Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Campari America Spirited Connections Interview Series: Alex Jump & Speed Rack

Alex Jump, Rino Yacht Club
Dedicated readers of Gastronomista already know that I am working on an amazing campaign in partnership with Campari America with the goal of highlighting socially-conscious bartenders who use their platforms to make the world a better place.  Last month's Spirited Connections interview was with Tristan Willey about Bar Sustainability, and this month we are talking about Women's Equality with a few ladies who are changing the game for women in the Cocktail & Spirits industry. 

This month's Campari America Spirited Connections interview brings us back to Denver, Colorado and to the heart of The Source, the Rino Yacht Club, one of Denver's hottest cocktail bars.  The woman who brings us here is Alex Jump, winner of the Southwest Finals of Speed Rack 2017.  I caught her at her post behind the bar before she jets off for finals on May 21st in New York City. 

Before we get to know Alex, I had the opportunity to catch up with co-founder and bar boss-babe Lynnette Marrero to understand more about what inspired Speed Rack, how it has changed the game for female bartenders, and what is next for Lynnette and her business partner, Ivy Mix. 

Ivy Mix & Lynnette Marrero
Gastronomista: Lynnette, you and Ivy started Speed Rack six years ago, what inspired you to start the competition and how has it evolved over the years?

Lynnette: It all started as Ivy ran into me at the Superbowl Feb 2011 and told me about this idea she had for women bartenders called Speed Rack.  Since I was president of LUPEC NYC and was already working nationally with other chapters it was a natural partnership. We then worked to take the idea and give it the structure and format we have today. 

We decided to create a platform for women bartenders. We wanted to create a competition that tests bartenders in real life situations. Instead of testing their ability to create one drink we wanted to challenge them to showcase what they do every day in a bar; create quality cocktails with speed to service in mind.  Speed Rack, the tour that it is now, is the result of an intense few years and I could not be more proud of what Speed Rack is today.  As we expand globally it is incredible to see how it translates worldwide.

Gastronomista: Speed Rack has brought attention to female bartenders in a unique way – how do you think Speed Rack has changed the industry for women?

Lynnette: I think it has helped women get into a different tier of the business. Many of our past competitors got incredible job offers post competing in Speed Rack.  It has also created a network for these women.

Grastronomista: What has been the best take away from Speed Rack?

Lynnette: In the past six years we have grown from small local us competitions to a global phenomenon, expanding every year to new cities and countries, and investing in their bar communities.  We have had over 800 women compete in Speed Rack, we've raised over $550,000 against breast cancer.

Gastronomista: What do you think bar programs can do to be more aware of Women’s Equality?

Lynnette: Offering opportunities for upward mobility for women.  There are a lot of women in the bar community but there are fewer at the top.  We need to create mentorship opportunities, training, and offer other assets to women to gain the experience they need to move up into top beverage position.

Gastronomista: What is next for you two?  World domination?

Lynnette: Year 7 is next year. We are hoping to expand to more markets while we keep investing in adding more to the Untied States, such as the Sisterhood Project we started this year.  Our first empowerment day will be on Monday, May 22 and will be an amplification of the sisterhood.


Which leads us to Alex Jump, Miss Speed Rack Southwest 2017.  Speed Rack has a way of amplifying up and coming talent, letting the world know about the new female bartenders we should all be paying attention to.  So, pay attention.

Southwest Speed Rack Finals 2017
I sat down with Alex to talk about her experience at Speed Rack, how she started bartending, the unique camaraderie that comes along with being a Speed Rack finalist, and what's next for this incredibly talented lady. 

Gastronomista: Frist of all, congratulations on your Speed Rack win!  Tell us a little bit about how you secured victory!

Alex Jump:  Thank you!! Leading up to the big event, I spent a lot of time practicing for Speed Rack at work, RiNo Yacht Club, with a coworker (Heather Hass) who was also participating in Speed Rack. We would practice almost every day with bottles filled with water. We practiced making water cocktails for both the preliminary rounds & the judged rounds. I also practiced a new way of picking up bottles that made me a little faster, I think.

Last year was my first attempt at Speed Rack, and even though I had spent some time getting advice from friends about the competition, I was essentially walking in blind (I hadn’t even attended a Speed Rack before I competed in Nashville). After competing last year, I had a better idea of what I was walking into, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the competition & how I could work efficiently. I feel like I spent just as much time mentally preparing as I did physically.

