Our new, semi-regular Cocktail in Profile series brings you the rundown on a drink hatched by an esteemed local bartender.

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Image: Stefan Milne

For a while now, bar manager Jermaine Whitehead, a veteran of Renee Erickson restaurants, has had a smoked citrus cocktail on his mind. 

While at the Whale Wins Whitehead played with the idea. He started with oranges on Whale’s woodfired grill, but that concept bore no fruit-based beverage—the oranges just burnt and their juice tasted smokeless and standard—so the concept faded to his backbrain.

But this year at Bar Melusine he was garnishing with grapefruit rind, and thus had an abundance of the bittersweet fruit. The smoked citrus idea lit back up, as did Melusine’s broiler with honey-smeared grapefruit halves beneath. When he tweaked it to brown sugar, bruleed until black, the Flying Colours was born. 

Then Whitehead built thoughtfully, “instead of grabbing ingredients and throwing shit in there.” He nixed whiskey because the grapefruit pairing was too easy. Instead he considered flavors, seasons, aperitif-style cocktails that fit with Melusine’s bar menu—light glasses to pair with oysters and small plates, so you can explore the cocktails and aren’t sloshed after two.

He arrived first at Cocchi Americano Rouge, a light vermouth. Then piece after piece fell into place: Manzanillan sherry (“I don’t care if I use it all the time—it works in this cocktail”), vanilla honey, Scrappy’s cardamom bitters for that “exotic and transporting” feel, lemon juice, and an orange peel.

 The Flying Colours (taking its name from a Horatio Hornblower novel—to fit with Melusine’s nautical lit cocktail list) arrived in early June and will stay through the summer, said Whitehead. It’s easy to see why. The drink is bright and bittersweet, savory and subtly smoky—more pinched-out candle than bonfire. And like Melusine itself with its high white walls and gray marble bar and turquoise herringbone floor, Flying Colours is a refreshing presence, cool without austerity—like a light summer breeze.

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