Drink This Now: Will Thompson’s Cocktails at Ruka

The cocktail connoisseur has created a unique booklet to translate the 'Peruvian-ness' of these fruity, earthy drinks.

The Creole Waltz at Ruka. / Photo provided

The Creole Waltz at Ruka. / Photo provided

Beverage director Will Thompson knew Ruka guests would be new to his drinks—one is served in a flower pot, complete with a few dainty blossoms popping out; another in a pipe-like vessel, topped with a rose made of cedar smoking on top. There are hollowed-out coconuts, pineapples, conch shells and an alligator pitcher. And uncommon fruits, vegetables, and liquors fuel even the most traditional-looking drink.

The beverage program dovetails with the new culinary landscape of Peruvian nikkei (Japanese) and chifa (Chinese) cuisines the Ruka team debuted at the Godfrey Hotel this month. But it proved challenging to think about how to showcase it in a cocktail menu.

“[It needs to be] a way for us to translate new flavors and ideas to people who might be a little skeptical,” Thompson says. “At least for the time being, people aren’t like, ‘Oh man, so excited to go out for a couple pisco cocktails!’ How do we use the menu as a tool to get people into this stuff?”

The result is a pocket-sized, 15-page pamphlet for 12 different cocktails, plus two large-format options—but don’t be intimidated. The team developed an organizational system, and uses illustrations and tasting notes to help describe the options.

Each drink falls into a category riffing on three diverse aspects of Peru’s geography. “Beach” features refreshing, lighter options, Thompson says. “City” drinks represent more elegant tipples, and “Mountain” entries are going to be deeper, boozy sippers.

Like the Ruka kitchen, the bar is using a lot of Latin American ingredients, including aji amarillo peppers that one purveyor is growing especially for the restaurant, Thompson says. Those can be found in the Creole Waltz, filed under the Beach section, with a Hatian rum, Peruvian brandy (that’s the pisco), and fruit, served in a glass rimmed with house-made, spicy Tajín, a spice blend common in Mexico.

Chicha Diabla is a “Mountain” cocktail, riffing on the popular Peruvian chicha morada. The traditional drink is nonalcoholic and sweet, made from bright purple corn stewed with pineapple husks, citrus, and spices. Ruka’s version cuts the sweetness with La Diablada pisco and fortified wine.

And those elaborate presentations? It’s Morning Star that moonlights as a potted plant; the Sacha Mama pours from a ceramic alligator, and La Garua, a shell; and the Jesuit is the one with the slim glass straw. The San Lorenzo is split for two in the hollowed-out fruits.

“We wanted these drinks to be super eye-catching, not just delicious, because our space is so big and dramatic,” Thompson says.

So, it boils down to fun—and Thompson doesn’t want to waste your time with a tome of a menu.

“It’s either all the information you could ever need in two seconds, if that’s what you want, but it also helps us tell stories about what Peru is, and might cause you to try something you might not otherwise think to,” he says.

505 Washington St., at the Godfrey Hotel, Downtown Crossing, Boston, rukarestobar.com.

A page from the Ruka cocktail menu

A page from the Ruka cocktail menu. / Click to view larger.