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New York State has a rich and long history with spirits & cocktails. The very first bartender’s guide was written by Jerry Thomas who was born in Sackett’s Harbor, NY and worked in New York City during the 1800’s. Today, New York is home to the second highest number of distilleries in the nation.

Local writer and author Don Cazentre recently released his second book, this one detailing the stories behind the Empire State’s affinity for libations. I took the opportunity to ask Don some questions about his research and experiences while writing the book.

GSN: You’re originally from New Orleans, Louisiana which itself has a deep and rich drinking heritage. Did any of your experiences there directly influence your interest in writing about cocktails and spirits in Upstate New York?

DC: I certainly grew up in a cocktail town. And there always seemed to be a bottle of Peychaud’s bitters around in everybody’s home when I was a kid (though I believe some people used it in cooking). Plus, my great-grandfather ran bars in and around the French Quarter (pre-Prohibition). But none of that really influenced this. I started writing about beer in 1995, in a column for the Post-Standard and then as a free-lancer for Ale Street News. I eventually expanded my writing into wine and spirits, and now work full-time as beer, wine and spirits writer for NYup.com. This book came about when the publisher (The History Press), sent me a query asking if I thought there was enough material on spirits and cocktail in Upstate NY to support a book. It only took me a weekend of research to conclude the answer was ‘yes’.

Pictured on the left is Catherine Hustler (aka Kathryn Serianni) of the Lewiston Council on the Arts.

GSN: What is the most interesting story that you uncovered while working on this book?

DC: There were plenty. From a true historical perspective, I think the story  of rum distilling in the Albany area was the most interesting — partly because it was surprising to me. I had heard of New England (Medford) Rum, but had no idea Albany was such a major player in the 1700’s. But I really love the (almost) entirely fictional account of the tavern keeper in Lewiston — Katherine Hustler. Though much of the story is complete bunk, I love the way they keep it alive, from historic markers to live re-enactments — in this small corner of Upstate NY.

GSN: Despite prohibition, alcohol was always available for someone who wanted it. Did you uncover any stories of speakeasies or bootleggers in the area?

Rum Runners salvaging whiskey from a boat stuck on a sandbar, one mile east of Leamington, Ontario on Lake Erie.

DC: Yes, I have several tales of bold “rum runners” crossing the river (and ice) in the Thousand Islands region (accompanied by hails of gunfire). It’s also pretty obvious from some of the stories in places like Syracuse, Albany and Buffalo that speakeasies were “hiding in plain sight.”

GSN: You devote a chapter to the history of rum making in Upstate New York. Today, relatively few distilleries in the area are producing rum. Why do you think this is?

DC: Many of the distilleries have ‘farm,’ licenses, so they’re required to use New York ingredients. I don’t know of many sugar plantations in New York! On the other hand, a distillery like Albany Distilling Co. is makings rum under a standard license. I think for now, using local ingredients, whether required by law or not, is going to be a driving force for distillers.

Cocktail menu from Good Luck

GSN: Let’s talk a bit about bar culture. Do you see a shift in the use of local spirits on menus?  How are local bartenders using these products to bring in cocktail enthusiasts who want something or than the usual “fruit-tini”?

DC: I think the “buy local” idea has filtered to many bars, especially the high-end ones. The current thinking seems to be embodied in this quote in the book from Chuck Cerankosky, owner of Rochester’s Good Luck and Cure and founder of the Rochester Cocktail Revival: “At first we used them (local products) to be polite. Now, we use them because they’re good.”

GSN: The resurgence of distilling in Upstate New York has grown exponentially in the last ten years. What in your opinion are the benefits of this relatively young craft in an industry dominated by major players like Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, Suntory-Beam and William Grant & Sons?

DC: There are almost 100 distilleries in New York, and, as far as  I know, just one, Tuthilltown in Gardiner, has been acquired by a “major” player (Wm Grant). So I think what’s cool now is that distilleries are where craft beer has been for the last decade — small, local, trying new things and aiming to build a loyal audience.  It came too late to make my book, but I’m intrigued by the new effort to make Empire Rye a signature New York spirit. (See GSN’s review of Finger Lakes Distilling’s Empire Rye here)

GSN: If you were to nominate one iconic libation that should be the official cocktail of Upstate New York, which one would you choose and why?

