Aaron Pollack of the Rocking Horse has been home brewing for several years, so when Farmhouse Chicago bartender Victoria Snider challenged him to create a cocktail with hops, he already knew how they taste and smell—and it didn’t take him long to decide what to do with them. “I wanted to combine my love of the essence of hops—that bitter taste, that very floral, piney, earthy nose—with my favorite classic cocktail, the Sazerac,” he says.

He thought that gin would complement the flavor of hops better than whiskey would and began investigating which type of gin would work best. “It got a little hazy after trying ten different gins in one night, but I eventually settled on the Knickerbocker gin from New Holland,” Pollack says. He reasoned that using gin from a distillery that began as a brewery would make sense.

Pollack also experimented with different types of hops and concluded that Chinook hops are the earthiest, Cascade the most aromatic, so he used the two in different ways. The drink needed sweetness, but Pollack says that sugar and hops don’t meld well. Honey and hops do, though, so he made a honey syrup infused with Chinook hops and ginger. He also infused Herbsaint with Cascade hops for the drink’s absinthe rinse, muddled the cocktail with more Cascade hops, and garnished it with a Cascade hop cone. The only other ingredients were bitters—Peychaud’s and grapefruit—and grapefruit liqueur, since grapefruit and hops work well together.

“The thing I love about this drink is how it changes over time,” Pollack says. “It goes from an earthy scent to a bitter taste to a sweet finish. When I initially make it, everything is cold and fresh, the absinthe is still the very prominent nose; but as you drink it, the hop starts hitting you and the absinthe dissipates, you start getting a little more bitterness, and you finally end with the honey.”

Who’s next:
Pollack has challenged Mike Popek of the Kitchen Chicago to create a cocktail with Cadbury Creme Eggs.

Watch Out for Hop-Ons
1 dash Peychaud’s bitters
3 dashes grapefruit bitters
.5 oz Bittermens Citron Sauvage grapefruit liqueur
Pinch of Cascade hop leaves
1 oz hopped honey syrup*
2 oz New Holland Knickerbocker gin
Hop-infused absinthe (for rinse)**

Combine bitters, grapefruit liqueur, hop leaves, and honey syrup and muddle to express hop oils. Rinse a low-ball glass with hop-infused absinthe. Add ice to another glass, stir in the gin and other ingredients, and double strain into the low-ball glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and a fresh Cascade hop cone.

*Hopped honey syrup: In a small saucepan, heat three cups water with two ounces Chinook hops to 160 degrees for ten minutes, add a quarter ounce of dried ginger root, remove from heat, and let sit until it reaches room temperature. Strain out hops and ginger and mix with equal parts honey, stirring over heat until honey is dissolved.

**Hop-infused absinthe: Combine roughly 18-24 Cascade hop cones with eight ounces Herbsaint absinthe, shake, and let sit for three days.