How To Smoke a Cocktail, Courtesy of Four Lounge’s Keith LaBonte

Recently, we sent ace intern James Bright out to Four Lounge to chat with Keith LaBonte about the current state of cocktails. What he returned with is both instructional and inspirational. Take it away, James…

For almost two weeks I’ve been waiting to try a peanut butter and jelly martini. I talked to virtually every person I came into contact with about my excitement and hopes regarding the drink. Thankfully, Four Lounge’s proprietor and molecular mixologist Keith LaBonte didn’t disappoint. The beverage is a perfect blend of light peanut butter sauce and vodka with a delicate jelly whip cream.
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A few kernels of popcorn add uncommon flavor to the Popcorn Martini. (Photo by James bright)

The cocktail is part of Four Lounge’s new summer menu that contains a variety of original, and pretty amazing spins on martinis, mojitos, and champagnes. LaBonte has been throwing together crazy mixes that sound too good to be true for almost 20 years. Occasionally, he keeps some around, but generally every six months he tosses out the Lounge’s current menu and starts from scratch. This sort of innovation has lead to creations that have drawn the attention of local and national companies.

One such innovation is the Cotton Candy Martini. This drink literally starts with a spool of cotton candy. The sweet treat is placed in a glass and LaBonte dumps a vodka mixture with “Keith’s twist” over the sugar puff to change it from a sort-of solid to a liquid. The drink itself is amazing. The martini may be a bit sweet for some, but for most it will be a revelation. The flavor of the candy almost completely eliminates the taste of the vodka.

Keith LaBonte pours his vodka mixture over the cotton candy effectively turning the treat into a drink. (Photo by James Bright)

Even more amazing is the Cupcake Martini. This drink starts the same way as the Cotton Candy Martini, but instead of candy a cupcake is used. LaBonte tosses in some vodka as well to create a cupcake-inspired martini topped with homemade caramel, whipped cream, and sprinkles. The cocktail actually does taste like a cupcake. It’s pretty hard to even locate a hint of vodka, and the mixture is satisfies both thirst and appetite.

If you’re not in the mood for something sweet, LaBonte serves the Tomato Basil, a cocktail with grilled tomato, fresh basil, vodka, a little lemon and lime on top, and three different types of pepper. Those who order this drink may need a chaser to combat the heat from the combination of peppers. The Tomato Basil is similar to drinking a delightfully refreshing mixture of hot sauce and grilled tomatoes. I’ve never tasted anything like it.

LaBonte combines champagne and fresh ingredients to create drinks that separate themselves from the rest of the menu. (Photo by James Bright)

LaBonte admits he creates his drinks with the mindset of drawing in women, but men need not worry. This molecular mixologist has a treat for them as well. He uses a technique called smoking, where he pours brandy, or tequila into a mason jar and uses a smoker to mix the aromas of applewood or mesquite into the alcohol. The end result is, as LaBonte says, a “campfire in your mouth.”

Most drinks are reasonably priced between $9 and $11.