Miami hotel honors local history, culture with original cocktails

MIAMI—Lightkeepers, the signature restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami, is honoring local culture, history and flavors through a spirited vehicle: cocktails. Alexa Delgado, the newly appointed head bartender, is using creativity, along with Florida’s rich history, to inspire and concoct original drinks at the hotel’s bar, offering guests an experience that is uniquely Miami.

“Cocktails can be used as a fun and creative way to showcase local area and history with some flair. A great bartender can shake, mix and stir a tasty libation that highlights the best flavors that represent the atmosphere around them,” Delgado said. “The cocktails we serve at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami are special because not only do we feature local ingredients, but we find inspiration from the history of the city and the people that surround our island oasis. Our newest installation of cocktails, for example, have been crafted to pay tribute to the men and women that helped found the Magic City.”

Guests can sip on a new lineup of authentic drinks this summer that reflect historic figures. The Julia—named after businesswoman Julia Tuttle, known as the “Mother of Miami”—is made with Old St. Pete Tropical gin, Crème de Violette, lemon juice, simple syrup, Keys Beez and honey-lemon foam. The Miami Godfather pays respect to American industrialist Henry Morrison Flagler, and is made with scotch, Disarrono Amaretto, lemon juice, simple syrup and mango cubes. “What they did to help build our city is definitely worth raising a glass to,” Delgado said.

Historic events also inspire some of the creative cocktails. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane inspired the Miami ’35—made of Lighthouse gin, hibiscus-lime syrup, lemon juice, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and sparkling wine—a tropical twist on the French 75.

Cocktails also reflect Miami’s culture, sourcing local ingredients and paying homage to its fresh produce. “Our philosophy is fresh and simple. We want our drinks to be clean and let the ingredients speak for themselves. Aside from using local produce, we utilize small-batch and craft spirits at the heart of our cocktails,” Delgado said. “We want every ingredient from the mixers to the spirit to the garnish to stand out, but also complement the other elements of the drink.”

There’s the Keypirinha—a variation of the traditional Brazilian caipirinha and an ode to Key Biscayne—made with Leblon cachaça, simple syrup, lime wedges, pineapple cubes, pineapple juice and egg whites. The Knaus Berry Smash also sources fresh fruits, like strawberries from Homestead’s Knaus Berry Farm, along with Buffalo Trace bourbon, strawberry liqueur, basil leaves and Fever Tree ginger ale. The Bayfront Breeze is made with Russian Standard vodka, St. Germaine Elderflower liqueur, lime juice, cucumber, mint leaves and Fever Tree club soda.

Delgado understands the importance of these local ingredients. Being a second-generation Miamian, she grew up utilizing all that Miami’s surroundings have to offer. “I take personal pride in creating a local and authentic experience for our guests. Growing up in South Florida, my family and I spent a lot of time collecting mangoes from our neighbors’ trees or driving down south to Knaus Berry Farm to pick fresh strawberries,” Delgado said. “These childhood memories play a huge role in helping to incorporate local produce into our drinks. And the fact that we have such an abundance of produce year-round makes Miami a special place in that we constantly have a fresh supply of unique and interesting ingredients for our drinks.”

Of course, drinks are a great way to showcase local flavor, but for Delgado, it’s more than just taste and ingredients, but rather, an art form that calls upon all of the senses, which gives guests the true island experience.

“I think that people definitely eat (or drink) with their eyes. If something isn’t visually appealing, people aren’t going to be inclined to try it. That being said, we feature a lot of eye-catching and colorful drinks on our menu. Similar to the recipes, we like to keep the garnishes clean and simple; we don’t want to add something just to add it. We want every element of the drink to complement each other,” Delgado said. “For example, take the Miami ’35, which has both sweet and bubbly elements to it and exhibits a beautiful magenta color. To complement this, we garnish it with an amethyst sorrel, which is a dark purple edible flower that has a tartness to it, which helps cut the sweetness in the drink. Lastly, we play off the name ‘Florida,’ which means ‘flowery’ by adding this floral element to the drink. So there’s a lot of thought behind all of the aspects in the drink.”

Drinks do differ from culinary experiences, however. Delgado explained, “Crafting cocktails can be done much more easily on the fly. If we have a guest with certain preferences, it’s much easier for us to make something they’ll enjoy that doesn’t need too much preparation or ‘cook time,’ and if they don’t like it, it’s much easier to start over with something new.”

This art form isn’t always as seamless as it may appear to be. Creating authentic cocktails is really a process of trial and error, Delgado said. “My team and I are motivated to create whenever we get the chance. Inspiration often comes from the spirits we discover, or produce that we find at local markets, and the process just stems from there,” Delgado said. “We will ask each other for opinions of flavors and how to improve our recipes until we eventually land on something we all enjoy.” HB