“How do you find Will Smith in the snow?” asks bartender Emily Delicce behind her trademark dimples. “Look for the fresh prints!” We laugh politely, creating dimples of our own while she rhythmically shakes a stainless steel vessel filled with booze and ice like a percussionist with a punchline. Inside the shaker, my Santa Ana Sidecar features Orange County’s newest spirit: Blinking Owl Gin instead of the usual Cognac, a spritz of some green fairy, Cointreau, lemon, and the welcome lack of a lemonhead-like crunchy sugar rim. She slaps it twice, strains it into a coupe, then crafts a perfect lemon-peel origami garnish, with her gleaming long glitternails and charming arsenal of dadjokes.
Blinking Owl, O.C.’s only distillery, just bottled and released its first gin, complimenting its two vodkas and aquavit. It’s made with a dozen botanicals, and my nose picks out a bouquet of juniper, cardamom, citrus peel, and ginger root, next to a delightful hickory smoked campfire, the kind like when your neighbors might be smoking meat on the weekend making you hungry all day. It’s dry but not arid, and unique like a gin should be. The aroma jumps out of the glass, making it great for a cocktail base.
Blinking Owl’s Sidecar cocktail is lemon-citrus bright, reminiscent of summer days in the eighties when pitchers of Crystal Light sat by the pool as we tried to bleach our hair with lemons from the backyard tree. “Have you seen that 1988 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship video on youtube?” I ask. “Well, this drink makes me want to dance like that, leotard and all.” It’s completely refreshing, with mini-shards of ice hyperactively dancing around the rim. I’ve had traditional sidecars, but gin might be just the thing to kick those citrus notes into the next level.
Also available on the gin cocktail menu is The Blinking Martinez, which is like a martini, but with sweet vermouth, a dash or two of bitters, and lemon juice. I also recommend their new Swedish Fish Aquavit cocktail, whose garnish has a Luxardo buoy floating with a Swedish Fish candy speared on the bottom of the glass! So fun! Cocktails are $10. Jokes are free.