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The Making of The NoMad Bar’s Gigantic Cocktail Explosions

In "Don't Try This at Home (But Do)" we explore the techniques and inspiration behind some of the bartending world's most out-there drinks. This round: The NoMad Bar's supersized, elaborately garnished Cocktail Explosions.

“To tell you the truth, the Cocktail Explosion is the best wingman at the bar,” jokes bar manager Pietro Collina of the enormous, sharable drinks currently on the menu at New York’s The NoMad Bar. Though each one, priced at $120 a piece, will serve eight to ten, Collina insists that it’s not uncommon for single customers to order one massive Explosion for themselves—then dole out drinks to nearby strangers.

“Just have it in front of you,” he says. “I’ve seen people make tons of friends.”

Elaborately garnished and served in nearly two-foot-tall vessels equipped with a spigot, these large-format drinks are designed to be both interactive and sharable. As such, they tend to draw comparisons to the classic punch, but Collina explains that the characterization is misleading. Whereas many of today’s punches continue to rely on a centuries-old template and presentation, the Explosion seeks to reimagine historic, single-serving recipes, like the Sherry Cobbler or the Whiskey Smash

Though they officially introduced the concept back when The NoMad Bar opened in 2014, the bar team had actually been developing the Cocktail Explosion for a number of years prior, beginning by making multi-person drinks for industry friends, which were typically served after hours at the hotel’s restaurant next door.

“When we were developing the idea, we would just do a bunch of old tiki riffs,” says Collina. “So we’d do massive Zombies and we’d make [cocktail] boats and put pineapple tops all around. We made Jungle Birds, Piña Coladas—things that are a little bit more fun.”

From there, they began to apply their thinking to classic cocktails that would be both elegant and representative of the bar. “The idea behind this bar was to have a hotel bar return to the golden era of the cocktail, but at the same time reflect what’s happening today in cocktail culture,” explains Collina. “If you look at the garnish game at the turn of the century, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you see the popularity of drinks like Sherry Cobbler, these beautifully composed drinks… that’s kind of what we wanted to do [with the Cocktail Explosions].”

Making the Madison Park Smash

Today, the menu features five Cocktail Explosions—among them, the Midnight Bramble, which is not unlike the aforementioned cobbler in design, and the Madison Park Smash, which is essentially a cross between a sour and the “layman’s julep.”

“For how elaborate and crazy the cocktail explosion might end up looking, it’s a very simple build and it’s something that anyone can really do at home,” says Collina of the drink, which builds on a base of Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Royal Combier Grande Liqueur. Served over a mountain of pebble ice and garnished with lemon slices and a crown of mint, it’s finished with Angostura bitters, which are dashed around a spherical dome of ice that’s placed on top of the drink. The resulting cocktail is as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as it is outrageous.

Collina expects this sort of playful, outside-the-box thinking to continue to be an essential, and growing, part of the NoMad’s program in the year to come. “We kind of got to this point where we know how to make great drinks… [and] we started taking ourselves less seriously,” he says. “I think that’s what the industry’s looking towards right now.”

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