A well-mixed drink at Petaluma’s Whisper Sisters

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A recent taste of some incredible cocktails at Rosen’s 256 North piqued my curiosity about the city’s crafted mixed drink offerings, something I never enjoyed as much as good beer or a fortified wine.

Feeling inspired, I jumped at the opportunity to explore more local cocktails when we met my brother and sister-in-laws on a recent Friday evening following their dinner at Seared. My initial thought was to stay at Seared because it always has fresh bottles of port on hand, plus excellent cocktails. However, as one in our group didn’t drink, we opted for Whisper Sisters because they have excellent “mock-tails,” primarily the seasonal shrubs. It also does not hurt that we have never had anything but excellent original cocktails at Whisper Sisters, so we knew the drinkers in our group would also be impressed.

Although the term “shrub” can refer to a fruit liqueur that was popular several centuries ago in England, in modern cocktail parlance, a shrub usually refers to a vinegar-based sweetened syrup that is used both in cocktails and served chilled on its own. Also known as “drinking vinegar,” it is often infused with fruit, herbs and spices.

At Whisper Sisters, the seasonal shrubs are served without alcohol, and are bright and refreshing and as interesting and unique as any of the custom cocktails on the menu. Because the shrubs change with the seasons, it is always a pleasant surprise to discover the new flavors that have been created, which on the menu are simply referred to as “seasonal shrubs.”

Usually, after sampling the current choices, we pick one to reorder, only with the addition of alcohol. Often, we put ourselves in co-owner and master mixologist Danielle Peter’s hands and simply ask her to add any spirit that she thinks would fit that particular shrub. It is fun to watch her deep in thought, gazing across the huge selection of unique spirits she stocks, finally deciding on something that ends up being perfectly paired. The last few have ended up infused with rum, which is one of her favorite elixirs, harkening back to her days at Trader Vic’s.

This time around, we made the call and went for Griffo Gin because we thought its clean flavor would complement but not overpower the delicate flavors of the shrub, plus, we wanted to support one of our local distilleries. In fact, this order did lead to a question from a fellow drinker and gave us yet another opportunity to extoll the virtues of all the great purveyors around Petaluma. This evening’s first shrub was strawberry-fennel while the second was nectarine and sweet pea.

The Texas Malone, made from vodka, falernum, lo-fi gentian, grapefruit, lime and pink peppercorn, is a perfect sip of summer.

Another favorite, which I order every time we visit Whisper Sisters, is the Rotating Clarified Milk Punch. Not to be confused with brandy or bourbon milk punch, which is citrus-free, milk-based drink popular in New Orleans, Clarified Milk Punch traces its origins to Olde England.

The base of a clarified milk punch is an acid, usually some sort of citrus. Other ingredients are added and eventually hot milk is mixed in, which then curdles. The concoction is then strained to remove the curds, which also clarifies most of the color and cloudiness, leaving a fairly clear and only slightly colored, luscious liquid.

This evening’s clarified milk punch started with rum, cognac, mezcal, pineapple, cinnamon, citrus and black tea, but when revealed, in a highball glass with a large ice cube, it was nearly clear, with a slight frosty tint. It never ceases to amaze me that something that starts with such vibrant flavors and colors as cinnamon, citrus, pineapple and black tea can end up so clarified, yet still taste so good.

Whisper Sisters’ opening concept was to scale back the former Drawing Board’s food menu to small and shareable plates, while concentrating on cocktails designed to be enjoyed before dinner or as an evening night cap. A cocktail at Whisper Sisters adds a whole other level of sophistication, diversity and adventure to what otherwise might just be standard dinner out.

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