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The Scenestress: Jack Dusty crafts cutting-edge summer cocktails

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Roy Roig, Jack Dusty's head mixologist, invites a lovely assistant behind the bar at a recent review of the restaurant's summer mixology series. Photo by InstudioE.

Roy Roig, Jack Dusty's head mixologist, invites a lovely assistant behind the bar at a recent review of the restaurant's summer mixology series. Photo by InstudioE.

Sarasota, thank the powers that booze, is a town full of brilliant mixology. At times it's been hard for me to decide where I want to enjoy my next memorable cocktail, but I know that this summer in particular, Jack Dusty will be calling my name.

Last week I brought Jessi Smith, journalist and fellow admirer of fine libations, to a special tasting of the summer mixology program in Jack Dusty's private dining room. Our first "course" was almost too pretty to drink. The Ultra-Violette Martini was mercifully presented in a champagne flute (I'm hopeless with martini glasses). I wouldn't call the hypnotic lavender liquid a "cocktail" -- it was more like a potion, with sweet, floral notes from Crème de Violette and St. Germain cut with a bright splash of grapefruit. This singular drink completely suffused my senses, and it even looked good with everyone's outfit.

Don't be fooled by the pretty color: Distinguished gentlemen also enjoy the Ultra-Violette Martini. Photo by InstudioE.

Don't be fooled by the pretty color: Distinguished gentlemen also enjoy the Ultra-Violette Martini. Photo by InstudioE.

Jack Dusty General Manager Patrick Bucko raises a toast with Duane Wildridge, North Florida Area Manager for Tito's Handmade Vodka.

Jack Dusty General Manager Patrick Bucko raises a toast with Duane Wildridge, North Florida Area Manager for Tito's Handmade Vodka. Photo by Instudio E.

Tito's Handmade Vodka was the martini's centerpiece spirit, and we gathered around Duane Wildridge to hear the story of Tito Beveridge (yes, we were assured several times, the founder actual name), and how he went from being a geophysicist to a self-taught, award-winning vodka distiller. It was a long story made well worth it when Duane invited us all to step up and try a sample of Tito's on the rocks. My eyes watered at the thought, but I was feeling brave. Brave enough to split a shot with Jessi, at least.

"I would like to leave here with my pants on," Jessi remarked as I took my first tentative sip. I waited for a searing, alcoholic burn that didn't come -- just a silvery, slightly sweet trickle that melted into pleasant warmth. Jessi concurred that it was really damn tasty. Tito's secret? Use only sweet corn in the mash (a bonus: Tito's Handmade Vodka is gluten-free). Distill the spirit six times -- no more, no less -- to remove all impurities while maintaing maximum flavor. And do it the good old-fahioned way in copper pot stills. I'm no vodka connoisseur, but with each taste I could see myself becoming one.

Roy Roig shows off a fresh ice ball, the solution to a perfect serve.

Roy Roig shows off a fresh ice ball, the solution to a perfect serve. Photo by Instudio E.

At the other end of the room, head mixologist Roy Roig had begun a demonstration of how to mix Jack Dusty's Man-O-War. Naturally we got to taste the final product, a quintessential poolside sipper with citrus juices and applejack (a combination of apple brandy and grain alcohol that's made people breathe fire since the days of George Washington). Roy also showed off his, for lack of a more sophisticated term, "ice ball maker," which produces perfect, three-inch-thick spheres from a block of ice. The mixologists at Jack Dusty have found that these frozen jawbreakers are perfect in servings of very fine spirits, as they melt very slowly, chilling your 25-year scotch with minimal dilution.

I got to try an ice ball for myself in a Jack Tar Apple -- this was after we had made our way out of the private dining room and over to the bar. Roy and his fellow mixologists Nick and Gary continued to wow and delight us, slicing off wide ribbons of orange zest for the JD Fashion and wielding a blowtorch to singe leaves of fresh sage for the English Shipwreck. Jack Dusty's summer cocktail list has something phenomenal in store for everyone, whether you like it sweet, tart or smooth, and especially if you like it strong. I wanted to try them all ... I know, I know, I always say that ... and this time, I actually succeeded.

Cocktails with "flare:" Roy adds the final touches to an English Shipwreck.

Cocktails with "flare:" Roy adds the final touches to an English Shipwreck. Photo by InstudioE.

- Who's got your mixology fix? Share with the Scenestress in an  e-mail, or on FacebookTumblr and Twitter.

Last modified: July 2, 2013
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