails. It’s a great entry into that set of spirits.”
Flyover, 212 E. Green Meadows Road #9, Columbia, Missouri, flyovercomo.com
“The [low-ABV] trend has been coming for a while,” says cocktail maven Jenn Tosatto, formerly of Q39, The Rieger and Dempsey’s Burger Pub in the Kansas City area. “With the rise of craft-cocktail culture, people have moved out of drinking to get drunk into more drinking for enjoyment and the pleasure of the artistry of the cocktail.” Tosatto created a number of drinks on the current list at barbecue joint Q39, including the O Sherry Mio, which is a play on a Sherry Cobbler. Sherry is a fortified Spanish wine frequently consumed as an aperitif or digestif, but it’s not often the star of the show in a cocktail. In the O Sherry Mio, Tosatto shows it off as the base spirit with a scant half-ounce of rye whiskey “for backbone,” she says. She shakes the spirits with lemon and orange juice, a housemade cinnamon syrup and a handful of pineapple chunks for a sweet, tart and refreshing sipper. Q39 bartender Jacob Brewer considers the O Sherry Mio one of the most universally appealing drinks on the menu. “I really feel like it’s a year-round cocktail for everyone,” he says. “It plays on a lot of different things. In our world – the barbecue world – you don’t really see a lot of drinks with sherry. People are surprised by it, and it’s great to be able to introduce these flavors to people who have never had them before.”
Q39, 1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri, q39kc.com
Ted Kilgore, co-owner and bar manager at Planter’s House in St. Louis’ Lafayette Square neighborhood, takes shim cocktails a little further by making some modifications to the ubiquitous Dolin Blanc vermouth. “We use three parts Dolin Blanc and add one part Cocchi Americano, which is an Italian wine that has quinine in it,” Kilgore says. “We also add one part Amaro Nonino, which is an Italian amaro, and that lets us layer in some lightly bitter and warm spice notes. Then we microplane grapefruit zest [into the mixture] and let that sit for 48 hours to soak up the citrus profile before straining.” The resulting product is a bit of liquid magic, and it’s highlighted in the Grapefruit Moon, one of the most popular cocktails at Planter’s House. Kilgore mixes his house vermouth with a California aperitivo liqueur called St. George Bruto Americano, which pops with bright citrus and raspberry notes. He then adds fresh lemon juice and a French grapefruit wine, all topped with sparkling rosé. “It’s a complex, light aperitif cocktail, much like a spritz but with a lot more flavor,” Kilgore says. “It’s a great way for someone to start their evening without too much alcohol right off the bat. I think it’s interesting enough where it gets people thinking about ingredients that maybe they weren’t familiar with.”
Planter's House, 1000 Mississippi Ave., St. Louis, Missouri, plantershousestl.com