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When you order a gin and tonic at Ella Dining Room & Bar, you won’t see a bartender grab a bottle of Schweppes or Canada Dry. Instead, he’ll pull out some quinine bark powder—tonic’s key ingredient—and create housemade tonic on the spot.
Meanwhile, at Shady Lady Saloon, the staff spends “a good three hours a day” squeezing citrus for their drinks, reports co-owner Alex Origoni.
It’s all part of the growing trend of handcrafted cocktails, which takes the “fresh, seasonal and local” approach to cooking and moves it to the bar. “We basically treat our bar like a kitchen, using fresh products and making things from scratch,” explains Ella general manager Josh Nelson.
The result? Drinks that are fresh, clean-tasting and never overpowering, at least according to an unofficial taste test we recently conducted.
The Source: Lounge on 20 1050 20th St., Sacramento
The Drink: Cucumber Gimlet (cucumber vodka, lime juice, cucumber slices)
Secret Weapon: Housemade cucumber-infused vodka
The Buzz: Subtle and summery, with thin cucumber slices floating on top and a light foam, reminiscent of the sea
The Source: Shady Lady Saloon 1409 R St., Sacramento
The Drink: Planter’s Punch (dark rum and a bunch of juices: orange, pineapple, lemon, lime)
Secret Weapon: Fresh house-squeezed juices
The Buzz: More citrusy than sweet—and true to its name, it packs a punch
The Source: Crush 29 1480 Eureka Road, Roseville
The Drink: Grape Tart Tini (Three Olives Grape Vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, sweet-and-sour mix, splash of Sprite and fresh red grapes)
Secret Weapon: Housemade sweet-and-sour mix
The Buzz: Slightly sweet, slightly tart and so yummy, you’ll slurp it down
The Source: Ella Dining Room & Bar 1131 K St., Sacramento
The Drink: The Real Gin and Tonic (Distillery No. 209 gin, tonic water, sugar cane syrup, soda water, lime and lemon juices)
Secret Weapon: Housemade tonic water
The Buzz: Goes down so smooth, it’ll turn a non-gin-and-tonic drinker into a convert