As far as on stage, it was a real hair splitter! Nicole Laurita & I finished the final round within ½ a second of each other!! It all came down to our 4th (last) cocktail, our own riff on a Ramos Gin Fizz, which Pamela Wiznitzer ordered. Neither cocktails were perfect, but mine sat with a better meringue on top, & Nicole accidentally put a whole egg in hers. With penalties I only ended up beating her by 10 seconds. It was so close.

Gastronomista: Speed Rack is an incredible program that promotes Female Bartenders – why did you choose to compete, and what was the best take away from the competition?

Alex Jump:  Speed Rack is probably my favorite competition of the year for so many reasons. Not only do they promote female bartenders in a way that literally no other competition ever has, but they also raise money for breast cancer research.

What’s not to like? If you’re an attendee, you get to cheer on badass women in your region while drinking cocktails to raise money for breast cancer research. If you’re a competitor, you get to spend an entire day surrounded by inspiring female bartenders and rooting for each other while they’re on stage. Aside from the feeling of doing something good for the world, I’d say the best take away is the feeling of camaraderie that you walk away with after the day is over. I chose to compete because I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.

The All-Amari

Gastronomista: You live in Denver, which is notoriously a male-dominated city (and nicknamed Menver).  How do you navigate your career in a male dominated industry in a dude-centric town?

Alex Jump:  I’m so new to Denver that I’m not sure I’ve really noticed the outnumbering of men to women yet, honestly! Since I’ve moved here I’ve been fortunate enough to get hired on to two really wonderful bar teams in town- the RiNo Yacht Club & Mercantile Dining & Provisions. There certainly are a lot of men in the city, but there are also a lot of women in Denver doing some really amazing things.

Author's Favorite - A Classic Negroni
Gastronomista: What are your favorite bars right now?

Alex Jump:  Oh man.. I’ll try to narrow this down. It’s hard to even pick a place to start. Here in Denver I’ve fallen in love with the 715 Club, Star Bar, and B&GC. 715 Club is the perfect amount of dark & dive-y. It’s the exact bar I want to sit at when I get off work & need a Coors Banquet & a shot of Cynar. Star Bar is a Denver institution for sure, & it completely lives up to the hype. They have an awesome back bar and karaoke two nights a week. Win/Win. B&GC is a beautiful bar in the basement of the new Halcyon Hotel. It’s stunning inside, and the cocktails are lovely.

Since I’m from the South, it’s no surprise that some of my favorite bars are also located there. Robert’s Western World in Nashville is one of my most favorite places in the world. Amazing live music, dancing, & the Recession Special ($5 for a Bologna Sandwich & a High Life)… how do you not fall in love with that Honky Tonk? Then there’s Kimball House in Decatur, GA. It’s absolutely gorgeous, the food is wonderful, & the drinks are complex & delicious. Ticonderoga Club in Atlanta is another one of my favorite bars in the South. The space & décor makes you feel like you’re drinking in your own personal clubhouse. The food is absolutely incredible & the cocktail & wine lists are always lovely. And finally, Empire State South in Atlanta… The hospitality that Kellie Thorne & her crew exude at that bar is outstanding. All of these bars feel like home when I’m there.

Other bars that I love are ones that inspire me every time I visit them: Dante, Death & Co., PDT, Clover Club, Trick Dog, Clyde Common, & La Factoria, just to name a few. The people running these bars are constant sources of inspiration & motivation for me.

Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Alex Jump:  Honestly… It may not seem like that far back to go, but I think I would go back to the early 2000’s when Sasha Petraske was opening Milk & Honey. I never had the opportunity to know him, but his legacy will influence my bartending for the rest of my career. I wish I had been able to sit at his bar, drink a cocktail, and ask him questions.

Wild Turkey Rye, Lustau Oloroso Sherry, Cynar, Lemon, Sesame Seed Orgeat, Egg White

 Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you're creating cocktails?  Any tricks of the trade you can share?

Alex Jump:  I get a lot of inspiration from what my Chefs are cooking. What’s in season and what’s being served on dishes in the restaurant. When working on new cocktails, I always draw inspiration from a classic in some way. One of my bar mentors said to me, “Classics are classics for a reason. They will be good until the end of time. History has decided that they will be remembered. Because they are balanced.”  So if you’re working on a new cocktail, but already have a blueprint mapped out for you from a classic, you’re nearly guaranteed to create a balanced cocktail.

Gastronomista: This series, as well as Speed Rack, is sponsored by Campari America, would you mind sharing a few of your favorite recipes with us using Campari America products?

