Cocktail hour can be refreshing and relaxing, but for those of us counting calories or trying to cut out artificial additives, that hour may be turned into a stressful treasure hunt in search of health-conscious drinks.
Luckily, here in the Region, we don’t have to look very far. Asparagus in Merrillville has a list of more than 50 martinis and cocktails, many of which are made with natural and fresh ingredients making them lower in calories and tastier to sip.
Tammy Pham and Sam Chung, owners of Asparagus, are responsible for the creative cocktail creations that fill the drink menu.
To sweeten or flavor the cocktails on the menu, Sam says he uses honey, lychee juice, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fresh herbs.
“We try to stay away from the triple secs and artificial flavoring that is not very good for you,” Sam says. “Honey is good for you.”
Sam says he and Tammy come up with more than 90 percent of the cocktails on the menu.
“We have so many cocktails on the menu that we want each one we create to be totally different than all the others,” Sam says. “Coming up with a new drink is like writing poetry. It can take a long time, or it can come really quick.”
The list of cocktails features many house specialties, which Tammy and Sam were eager to show off.
The signature martini is none other than the Asparagus martini made with Midori, Grey Goose Orange Vodka, and lychee juice. The green colored drink is topped off with purple sugar lining the rim, which Tammy says is used to mimic the look of the asparagus’ stalk.
The lemongrass cosmopolitan is one of many variations of the classic drink Asparagus offers. To make this drink stand out, Sam uses Kai Vodka. Kai comes from Vietnam and has only been becoming popular in the U.S. over the last couple of years. The vodka is made from rice, and this variation uses a lemongrass infusion to give the cosmopolitan an essence of lemon ginger.
This martini is made with fresh cucumber, Tanqueray gin and lime juice, but the part that makes this cocktail different than others is Sam’s use of Shochu, a type of sake. Sake or a rice-wine liquor from Japan is becoming more popular in the United States within the last couple of years. The fresh cucumber and lime flavors provide for a crisp taste against the gin and sake, and to top it off, Sam sprinkles fresh cilantro to float on top.
This classic drink of a wine medley is name after Sam. A mix of red wines, apple and peach liqueur, passion fruit and lychee juices, and slices of fresh fruit make this cocktail one of the most flavorful sangrias around.
One of the Asparagus’ most popular cocktails, Sam says it is a summer drink, but he also gets a lot of customers asking for it all year round. This cocktail is made with Cuban rum, kumquat, lime, lots of fresh mint leaves muddled throughout and a splash of soda.
Green tea is not something you expect to see on an alcoholic beverage menu, but Sam and Tammy were able to work it into theirs. With fresh green tea leaves grown and ground by Sam and Tammy, the green tea martini is smooth and sweet with bite of lemon juice and Citron vodka.
Made with apple liqueur and fresh ginger, Sam uses a little bit of honey to sweeten this drink. He says it’s somewhat healthy, too, with all the strips of freshly grated ginger right on top. The apple and ginger flavors complement each other nicely and give one the feeling of the holidays with the warm apple taste and spiced scent.
A different take on a dirty martini, this cocktail gets its gluten-free label from being crafted with Tito’s Vodka. Tito’s is made from corn, and after it is distilled it is completely gluten-free. Fresh olive juice is mixed in to create the classic martini taste.
With its brilliant blue hue, this martini can make you feel you’re in the tropical South Pacific. Sam uses Island Blue Pucker, which is a mix of different tropical fruit flavors, as the base of this drink and adds Citron vodka and fresh lemon to finish off the island flavor.
This martini uses Pama Liqueur, Cointreau, Malibu Rum and fresh lime to give the drink the pomegranate taste, but Sam adds tequila as twist, which give the usually sweet pomegranate martini a surprising, but welcome bite.
The variety of the drinks on the menu can make for a hard decision, but Sam and Tammy are always there to offer suggestions or make something you suggest. One thing is for certain. Though these cocktails may be missing some calories and additives, they are definitely not lacking any flavor or taste.