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Last published at August 7, 2009 at 5:16 PM

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Taste

Mixing old-school and new, two Seattle women are helping define cocktail chic

Seattle "bar chef" Kathy Casey and lounge entrepreneur Linda Derschang are keeping Seattle's cocktail scene on the cutting edge with interesting drinks and the venues to match.

AS KATHY CASEY and I taste through a trio of cocktails at an upscale Seattle hotel, her brow furrows and she shakes her head disapprovingly. A citrus-based Modern Society stings with a harsh acidic aftertaste. The Singapore Sling is shockingly sweet. A Campari-heavy Negroni bites back with a bitter, medicinal taste.

"Balance, it's all about balance," the celebrity chef, cookbook author and longtime Seattle Times "Dishing" columnist murmurs.

These cocktails are clearly out of kilter.

We've watched Casey grow up from the spiky-haired, wunderkind female chef at Fullers restaurant in the Sheraton Seattle Hotel to the savvy founder of Kathy Casey Food Studios. She created the Dish D'Lish cafes and line of specialty foods, and now, at 48, consults for international clients the likes of Holland America Line, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts and Costco.

She added cocktails to her kitchen mix in 1994, way before the cocktail craze hit Seattle and the rest of the country. Her reasons were simple:

"Fifteen years ago, we'd gone through the rise of artisan bread, microbrews and coffee. Cocktails are the first things you get during a meal; they're a huge part of a meal. I saw this as a real opportunity to bring in fresh ingredients from the kitchen, such as herbs and citrus, as opposed to Rose's Lime Juice."

In 2000, Casey created Liquid Kitchen, the cocktail arm of her thriving business. And just this spring, she whipped up a delightful new tome (her ninth), "Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers" (Chronicle Books, $19.95).

With a hip yet retro feel, the stylishly produced book includes more than 100 appetizer and cocktail recipes, a bar-basics section, recipes for cocktail cornerstones such as infused syrups and fresh fruit purées, and some great insider tips.

Casey is the consummate trend-spotter, a talent her business partner and husband of 27 years, John Casey, describes as innate. She stays up with the latest by surrounding herself with a young, energetic staff and watching MTV, Bravo, BBC and VH1. Reality TV is her self-described "guilty pleasure."

Casey's current cocktail trends include the thoughtful pairing of spirits with everything from appetizers to entrees; seasonal cocktails using items from the farmers market (her Peach 75 is the perfect example of this: Bombay Sapphire gin; fresh peach purée, lemon juice and tarragon; simple syrup and a splash of Champagne); molecular mixology; increasing interest in Golden Era cocktails and old-school spirits (such as rye); and edible garnishes, such as the glitter-dusted meringues she uses to top her Lemon Meringue Puff cocktail.

While Casey creates cocktails, Linda Derschang designs desirable destinations in which to drink them. You know her as the current owner of cool places on Capitol Hill — Linda's Tavern, Smith, Oddfellows Cafe + Bar — The Rob Roy (formerly the Viceroy) in Belltown and King's Hardware in Ballard.

But she's owned businesses since her mid-20s, including a punk-rock clothing store in Denver, and the Capitol Club, Baltic Room and Chop Suey in Seattle.

This 50-year-old soothsayer of the city's zeitgeist has been an avid magazine reader and subscriber since her teenage years, often tearing out favorite pages to spark ideas. King's Hardware was inspired after a day of skiing on Crystal Mountain followed by a stop at the Naches Tavern. Linda's Tavern is reminiscent of the mountain bars she grew up around in Colorado.

"Smith looks quite a bit like my house, with vintage portraiture, worn suitcases, old books and taxidermy," she says. "I've always loved the hunt for old things and the token pieces that cultivate a space and interior."

When formulating her cocktail and food concepts, the space dictates the cuisine. "The food in Oddfellows wouldn't make sense in King's, and I can't see Oddfellows consisting mostly of burgers," she says.

She's heartened by today's trends in cocktail culture — the rise in the number of "cool, young bartenders using jiggers to measure, making bitters, finding obscure old recipes and really changing the style of bartending."

And she's definitely seeing a change in her customers' drinking habits and eating patterns. "It seemed not too long ago that 90 percent of people drank vodka; now gin and rye are having resurgence," she says. "In cuisine, it seems that people are craving less complicated dishes and simple food with really good-quality ingredients that are often local, organic or both.

"Ultimately, I'm creating spaces I'd want to go to."

Braiden Rex-Johnson is the author of "Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining." Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com.

Sake Sangria

Makes about 4 cups, enough for 6 to 8 servings

1 bottle (750ml) sake

6 tablespoons honey

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 stalk fresh lemon grass, halved lengthwise, then cut into 3- to 4-inch pieces (use the entire stalk)

½ lemon, thinly sliced

1 small tangerine or orange, thinly sliced

1 large plum or apricot, pitted and cut into thin wedges (optional, if not in season)

1. In a large pitcher, combine all the ingredients and stir with a spoon, crushing some of the fruit.

2. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 2 days, to let the flavors marry before serving.

3. Serve over ice, including some of the fruit in each serving.

— Recipe courtesy Kathy Casey, reprinted from "Sips & Apps: Classic and Contemporary Recipes for Cocktails and Appetizers"

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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