All Amari
Co-Created by Alex Jump of Rino Yacht Club

1 oz Cynar
3/4 oz Braulio
1 oz Punt e Mes

Stir and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora Glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

For more follow Alex Jump & the Rino Yacht Club on Instagram.

* * * * *

Speed Rack Finals will be held May 21, 2017 at the Weylin in Brooklyn.

The Finalists:

Top 8 Winners:
Elyse Blechman – Tongue-Cut Sparrow; Ms. Speed Rack Texas
Mony Bunni – Boleo, The Kimpton Gray Hotel; Ms. Speed Rack Midwest
Clairessa Chaput – Highball Lounge, Central Kitchen; Ms. Speed Rack Northeast
Jacyara de Oliveira – Rob Roy, The Hideout; Ms. Speed Rack Northwest
Helen Diaz – Bloodhound, Churchill; Ms. Speed Rack California
Jenny Feldt – Le Diplomate; Ms. Speed Rack Southeast
Alex Jump – RiNo Yacht Club; Ms. Speed Rack Southwest
Anna Wingfield – Mother’s Ruin, Ba’sik; Ms. Speed Rack New York

Wild Card Winners:
Katie Astrauska – Moneygun; Midwest Wildcard Winner
Tiff Jones – Pagan Idol, Rickhouse; California Wildcard Winner
Jen Laforge – Tiger Mama, Franklin Café; Northeast Wildcard Winner
Megan Radke – Canon, Liberty; Northwest Wildcard Winner
Zulcoralis Rodriguez – The Esquire Tavern; Texas Wildcard Winner
Jess Sandberg – Under Current; Southwest Wildcard Winner
Kristine Serrano – Forest Hills Station House; New York Wildcard Winner
Andrea Tateosian – Urbana; Southeast Wildcard Winner

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic

Today is Gin & Tonic Day, a day that reminds us that summer is coming, and there is nothing better than a Gin & Tonic on a beautiful day.  Nothing.

But sometimes dinner prep conflicts with happy hour, and let's be real here, even the chef deserves a proper adult beverage! The Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic is inspired by cooking itself, loaded with fresh herbs traditionally found in savory recipes. 

This cocktail calls for Uncle Val's Botanical Gin, a aromatic gin distilled with Juniper, Cucumber, Lavender, Sage, and Lemon.  Uncle Val's was inspired by Zio Valerio, a man who loved to cook Tuscan cuisine.  For expressive gins such as Uncle Val's I like to build flavors upon one another, using fresh herbs to accentuate the signature flavors.

Unfortunately, not everyone has their own Kitchen Garden continuously bursting with fresh herbs, but thankfully even the most common grocery store has packs of "Poultry Blend" fresh herbs packed with sage, rosemary, and thyme.  A sprig of each for each cocktail, a few slices of fresh cucumber, a slice of fresh lime, and two dashes of Lavender Bitters make this G&T complete. 

This G&T is extremely simple, leaving it open for interpretation and creative experimentation.  Instead of Lavender Bitters one could try Cucumber, instead of lime a big squeeze of fresh Lemon, or even a few drops of Bay Leaf Bitters and a few fresh Bay Leaves as a garnish.  The wonderful thing is that Uncle Val's has a wide range of culinary flavors that are wonderful to play with - as one does with savory recipes.  The possibilities are endless!

Recently I have been drinking my G&Ts in wide rim glasses, similar to how they do it in Japan, with a slow pour of tonic over the gin, careful not to pour the tonic directly on the ice.  This makes the cocktail sweeter and less bitter.  Give the drink a long and slow stir, and enjoy. 

Kitchen Garden Gin & Tonic
Adapted by Gastronomista

2 oz Uncle Val's Botanical Gin
4 oz Tonic
2-3 Dashes Lavender Bitters
Fresh Herb Bouquet: Sage, Rosemary, Thyme
Fresh Cucumber Slices
Fresh Lime Slices

Build in a large tumbler over quality ice.  Add gin and bitters, followed by tonic, careful not to pour the tonic directly on the ice.  Garnish with a bouquet of fresh herbs, a few slices of cucumber, and a lime wheel. 

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Uncle Val's Botanical Gin. All opinions are 100% mine.
Thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cherry Blossom Highball

In Japan, the highball is King.  Specifically, the Whisky Soda is King.  Meticulously made with well thought out ingredients, perfectly clear ice, quality soda water, and of course, a carefully cut sliver of citrus peel to brighten the drink. 

