If pressed Marco Zappia can rattle off the entirety of his new cocktail list at the forthcoming Colita in twenty minutes complete with dissertations on pre-Zapotec herbalism, molecular fermentation, perfume inspired by a Parisienne cookie and the process of vinegar creation including a frank explainer on what happens after the yeast and sugars get to getting freaky. These drinks, ranging in price from $7 to $9 will be unlike anything else in Minnesota, likely the US and possibly the world. There’s also a whole selection of $5, highly complex non-alcoholic drinks.
This bar is the second that he’s led, the first also inside a Daniel del Prado restaurant. The first is Martina, which brought Argentinian/Italian food and a full bar to Linden Hills. Zappia’s cocktails there have garnered him all kinds of national media attention, including being a semifinalist for Eater’s Young Guns and a recent profile in Imbibe Magazine.
What we’ve learned about the restaurant, which opens October 16, is that it will be Mexican, but don’t expect a typical giant margarita or even agave-spirit menu. Zappia doesn’t do typical.
“We decided to focus on pre-hispanic herbalism and fermentation. Pre-Zapotec Aztec and Mayan tradition of fermenting stuff. Like how the Italian alchemists thought they found the water of life: fresh herbs, life force of these botanicals found out drinking was fun and it went downhill from there.”
Every drink on the menu will include ingredients that Zappia has been fermenting for months at a time. “Three months after Martina opened, I started looking into fermentations and discovered a whole new paintbrush I’d never worked with before. When Colita was forming, I knew that I wanted that to be the focal point,” said Zappia. “Every drink has a fermented component, up to nine major ferments. You can use fermentation to expand and draw out new flavors in almost anything.”
Which isn’t to say, there won’t at least be a margarita. “I love a good, shitty margarita,” he said. Colita’s will include an orange liqueur made from fermented seville oranges, a little bit of clove and warm spices and an orange maceration. It’s garnished with an air pump, foam technique that Feran Adria first invented at his famed El Bulli and then, just before it all gets a little too cerebral and precious, it’s garnished with a rubber duckie.
Zappia’s first baby on the menu was the Balché, a riff on the ancient, ceremonial drink of the Aztecs. “Yeast lives everywhere - in whorehouses and churches and each one is different and creates different flavors. They would take balché, a tree bark and ferment it. The Azetecs would drink this before they did blood rituals. We cross propagated balché bark with silver birch bark, raw honey —Minnesota ingredients kinda shaman-style.” The resulting drink? “It’s pretty nifty.”
Cocktails without citrus are usually stirred to slightly to chill out both the punchy flavors and temperature of the drink. At Colita they were wondering, What if you ferment the sugar, ferment the separate botanicals from bitters, ferment the same corn masa used in the kitchen and then put it all back together again? Instead of the ice diluting it, and smoothing out the rough edges of straight booze, the fermentation process does that? The result is the Colita house Old Fashioned.
Since the bar is going all in on the ferment, there will also be a version of Pulqué, a notorious drink made from agave. “It’s made by torturing agave plants,” said Zappia. “You hack the plant for months until it dies.” Since transporting pulpy agave plants isn’t prudent, they’re aging a spiced agave mixture to achieve that zingy flavor.
There’s also a 9 Grain Horchata using a variety of rices, including Carolina gold, aborio, farro, Minnesota wild rice and more and mixed with a horchata sake they made, and then garnish it with horchata that’s been dehydrated, made into a paste that’s fried into a puff like chicharron.
Other drinks include non-alcoholic drinking vinegars for a sophisticated no-proof menu. Zappia has been delving into learning about making perfumes and the aromas are being used to garnish many of the drinks, including one that was inspired by a French love-steeped cookie. Every detail has been tinkered with, taken apart, fiddled with and then put back together again in some kind of new way.
Facing down a highly anticipated opening, it seems risky to have every drink require months of prep before opening. “I think I’m good. We have a lot of kegs of things.... I’m trying not to freak out about it, but I think we’re good.”
The freaking out commences next Wednesday October 16 at 5pm.