Rip tides. Frizzy hair. Boogie boarding embarrassments. Clearly it's never safe to go back into the water. But lest we forget, or fall victim to summer-sun-soaked mania, there's Miles Macquarrie to remind us. The self-professed Shark Week fan boy creates yearly cocktail odes to his favorite finned fatality-in-waiting. And while he'll actually be spending this year's feeding frenzy surfing in Puerto Rico—"we're not planning on swimming with sharks"—fellow fanatics can revisit some of Macquarrie's drinks from last year, like the Blood Water, a visual homage to the expressionless savagery of Jaws and Co., served with a toothy smile at Leon's Full Service in Decatur, Georgia.
"I grew up in Daytona Beach," says the now safely land-locked Macquarrie, our 2012 Atlanta Rising Stars Mixologist. "There was always this idea [i.e. reality] of sharks being in the water." As to whether proximity bred fear, "I'm not scared of them at all," he says. "I was always a big fan of sharks," a fact he celebrates with a cocktail built to visualize those eerily still post-shark attack waters. And the Blood Water really is like a layered liquid diorama: false calm topped by a pool of red. As if technical prowess coupled with a bit of macabre imagination weren't enough of a cocktail match made in heaven, Macquarrie got a thumbs up from fate itself: "The night I [created the drink], I broke a wine bottle, cut open three of my fingers, and had to be rushed to the ER." (Health department take note: Macquarrie stopped short of incorporating his own blood into the drink; and he created the rest of Shark Week's cocktails bandaged up at home.)
For a drink that illustrates the worst kind of aquatic doom, Blood Water is actually delightful. A combination of Death's Door gin, house-made orgeat, ginger syrup, lime juice, and Bitter Truth Creole Bitters (the blood stand-in, floated at the end), it's creamy, tart, and spicy with a solid kick. "Our style is very aromatic drinks," says Macquarrie, who uses the orgeat to lend a tropical island feel, and maybe allay the sense of dread. Combining that creamy toasted almond with the simple botanicals of Death's Door (fennel, juniper, and coriander), the one-to-one potency of fresh ginger syrup, and a healthy three-quarter ounce of lime juice, the Blood Water balances aromatics, acidity, and richness with more grace than you'd expect from something inspired by the arbitrary appetites of Sunshine State sharks.
But it's the Bitter Truth Creole Bitters, a crimson pool of old timey spice, fruit, and earth, that sell the drink—the final, bracing flourish that keeps us from luxuriating too comfortably in the silk of orgeat or the brightness of lime. (Kind of like the tingling sense of fear that keeps our toes out of the water when we're floating on a raft.) At one-quarter of an ounce, it's a healthier dose of bitters than one normally sees. But then Macquarrie says that's becoming more of a norm. "Our Sazerac Sour has a full half-ounce of Peychaud's," he says. "People are opening up to bitter flavors. The whole idea here was something that had a tropical feel while still being pretty in your face, pretty dry." The solution, a la Jaws: we're gonna need a bitters float.
Beyond the basic success of being bitters-forward in a refreshing kind of way, the Blood Water also strikes a pitch-perfect balance between mixology seriousness and cocktail camp. And that's almost entirely because Macquarrie is skilled enough to play without losing control. "I'm very much technique driven," he says. "I would much rather have a well-prepared classic with the right technique." Taste his roster and it shows, sure enough. Though we're glad Macquarrie's not too serious to indulge in the occasional disturbing joke. Even if it does scare the sh*t out of us.