DC: I’ll give you two — one historical and one modern.

Historical: The Mamie Taylor is one that has a strong provenance to Upstate NY: It’s pretty clear it was invented at Ontario Beach near Rochester in 1900 at the request of then Broadway diva, Mamie Taylor. It was hugely popular in its day. It’s also interesting in cocktail history: It’s a sort of precursor to the modern rage over Moscow Mules — a highball with ginger beer. In that sense, it could be one of the most influential cocktails ever.

Mamie Taylor
From Ted Haigh in Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails

2 ounces scotch
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Spicy ginger ale or ginger beer (Haigh recommends Blenheim’s no. 3 ginger ale)

Pour the scotch and lime juice into an ice-filled 8-ounce highball glass and fill with ginger ale. Stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

Modern: I had head bartender Jeremy Hammill at the Scotch ‘n Sirloin in DeWitt concoct a few “Erie Canal-themed cocktails” using ingredients sourced from along the old canal path. Here’s one:

Scotch ‘n Sirloin’s bar

Low Bridge
From Jeremy Hammill of the Scotch ’n Sirloin, DeWitt

1 ounce Albany Distilling Death Wish coffee vodka (Albany)
1 ounce Black Button 4 Grain Bourbon (Rochester)
1 ounce cinnamon/clove infused simple syrup (see note below)
1 dropper of Mad Fellows Mulled Spice bitters (Syracuse)
½ ounce heavy cream Freshly grated cinnamon

Chill a martini glass or coupe. Fill a shaker glass with ice and then add all ingredients except the cinnamon. Shake well and strain into martini glass or coupe. Sprinkle on cinnamon for garnish.

Note: To make the simple syrup, boil 2 cups water with 1 broken up cinnamon stick and 4 whole cloves to extract the flavor. When it smells right, add 2 cups sugar and boil to dissolve. Let cool and strain into a clean bottle. Will hold for a month in the refrigerator. (It can be reduced, but always use equal parts water and sugar.)

GSN: To what do you attribute the lasting influence the cocktail still has today even after prohibition and two world wars?

DC: That’s  a good question. Writing the book certainly reaffirmed for me the notion that cocktails have always had their cycles — classic, over-the-top, fruity and sweet, back to classic, etc. I think their popularity now is a bit of the DIY mentality — if you buy a beer or wine you’re stuck with what you bought. But with cocktails, you can mix and match and put your own creative spin on what you’re drinking.

GSN: Last question: You discuss several of the theories about the origin of the word “cocktail”. Most of them seem to indicate an origin within New York State. What do you think the true story is?

DC: I really think the cocktail is simply the drink (the name) that survived from the whole era of juleps and shrubs, punches and toddies, slings and sangarees, cobblers and nogs. I don’t know if it originated in New York, but it certainly seems to be the place where the word first took hold. That may be because of economic and social factors — access to education, media outlets etc. (But in loyalty to my hometown, I still also like the story of Antoine Peychaud and the “coquetier,” even if it is mostly bunk).

Don Cazentre writes about the beer, wine and spirits industry for Syracuse.com and NYup.com

Interview by Blair Frodelius, Good Spirits News

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I first met Karen Locke at Tales of the Cocktail a few years ago during a “Spirited Dinner”. At the time we talked about trends in the bartending community, the burgeoning craft cocktail movement and the rapid growth of the distilling industry.  She recently released her book High-Proof PDX and I took the opportunity to ask her to share some of the behind-the-scenes details behind her publication.

How did your Midwest bartending experiences prepare you for the west coast scene?

My time serving and bartending in the Midwest definitely opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of spirits. Alcohol can be transformed in a way that beer and wine cannot, and that has been endlessly intriguing to me. It was moving to Portland though, that really opened my eyes to alcohol production and distilling. 

To what do you attribute the phenomenal growth of the spirits industry in Portland?