On our visit in January we went on an epic bar pilgrimage (stay tuned, I'm still editing photos) and the first stop was Bar High Five.  We ordered whiskey cocktails made with traditional Japanese flavors, and one of them was made with a fluorescent cherry blossom liqueur made by Suntory (I know, who knew they made anything other than fancy whiskey?!?!?).  Naturally, I RAN to the liquor store to buy it, and brought it home with me. 

Seeing that it is spring time, Cherry Blossom Highballs are in order.  So make some blocks of clear ice, break out the Japanese Whiskey, and run to your neighbors blooming trees to steal some blossoms (I won't tell if you don't). 

Cherry Blossom Highball
Created by Gastronomista

2 oz Fuji Japanese Whisky
1/2 oz Suntory Cherry Blossom Liqueur (can substitute Luxardo Maraschino)
4-6 oz Quality Soda Water (Fever Tree, East Imperial, Q Drinks, etc)
High Quality Ice
Grapefruit Express

Pour whisky and Cherry Blossom Liqueur into a highball glass, and top with ice.  Slowly top with soda water making sure to not pour directly on top of the ice.  When the glass is half way full, stir, and then continue filling with soda water, stir again.  Express a Grapefruit peel on the top of the drink, and carefully float on top.  Add a fresh cherry blossom for extra styling points!!

(Pro Tip: by pouring the soda water into the whiskey and not directly onto the ice it makes a softer tasting drink.  I don't yet understand the science behind this, I need to do a bit more research, but it does make the drink less bitter).


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Campari America Spirited Connections Interview Series: Tristan Willey on Sustainability

This year my Campari America Interview Series takes a bit of a turn, and that turn is towards socially conscious bartenders using their platforms for greater good.  This year we will talk to some amazingly talented people who are not only interested in making delicious cocktails, but also in creating bar programs that give back to the community and bring awareness to subjects not often discussed within the food and beverage industry.  I am really excited about this series and about some of the people we have lined up for interviews this year, so stay tuned!

This month I have the privilege of interviewing one of my personal favorite bartenders, Tristan Willey.  I met Tristan when he was working at Long Island Bar, and quickly realized that he is an incredibly diverse talent who has some amazing ideas about building bar programs, new innovative products, and I have to mention, he's an incredibly nice guy.  If any of you have sat at a bar stool during one of his shifts you know what I'm talking about - expect big smiles, warm welcomes, delicious drinks, and unexpected technical lessons about how to make your drinks better.  This month we are talking about sustainability, which is a bit of a buzzword in the drinks-media world right now, and is something that more and more smart and socially conscious bar programs are integrating into their daily rituals. 

Tristan Willey - Photo by Tristan Willey

My takeaway from talking to Tristan: yes, pay attention to your products, your supply chains and your waste, but most importantly, get outside and realize why we need to do more to protect this planet we spin around on.  After all, we only have one.

- - -

Gastronomista: Tristan, tell us a bit about how you became a bartender and what you're up to these days?

Tristan Willey: I came up as spirits professional in NYC through both distilling and bartending avenues.  Working at Kings County Distillery, first learning to bartend at Amor y Amargo, and then going on to open Booker and Dax and then again enjoy my time behind the bar at Long Island Bar.  Working on some new spirit projects I have taken the time to get back to my home and out into nature in New Mexico, and while out here frolicking in around the mountains I am working with a lovely restaurant group to get some new cocktail programs off the ground.

Long Island Bar - Photo by Tristan Willey

Grastronomista: Sustainability—and in particular, ensuring bar programs are environmentally friendly—is a subject close to your heart. Why are you so connected to sustainability?

Tristan Willey: So.  Damn.  Important.  I don’t believe that sustainability and conscious effort towards properly executing a responsible program are mutually exclusive with anything at all.  I don’t think you should even know if a bar if sustainably run or not, it just should be.  It shouldn’t even be a story anymore, and I think people are even slightly worn out on it even as a new emerging story, it should be native and inherent common sense to protect not only our resources, our immediate environment and community, and ultimate (as dramatic as this sounds) our future.  Our cocktail bars are a major cog in society, a major industry that happens to be the spear point of the massive spirits industry, and shouldn’t be written off by our own team as too small on an individual instance to have a significant impact.  Save the world by taking care of it, and while you are at it, get out of the bars and get outside for a bit.

