"You haven't had the Arch Nemesis," Brian Divine says.
I'm at The Propagandist (835 Fifth Ave., Downtown), the bar whose spicy Mango en Fuego cocktail I fell in love with almost a year ago.
Divine flips off a bottle cap and pours me a glass.
If you were to order the Arch Nemesis (actually, The Propagandist is rolling out a new menu on Feb. 2, but you can probably get it if you ask nicely), it would be made with habanero-and-cucumber-infused El Jimador tequila, St. Germaine and agave nectar, shaken and topped with Fever Tree ginger beer. But, Divine recently started experimenting with bottling cocktails, the Arch Nemesis being one of them and the Velveteen (Canadian Club whiskey, strawberries, ginger syrup, lime juice and ginger ale) the other. He puts the ingredients in a glass bottle—minus the ginger beer—adds a little water and carbonates each cocktail, one at a time, using a soda stream.
Divine knows the idea of bottled cocktails might make purists cringe, but the process has been its own adventure in mixology—Divine found out, for instance, that carbonation upped the Arch Nemesis' spice level to the point where it's not for the weak. He's thinking that juicing the cucumbers, rather than including them in the infusion, might cool it down. It's still a work in progress.
"I don't want to stop making good cocktails," he says. "We've got to figure out ways where we can continue making good cocktails and get them out faster. In a perfect world, I would like to get the cocktails to be completely enjoyable in the bottles by themselves."
But that doesn't mean The Propagandist—which Divine opened last spring with his wife Jessica—isn't a place to go for a well-made cocktail. Topping the new menu is The Gatekeeper, Divine's homage to the prohibition-era Last Word and the more recent Final Ward, a creation of New York bartender Phil Ward, made up of equal parts rye whiskey, Green Chartreuse, luxardo maraschino liqueur and lemon juice.
"It's good; it's very tart. I wanted to do something a little sweeter," Divine says. The Propagandist's boozy, sophisticated version swaps out the lemon juice with Fee Brothers whiskey-barrel-aged bitters.
Also new to the menu is the ruby-red, aperitif-esque Cardamarier, a take on the Boulevardier, made with Cardamaro—a wine-based amaro akin to sweet vermouth—Buffalo Trace bourbon and Campari.
And, of course, there's a spicy cocktail on the new menu. Using the Gold Rush (honey, bourbon and lemon juice) as inspiration, Divine made a syrup using Mikolich honey from Temecula and infused it with habanero chilies. To that he added Bulleit bourbon and, instead of lemon juice, Fee Brothers orange bitters. With bourbon as its base, the cocktail, called The Great Fire, completely changes what you'd expect from a spicy drink.
"It has a really warm heat," Divine points out. "The honey tastes like it's actually hot—it tastes like the honey is not spicy, but actually heated."
When I stopped by, Divine was working out the final details of the new menu's last two cocktails, but already thinking ahead.
"I'm so excited about our spring menu," he says, "I can't even sleep."