Perseverance and hard work of distillers, and our love for top-notch food and drink in the Pacific Northwest. The laws in Oregon aren’t necessarily in our favor yet (distilleries can’t as easily serve full-size cocktails and servings as other states can) but the producers and the consumers here are committed to supporting the local spirits scene. Cheap real estate in the early 2000’s helped too. Distilleries could once find large, affordable spaces. As Portland grows in popularity, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the average business owner to find space in the inner city. 

How are local bars assimilating local craft spirits into their bar programs?

Since I started writing about booze in 2011, a lot more bars are highlighting local spirits. Local isn’t inherently better but I do appreciate when bar menus specify the name of the spirit when it is local. I’ve seen bars do pop-up happy hours with distilleries, which is a great way for patrons to drink AND learn about spirits made here in Portland. 

If a visitor had only one day to spend in Portland, what are the spirited highlights you recommend they sample?

Distillery Row has the largest geographical concentration of distilleries I’ve seen in any city. Here you can visit distilleries and get around on foot. Distillery Row is made up of eight independent distilleries. If you had to choose one distillery in the Row, I’d recommend Baijiu from Vinn Distillery for something new and different.

The NW Distiller’s District has three great distilleries as well: sip on single malt whiskey at Bull Run Distillery, pear brandy at Clear Creek Distillery, and Martin Ryan Distilling Company (try the Aria gin).

House Spirits has a tasting room at the Portland airport. Don’t miss out on tasters and mini cocktails before getting on your flight home! 

Where do you see the industry headed in the next 10 years?  Are there too many choices for the average consumer?

Craft spirits will continue to grow as the wine and beer industries have. The distilling industry could use a few laws in its favor in certain states—but with perseverance and a growing consumer knowledge of craft spirits—my hope is that craft industry will have grown substantially in the next ten years.

Consumers have so much to learn about booze as compared to beer and wine, so I don’t think too much choice will affect consumers until the overall knowledge of spirits in the U.S. has caught up to production. There are still so many categories of spirits made in the U.S. that people haven’t experienced: eau de vie, amari, and grappa are just a few examples of little known spirits being made at U.S. distilleries!

Can you share a cocktail recipe that you’ve created?

Pyrus Bird is an adaptation of the Jungle Bird that uses McMenamins Frank High Proof Rum instead of Jamaican rum. This rum available from McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery is aged in Cognac barrels for six months, giving it the exotic fruit and spice aromas perfect for this tropical cocktail.

In addition to Oregon-made Frank High Proof Rum, Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso is used instead of Campari and pear juice is used in place of pineapple juice.

The Pyrus Bird is named for Pyrus communis also known as the common pear. While there’s no garnish on this version, you can add a pear garnish to this laid back version of the classic.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz. McMenamins Frank High Proof Rum
  • 1 oz. Cappelletti Aperitivo Americano Rosso
  • 5 oz. BG Reynolds Rich Demerara Tropical Syrup
  • 5 fresh lime juice
  • 3 oz. Looza pear juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass.

On an non-alcoholic note, what is the origin of “PDX”?

PDX is actually the airport code but we’ve adopted it as a nickname for the city.

Interview by Blair Frodelius, Good Spirits News

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jacyara-de-oliveira-winner3Food and Wine recently published an article on the Best Cocktail Bars in the U.S. Among those listed were several Seattle favorites: Good Bar, Rob Roy, Tavern Law, and Canon. The Emerald City has long been a center of culinary culture, but a recent influx of hipster nerds and edgy tech geeks has brought a new demand for ‘classy alcohol’, putting a larger focus on the local offerings.