Winter Hike - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: How do you define a sustainability mission for a bar?

Tristan Willey: Currently sustainability comes down to some innovative products and creative re-use, but more often than not it really is centered around something we do every single day in management, a close eye on the details and a care for the minutia.  We are so tuned into to doing it with a budget that we harangue staff about 1/16th of an ounce differences in recipes and pours, we comb through balancing cocktail costs and time sheets, we can certainly turn that attention towards making every small detail count towards keeping our bars efficient and eco-friendly.  A bar should be taking every available step to simplify their program to its essentials while prioritizing less waste.  Maximize your impact with cost, guests, and sustainability by focusing on simple impact in your genre.

Ice - Photo by Tristan Willey
Gastronomista: What are the top 3 things up and coming bartenders can do to pursue a more sustainability minded bar program?

Tristan Willey: Know your products.  By knowing the history and details of what you are using you can control a multitude of issues, one of them is sustainable use.

Eliminate thoughtless waste.  Be the efficient bartender you claim to be, efficiency in movement and process saves things like wasted water, ingredients, and energy. Everything you do adds up to greater impact.

Use ingredients to exhaustion and follow their chain through your doors… as simple as a lemon, store them properly to avoid spoilage, use them for twists, juice them, old juice goes to the kitchen for cooking, compost pith.  Everything has a full circle path, don’t skip steps.

Campari Cocktail - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: You have worked in some of the most creative bars in the country, how do you see bar programs embracing waste and becoming more conscious of recycling?

Tristan Willey: Look to Lighthouse in Brooklyn.  If anyone wants to be schooled up on how to creatively create recycling opportunities such as water purification with used oyster shells, or donation of recyclable glass, Naama Tamir is showing the world how it can be done.  For a primer take a listen to Damon Boelte’s interview of their team on the Speakeasy on Heritage Radio.  It is humbling just how integral to a business you can make sustainable and world improving practices.

Wild Turkey Behind the Barrel - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: You recently relocated to New Mexico, how has your move to the southwest impacted your mission towards sustainability and environmentally-conscious bar programs?

Tristan Willey: I have become so much more aware of supply chain.  In New York I took for granted the availability of products, as if they just naturally existed in my immediate vicinity, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Creating an international product catalogue is really fascinating and eye opening, and the diversity that brings attention to is wonderful, but thinking about how those products get around the globe can be challenging.  I have been looking locally to find things that be used without ever being put on a truck.

Columbia Coffee Country - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: What are your favorite bars right now?

Tristan Willey: On my brief trips back to the city I most recently have been reverting to the unerring classics like Littlebranch, The Brooklyn Inn, Bemelman’s… in these weird and stressful times we are clawing through, I love how stalwart the old guard feels, and how reassuring it is to have a classic drink in something that represents stability and a stoic face.  Back in New Mexico there are two bars in Santa Fe I love, the first is Coyote Café which has re-found the happiness, excitement, and love of fun and wild cocktails that seems to have been lost along the way, they love whimsy and pomp and circumstance, and do it all with a smile.  There is a beautiful old restaurant on Canyon Road in Santa Fe called Geronimo that is housed in a 400 year-old building - the very heart of the 8 seat bar is flanked on all sides with fine dining tables and big, wooden vigas that are mounted to the surrounding walls, there is an old stucco fireplace in the corner and some cocktails come straight from their garden… my very first visit set it in my heart as a happy and hidden place instantly upon wandering in.

Santa Fe - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: If you could visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Tristan Willey: Hmmmm… London60’s… perfectly trim suit on… hotel bar, a cocktail bar where there was still some importance to how entered and who you were with… and I’d be on a date, sipping martinis and manhattans, with… a first date.

Martini - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: What drives the creative process for you when you're creating cocktails?  Any tricks of the trade you can share?

Tristan Willey: Find the perfect name for a drink, and then craft the drink to match it?  No, I find inspiration right now from two things, the refinement of the classics and the occasionally new ingredient.  More and more I am trying to find ways to mimic the simple and time refined classics, which is providing the biggest challenge I’ve met behind the bar, doing something simple brilliantly.  Someday, I guess…

Mini Boulevardiers - Photo by Tristan Willey

Gastronomista: This series is sponsored by Campari America, can you recommend a sustainability minded cocktail for our readers made with their products?

