Micah Melton may hold the post of beverage director at the Aviary (and for the bar’s corporate parent, the Alinea Group), but he still thinks like a chef. He started in the kitchen at three-star sister restaurant Alinea before spending the last decade at the Windy City’s renowned drinks emporium. When inventing new recipes, he aims for depth of character and an interactive, evolving experience. The Aviary’s limited menu means that the only drinks available to order are the ones currently on the list, which creates challenges—and opportunities. Take his Cider Margarita: While Melton didn’t want to offer a traditional margarita, he did want a cocktail that would appeal to customers who may want one. “Margaritas are not super-complicated,” he says. “We keep its fruit-and-citrus tradition. We start it with a little less depth, but this one gets more interesting over time.”
How? Ice, ice, baby. “The typical drink sits on ice and dilutes, and along with that, your interest and flavor diminishes,” Melton says. “So we dilute with flavor instead of water.” He takes a page from his chef’s role when making cubes. “When you’re making soup as a chef,” he explains, “you don’t use water as the base. You use chicken broth.” He makes his ice from a cranberry-juice infusion, which gradually releases into the rest of the libation.
The second task he sets himself is to make every pour a multisensory one, something more memorable than just a one-note drink. He gives customers a spoon to break the ice up, but he also encourages interaction through the drink’s unique “stirrer.” Every bit that goes into the drink is thoughtfully considered for flavor. No simple plastic, wood or metal straw for his concoctions. This one gets a vanilla bean, which can help stir the ice down, adds its own flavor and is easy to bend out of the way when taking a sip. Here’s how it all comes together.