How did you initially get involved in bartending?
It was out of necessity. I received my degree in computer science and was working in the software industry. After September 11th I was laid off and was looking for other forms of income. I ended up at a restaurant where I started barbacking. Eventually I was promoted to bartender and it turned out to be an amiable profession that I enjoyed and then ultimately ended up working at the Violet Hour in Chicago.
In what ways did working at the Violet Hour affect your style and approach today?
It really changed how I thought about cocktails and bartending. I really learned the intricacies of the craft. Before, when I first started working at other places, the bartenders I worked with made drinks thoughtlessly without any consideration for the final product. But at the Violet Hour there was a culture that encouraged learning and understanding of every aspect of the craft, from the way you interact with guests to how each ingredient works in the drink. I often say, that at college I learned that I know nothing but at the Violet Hour I learned how to learn.
What is your approach when it comes to formulating cocktails? Are you more booze or fresh ingredient oriented? Or a combination of both?
A combination of boozy and fresh. When creating a cocktail I first take a step back and ask myself what is the classic cocktail that I want it to be based on. You can easily get carried away with a particular flavor profile and end up creating a mess because there is no guidance. Is this really a Manhattan, a Whiskey Sour, or an Old Fashioned, then deciding and locking in from there, and thinking about flavor combinations without it winding up a mess of muddled flavors.
In addition it depends on the agenda. Sometimes you have a very successful cocktail with a seasonal ingredient and then you need to come up with a drink similar in style with a new set of ingredients. Other times there is a name that comes first and then its about imaging what that drink would taste like. Then sometimes you know what you want the drink to look like and you formulate a drink based on that.
For example one drink on the menu is called the: One Flight Up. We had decided what we wanted the drink to look like and that we wanted the colors of red, yellow, and orange to be incorporated. I had already been playing with Sanbitter a non alcoholic bitter soda similar to Campari and had been putting it under an egg white drink so it wasn’t a reach to replace the Sanbitter with Campari and instead of gin we went with a Pisco (an unaged Peruvian grape brandy) since its not often used in cocktails. We added some orange flower water and lemon and orange peels for garnish.What was your inspiration for the creation of the Form of Flattery?
I wanted something that was Coke related but far removed so as not to taste like coke. I have a fascination with Coke it has this amazing flavor that we are all very familiar with but its a combination of ingredients that don’t necessarily say Coke. So I researched the drink and its history and learned how certain ingredients are common to all cokes and I really tried to find out what was going on in the drinks creators mind. I got my hands on some Kola nuts and they have this really sweet aroma but this deep earthy quality. I went looking for a seasonal ingredient and came across beets and decided to use that as the base. I then began to think about the flavors inherent in coke and build upon the beet base. Coke shares a lot of the common ingredients with Falernum (almond, clove, lime Caribbean syrup) and adding nutmeg to it. Then since rum and coke is such a common mix why not use a dark rum . Then I wanted to add some brightness to these very dark and rich flavors and so added pineapple which creates this great juxtaposition and serves to really round the whole thing out.
How did you become, as I like to say the “King of Chartreuse”?
My interest in Chartreuse is shared with a lot of other bartenders and liquor enthusiasts because Chartruese has this fascinating background with these munks that are secretly making it. While I’m certainly not alone in my love for it, when putting together the concept for our bar we really wanted to showcase unique forms of spirits due to our limited storage space. The initial idea was to specialize and offer small batches, single barrels and more obscure liqueurs. Over the years I have tasted a lot of older Chartreuse and it taste different when compared to current Chartreuse’s so there is this great variation when compared side by side. The natural progression then was to build a vintage collection and offer it to the public. This grew into getting its own shelf in the bar and a dedicated page on the menu. I wouldn’t call myself the “King” but we have become a magnet for Chartreuse and it has developed its own momentum where people will come to me looking to see if I want to add older bottles they come across to the collection.
What is one of your favorite original creations?
I would have to say the Zarzamora which was a drink on the ’09 menu at the Violet Hour. It’s name is the Spanish word for blackberry. Essentially it is a whiskey sour made into a fizz with muddled blackberries, and the addition of Fernet-Branca and coke. It ends up being this really complex and interesting drink.
2 oz Wild Turkey 101
¼ oz Fernet-Branca
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
.75 simple syrup
9 drops orange bitters
Light muddle the blackberries with the simple syrup. Add the rest of the ingredients, shake, and strain over a small amount of Coke in a Collins glass. Garnish with an orange peel.
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