Tristan Willey:  This cocktail is a recreation of a favorite spicy old fashioned recipe inspired by the  New Mexican landscape.  It is made with local Santa Fe Honey that’s been aged with the iconic New Mexico Red Chile Pods from Hatch, New Mexico.  In lieu of Mole bitters I mixed Kakawa drinking chocolate from Taos into the Wild Turkey 12 year.  Enjoy!

Old Santa Fe - Photo by Tristan Willey

Old Santa Fe
Created by Tristan Willey

2 oz Wild Turkey 101
1/4 oz Red Chile infused Santa Fe Honey
1 Tsp Kakawa Drinking Chocolate

Build over a large cube, and garnish with an orange wheel and a sprinkling of red chile powder.

All Photos by Tristan Willey

Follow Tristan on Instagram: @Tristan.Willey

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Last Laph - A Tiki Drink for Scotch Drinkers

One of the things that excites me the most about the cocktail industry is creativity.  Bartenders using unexpected ingredients in new and innovative ways, and thereby expanding the imbiber's assumptions and expectations.  Specifically, the entire Tiki category has been dramatically challenged by bartenders in recent years, and I think it's fair to say that Tiki is no longer defined by Rum but instead by tropical flavors and an eccentric presentation (emphasis on the eccentric presentation).   

Needless to say, delicious and creative cocktails excite me.  And this is one of them.  The Last Laph was created by Justin Lavenue of Austin, Texas, a recipe that is just too good not to share with all of you.  It has all of the things one could ever hope for in a wintery Tiki libation: ginger, pineapple, fresh lemon juice, absinthe, and Laphroaig, an peaty Islay scotch.  Ok, I know it sounds like the flavors in this drink should not work together, but it does.  This drink is a tropical take on the peaty modern classic, the Penicillin, and one can hope that it has the some of the same illness-blasting benefits.

Tiki demands a great vessel, and I must admit that it was the vessel that inspired me to share this recipe with all of you, dear readers.  These are goblets carved from Black Zebra Marble, found in a Rock Shop in an old mining town in Colorado.  They begged me to buy them. 

Almost immediately I thought of this Peaty Tiki libation, a medieval tropical drink of sorts.  This recipe recommends Laphroaig Select, although in full disclosure I made these for friends and we finished off the entire bottle of Select - oops.  I substituted Laphroaig Lore (which is a much more expensive bottle), which is a bit crazy, but also delicious.  Better spirits make better drinks, right?!  I highly recommend this bottle for sipping as well - it's incredibly rich and peaty with subtle influence from the sherry casks.  It's a gem.

Enjoy fireside in a Scottish Castle or beachside on a remote island - either way I can guarantee happiness.


The Last Laph
Created by Justin Lavenue

3/4 oz Laphroaig Select
3/4 oz Ginger Liqueur (or 1:1 Ginger Simple Syrup)
3/4 oz Pineapple Juice
3/4 oz Lemon Juice
3 dashes Absinthe

Garnish with a few Pineapple Leaves and two Luxardo Cherries

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Campari America Spirited Interview Series - Simon Banks

Winter is not messing around this year - it is cold cold cold and the snow has been falling at record rates!  All this cold weather means one thing - Hot Toddys!  Warm, boozy remedies for the cold weather just outside.

A few weeks ago I stumbled into Comida at The Source in my hometown of Denver, Colorado and was instantly impressed with their cocktail program, and notably, their seasonal "Some Like it Hot" Cocktail Menu!  Why yes, I would like a hot cocktail made with gin, Aperol, and fresh grapefruit juice!

The man behind the menu (and the bar program at Comida) is Simon Banks, an up and coming talent in the bar world who has an affinity for dive bars, American Gin, and hot cocktails.

Without further ado, Simon Banks:

Gastronomista:  Simon, how did you become the head bartender at Comida?  What do you love about running a cocktail bar in the Denver area?

Simon Banks:  E, it's a pleasure to be interviewed by such a Bon Vivant like yourself. Like all things in my life, its been a long road of education and hard work that has brought me to Comida and the position of bar manager and director of beverages here. I started tending at Magnolia Bar in Louisville, KY, when I was 22, and fell in love with this industry from the first drink I poured. Magnolia Bar, aka MAG BAR, the best dive bar in Louisville, schooled me on the basics and every other bar since has added knowledge to my general philosophy that I carry with every movement.

