People who are passionate about their work are usually very knowledgeable and very good at their jobs. This is a life lesson I’ve learned over the years working in the nonprofit and education fields. It was reinforced tonight as I sat with master mixologist and official “Bar Dude,” Travis Plakke, at Row 14. I signed up for a drink menu preview and lucked out in getting history and chemistry lessons as well. Much like dining, it completely changes the cocktail experience to understand where the ingredients come from and how different flavors work together.
Travis has been working hard to develop six new cocktail recipes that will debut this week on the Row 14 menu. I was fortunate to get a sneak peek of four of the new drinks…
Oh, snap! – A festive, bourbon-based cocktail that highlights Art in the Age’s Snap, with a little cranberry juice and Oronoco Rum. The secret, however, is in muddling two fresh cranberries and some fresh rosemary at the start. It’s not Christmas-cookie-sweet, like it may sound, rather, there’s a balance in the bourbon that makes it delicious and (almost too) easy to drink.
From Jalisco with Love – Inspired by James Bond’s signature martini, this very simple combo of Lillet, silver tequila, and Leopold Brothers’ orange liqueur is just that – simple. In its simplicity, though, lies the beauty. Not too floral, not too tequila-y, and with just the right amount of zest, this is your new martini.
(yet-to-be-named) – The most unlikely combination of ingredients can produce the most interesting flavors. Gin, lime, sugar, Carpano Antica (the vermouth for those who don’t like vermouth, according to Travis), and an IPA (Tommyknocker in this case). If he hadn’t introduced this as a beer cocktail, I wouldn’t have known otherwise. This one is for those looking for something fresh, slightly citrusy, and also slightly floral (a result of the hops in the beer). It’s also for those, like me, who never thought they would like a beer cocktail – or vermouth.
Fernet About It – Simplicity seemed to be the theme of the evening. This was Travis’ favorite of the four and was deliciously simple. Highlighting Fernet Branca, the addition of Aperol and scotch make it look like something my grandfather would drink, but taste far more approachable. Served over an ice sphere, this one only gets better as the ice melts.
I know it’s a wine bar, but Row 14 is quickly becoming my first choice for cocktail hour. While I’m sure that many other restaurants have the same ingredients and equally appetizing menu options, diving into the spirits and the intentions behind the flavor choices have given me a new perspective on the world of mixology (their house-made tonic is good enough to drink on its own). It has also taught me to ask questions.
Get to know the bartenders. Learning their inspiration can, in itself, make for a better tasting drink.