In the Spirit
Staying humble and giving credit where it’s due
By Tony Cross
I reminisce from time to time about my days — or nights — as a bar manager and the thrill I got creating a new cocktail menu. I constantly challenged myself to make each menu better than the last. To some, that might mean simply mixing a better tasting cocktail.
Making great-tasting drinks was definitely an end goal, but there was more to it than that. Our ABC system limited what I could play with, spirit- and liqueur-wise. What may have been available in the spring could be unavailable in the fall, and vice-versa. At the time, I usually had to order by the case. Like Tony Shaloub says on Monk, it was a blessing and a curse.
The first time I placed an order for a case of Rittenhouse Rye it was a blessing — our establishment was the first in Moore County to get this great-priced rye whiskey. We crushed sales and, within the month, I needed more. After ordering a truckload of cases, our local ABC decided Rittenhouse Rye deserved a place on their shelves.
On the other hand, there was a case of the Luxardo Maraschino liqueur that sat on our shelf so long it could have grown a beard. When I ordered it I was still learning the ropes and failed to realize that a little bit went a long way — it was going to take a while to go through 12 bottles. Then it dawned on me to take another bartender’s cocktail recipe with said ingredient (that I now possessed by the boatload) and put that drink on my menu. It would showcase two things: the spirits and liqueurs that I was still learning about (I had nobody to bounce ideas off, so you can imagine how long that would take.) while incorporating them into a cocktail that was already a winner.
It also highlighted the bartenders and the bars that I read and obsessed about daily. I noted on the menu next to the ingredients who created it, when and where they worked. Not only did this pay homage to the bartender, but it was always a great conversation piece for my guests. Here are a few of the cocktails I put on my menu, and the bartenders who created them.
Cubed Old Fashioned
Jamie Boudreau, Canon, Seattle, 2011
Jamie Boudreau was one of a few people I watched on a YouTube channel named “Small Screen Network.” His video clips were short and always to the point. Everything from what type of ice you should use and why, to how to shake and stir. In addition to technique, Boudreau had videos on how to make cocktails: barrel-aging, smoking cocktails, carbonating and, one of his signature drinks, the Cubed Old Fashioned. He used three different types of spirits and three different types of bitters. In addition to this spin on the classic old fashioned cocktail, Boudreau also created what he calls an old fashioned syrup, using whiskey, Angostura bitters and demerara sugar. He opened up Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium in the same year that this cocktail was created. When I put it on the menu, it was the first time I worked with a cocktail that was a spin on the classic old fashioned and it was the first time I used Maker’s Mark 46. Boudreau’s original recipe called for equal parts Maker’s 46, Mount Gay Extra Old Rum, and Rémy Martin. It gave me the opportunity to share this new spirit with my guests.
Cubed Old Fashioned
3/4 ounce cognac
3/4 ounce rye
3/4 ounce aged rum
1/4 ounce old fashioned syrup
1 dash each aromatic, orange and chocolate bitters
Combine all liquid ingredients in a chilled mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until proper dilution is achieved, and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with orange zest and a cherry.
Naked and Famous
Joaquín Simó, Death & Co. NYC, 2011
When Death & Co. released their Modern Classic Cocktails in 2014, I couldn’t keep my nose out of it. Loaded with much more than cocktail recipes, this was the best bartender’s manual available — at least I thought so. As for this particular cocktail, the folks over at Death & Co. describe it as “the bastard child born out of an illicit Oaxacan love affair between the classic Last Word and the Paper Plane, a drink Sam Ross created at the West Village bar Little Branch.” I was sold before making it since I love the Last Word.
My affinity for green chartreuse cocktails aside, this drink contains mezcal and yellow chartreuse. I was in possession of a rather large order of Del Maguey Vida mezcal prior to getting my hands on this book and I had also just received three bottles of yellow chartreuse. The Vida mezcal was already an ingredient in one of our margaritas, but I wanted to try something else and this was the drink to do it. I wasn’t thrilled the first time tasting yellow chartreuse and was having a hard time incorporating this liqueur into a cocktail. Naked and Famous was fantastic on the first sip. The smokiness from the mezcal is balanced with the soft bitterness of Aperol and the sweeter, less herbaceous taste of the chartreuse. The lime juice adds the acidity that cuts right through the three other ingredients.
This was the first time I’d done a riff on the Last Word, and it opened the door in my mind on how and why this works. Most of my staff loved the drink, and it went on our menu immediately. Most folks ordered it because of the name. I guarantee 90 percent of our clientele had no clue what yellow chartreuse was, and if they heard of mezcal, it was “tequila with a worm in the bottle, right?”
Naked and Famous
3/4 ounce Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal (I used Del Maguey Vida at the time.)
3/4 ounce yellow chartreuse
3/4 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce lime juice
Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake hard. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. No garnish needed. PS
Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.