Back to the Comida story though, I was having a hard time finding a bar in Denver that fit my style and would pay the bills and as fate had planned, I stumbled upon a job posting on for Comida. I had a working interview November 8th, Election Night, and The Source was packed to the gills, after the night was over I was hired on the spot. Comida opened up their new restaurant in The Stanley Market Place in Stapleton December 14th, and Cristina, the former bar manager at The Source was moved over to the new location, and Rayme, the owner, decided with the rest of the management staff, that I was the best fit to move up. It was destiny.

The Krampus - Dark Rum, Leopold's Blackberry Liqueur, St. Elizabeths Allspice Dram, Cherry Bitters, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, and Muddled Pineapple

Running a cocktail and beverage program in Denver is incredible, because it is a major world destination. People from all around the country and globe visit here, not only because of legal cannabis, but also because of the fine arts scene, sports scene, food scene, etc... The other week I had two German guests, one was a gin collector and we got into talking about the new American small batch gin movement and how American small batch gin is the best gin being distilled in the world right now.

Everyday I come to work I meet worldly people and I love that; being able to provide my guests with a solid beverage program and a wonderful dinning experience is my passion. A good bartender will craft a great cocktail you'll enjoy, but a great bartender will provide you with an amazing experience you'll remember for a long time. Drinks are momentary, but memories can be life long. It's always and always will be about the people and relationships you build.

Pear Mimosa served with an Angostura Bitters Soaked Pear Slice

Gastronomista:  What drives the creative process for you when you're creating cocktails?  Any tricks of the trade you can share?

Banks:  Before I started 'tending I cooked for a living. The last restaurant I cooked for was a gastro pub with a focus on pork and twists of eastern European peasant food. I was the day cook and ran five stations by myself for about 80-100 seats within about a hour and a half time period, also coming up with two daily specials and a weekly special. Food and beverage are brother and sister and if you know how to balance flavors in food, then crafting a balanced cocktail is second nature. When I get off work, go home, take the dogs on a walk, bust out my laptop and research spirit history, bar technique, product, etc... Knowledge is power, and history should not be forgotten.

There are five main flavor profiles in my opinion: rich, dry, spice, tart, and herbal, and many sub modifiers within these as well. People are creatures of pattern and habit, and we all like certain flavors. One of these five profiles is the foundation for your cocktail, then you add the modifiers to fit a persons personal taste. Having a menu that covers these five is crucial and necessary, and also having a menu that changes with the seasons should be a standard you hold as well.

Gastronomista:  What bars do you frequent in Denver or Boulder?  Are there any innovative cocktail programs that excite you?

Banks:  Ah, bars I frequent, yes. The Larimer strip from 20th to 29th in Denver is called "black out alley" by us industry folks. So many great bars and restaurants and if you know the bar staff, you're in for a hell of a good night or some Sunday Fun-Day shenanigans. El Charrito, corner of 21st and Larimer, is my neighborhood watering hole. It's a five star dive bar and if you haven't visited it, go. Great tequila selection thats very reasonably priced, great happy hour and the food is pretty traditional with some amazing special tacos of the week as well, my favorite being the fried catfish taco with a  house made cole slaw. The staff are all good friends of mine and I also DJ there the last Wednesday of every month. The Crimson Room makes the best gin fizz in Denver, Colt and Gray is beyond perfection with anything they do and of course you must visit Aloy Modern Thai for the best mai tai using Mekong rum. Scruffy Murphy's is the archetypal Irish pub, with a great selection of Scotch priced for the working class. Basically, I'm a dive bar man, gotta stay true to my roots.

John McClain - Rye, Cointreau, Drambuie, Rhubarb Bitters, Muddled Cherries

Gastronomista:  If you were to visit any bar anywhere in the world, at any point in history, what bar would you visit?  Who would you have a drink with?

Banks:  Any bar in history huh? Well, thats super vast, but I know exactly what year and where I would go. Milk and Honey, 1999 and I would have a pour of Woodford Reserve with my father, the late Hugh Banks. I owe so much to Sasha Petraske and it's a shame I'll never be able to meet that man, or have him whip me up a cocktail. If you haven't researched Sasha's life, it truly is inspiring. My father passed away when I was six and he was a bourbon drinker. Every time I drink bourbon or a nice rye I cheers to my pops. If he only knew, I think he'd be proud, most likely pissed I have tattoos and dreadlocks, but I think he would be proud of the direction I've taken and the things I've learned so far in life.

Gastronomista:  Comida is a Mexican Restaurant that has an extensive Tequila offering.  How have you seen the trend towards Tequila grow within Colorado?

Banks:  Tequila, tequila, tequila. All spirits have trends, some drop off as the wheel turns and others pop up as mister popular. Tequila is on a rise, but mezcal and American small batch gin are going to be the new trend, mark my words! Colorado, due to the heavy Latino population, is a very popular state for tequila. Tequila is also one of the healthiest spirits to drink.

Comida Hot Toddy - Bourbon, Hibiscus Flowers, Candied Ginger, Lemon, Simple Syrup, Angostura Bitters

Gastronomista:  What other Mixologists inspire you and why?

Banks:  My top 5 influences:

1) Mr. Jaime Boudreau, owner and operator of Cannon in Seattle. This man is all about bitters and in fact, stained every piece of wood in his bar with Angostura bitters. He's a genius and I can't wait to meet him one of these days.

2) Sother Teague, owner and operator of Amor y Amargo in NYC. I've picked apart this mans business strategy and he truly is one of the wisest people to study if you plan on opening up a cocktail bar, which eventually I plan to do myself.

3) Dushan Zaric, owner and operator of Employee's Only in NYC, his bar prep and house made product program is unmatched in the American market

4) Dale DeGroff, where would be with out him?  The Rainbow Bar completely changed the cocktail game, hats off to you sir.

5) Sasha Petraske, rest in peace man, you created a speak easy out of necessity and laid the foundation for a whole new movement.

I could go on and on about contemporary bartenders and the old guard as well, but I would bore you. Each of these guys with their concepts and execution I have studied and learned from the best I can with the resources available to me and each one molded my style without their knowing, so here's a thank you to them, cheers guys.

Reindeer Games - Gin, Aperol, Passion Fruit Gum Syrup, Lemon, and Grapefruit Juice

Gastronomista:  I love your seasonal Hot Toddy Menu you created this winter.  What inspired a hot drinks list, and what are some of the best surprises to come out of the process of creating them?

Banks:  Thanks E, I love it too. Well, it's winter and we're in Denver and it's cold as hell some days and nights. My second week working at Comida I started to catch a chest cold and all I did was eat Thai food and drink Hot Toddy's. Hot Toddy's were originally created as a medicinal drink to kill a cold. Tons of bitters, lemon, rye, honey, throw some fresh herbs in there, throw some ginger in there, shit, throw some garlic in there. Just make something that's healthy and has medicinal properties and drink it. It's going to help you get better, trust me, plus a little buzz helps you pass out. So after I got promoted I was thinking, what menu do I launch? And boom, it hit me, hot cocktails for winter.

Naming them was fun, I just thought about my favorite holiday themed people/movies/etc and built cocktails that would fit into the five categories of flavor. The only hot cocktail recipe that I didn't create from scratch was a borrowed old timer drink called, "Tea and Krampus," which originally was a cold cocktail. I added some ingredients, took some out and make it hot. Fun surprises that happened? Lots of them. The Reindeer Games toddy has a passion fruit gum syrup, and adding hot water reactivates the gum arabic, causing little tiny looking clouds to form in the cocktail over time, that was really cool. Also our House Hot Toddy has hibiscus flowers in it, so over time seeping, the cocktail turns red, a bleeding heart of sorts. The Home Alone Toddy is a hit or miss for some people, either people like the herbal medical profile or they hate it. So I'm going to remove the ginger simple syrup from it and up the amount of fresh lemon juice and white vermouth, hopefully the lack of any kind of sugar will appease guests and make it less like, "a mint cough syrup, " HA! as some guests have described it.

Gastronomista:  Campari America is sponsoring this series on great Mixologists in smaller cities.  Do you mind sharing the recipe for the Reindeer Games made with Aperol?

Banks:  I'm honored to represent Denver, Comida and most importantly myself. E, it's been a pleasure.

The Reindeer Games Toddy
Created by Simon Banks of Comida

1 1/2 oz Fords Gin
1/2 oz Aperol
1/2 oz Passion fruit Gum
1/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Fresh Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice
Garnish with a Lemon twist

Build this cocktail in a nice glass or a mug, first starting with Aperol and the passion fruit gum, then add your fresh juices to your jigger to help wash out any left over passion fruit gum, the acidcity will help strip this from your jigger, then add your Ford's gin, spritz the lemon zest over the mix and drop it in, then add 212 degree water to your glass/mug to a level of temp and dilution you prefer.


For more follow Comida on Facebook or stop by and visit them IRL:

Eat Comida at The Source
3350 Brighton Blvd #105
Denver, CO 80216

(303) 296-2747

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