I had the opportunity to visit one of these bars after a long day at work last week, and imbibe in a drink created by none other than Speed Rack Northwest champion, Jacyara de Oliveira. After her decisive victory in the regional competition, I followed up with her to ask a few questions about bartending, booze, and boobs (proceeds from Speed Rack’s events are donated to Breast Cancer charities around the world).

image3To begin with, Jacyara is a relative newcomer to the Pacific Northwest. Her origins lie in Chicago, IL where she started bartending about six years ago. Starting off as a bar-back, her introduction to the restaurant and bar industry came through her brother, who also works in the business. She quickly worked her way to the front of the bar, before entering Speed Rack’s first national competition in the Windy City. Though she did not make the finals that year, she won Miss Speed Rack Chicago in the fourth national tour in 2015, and made top 8 for five consecutive years.

image1When asked about her pre-competition warm-up routine, Jacyara explained that she and several other contestants would practice speed trials together, offering each other tips and planning out bar top layouts for optimum speed-shaking. The camaraderie among the contestants translated well to the stage on Sunday, January 8, with plenty of hugs and high-fives to go around. Only the top 8 out of 21 women made it to the regional event earlier this month.

According to Jacyara, the most challenging part of participating in a cocktail speed contest is getting the drink to come out balanced. “The simpler the drink, the harder it is [to get right].” She explained that drinks such as a martini or sazerac need to be stirred longer to get the right distribution of flavor; this essential step can get cut short when racing against the clock. Other drinks, such as daiquiris, can quickly become too diluted when shaken with too much force, and require a lot of attention.

image2

Yes Queen!

Aside from her love of mixology, Jacyara also feels strongly about the driver behind Speed Rack: Breast Cancer awareness and donations to charities. Breast cancer has affected her family on her mother’s side, giving her a personal interest in the cause, but she also shakes to support the many survivors she has met through the competition. As she said, “Cancer touches everybody.”

So how did she end up in Seattle? After taking a cross-country bike tour, from New York to Seattle, she decided to toss in her chips and move to the West Coast. A connection to Chris Elford (Canon) and Anu Elford (owner of Rob Roy), opened the door to the local cocktail scene, and Jacyara wasted no time jumping in head-first; she debuted her own cocktail creation, the ‘Yes Queen!’, at Rob Roy this past year. Described as “martini-like” by the creator, the drink is incredibly smooth and light on the tongue, accented by hints of honey, banana liqueur, and absinthe. Citrus-forward on the nose, the only way I can describe the flavor is “the aftertaste of the best frozen chocolate banana you’ve ever had.”

When she’s not on the job, Jacyara enjoys anything from a frozen daiquiri to a dark rum old fashioned; it just “depends on the situation.”

Jacyara represents Seattle and the Northwest region in the national finals in New York ‪on May 21, 2017.

Article by Noel Frodelius-Fujimoto, GSN’s west coast correspondent

 

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img_1820Jason Barrett seems to have an endless supply of energy.  As the owner of a full-time distillery in Rochester, NY, he not only supervises the production and aging of the products that make up their extensive portfolio, but he also teaches a quarterly three-day intensive seminar on what it takes to get a distillery off the ground. Jason recently invited me to come experience what the classes are all about.

Starting at 9am sharp on a warm and sunny Friday morning, a group of a dozen students ranging in age from their early 20’s to well past retirement met in the tasting room for a brief overview of the weekend from Jason. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I was surprised that there were a few people who had traveled quite the distance to be here, and others had come back to take the class a second time.  This was a good indication of the quality of the information that would be imparted.

I asked student Chelsea Washburn from Philadelphia what initially drew her to becoming involved in the spirits industry.  “The cross-cultural tradition of sharing and socializing over a drink.  No matter where you travel or the background of the people you are with, chances are you all can bond over a drink.  Secondly, the craftsmanship, from vintners, brewers, to distillers and even moonshiners. The passion and knowledge these craftspeople carry is historic, cultural, agricultural, scientific, even anthropological! In five years, I hope to have my own well-established brand in the craft spirit market based out of Philadelphia.  So, watch out for the Philadelphia Whiskey Co.”

img_1864We then were walked through the distillation room and out the back door to see the massive grain silos where local NYS corn is fed into the fermentation tanks. The first story Jason told us took place in the early days of the company. He and his fellow workers would start each day full of energy, but by the evening they were completely lethargic, headachy and short of breath.  It turns out that the massive amounts of CO2 generated by the fermenting grains in the building were causing symptoms of hypercapnia, which led to realizing the immediate need for an efficient ventilation system which was promptly installed.

img_1851Once back inside the distillery, we were shown all of the equipment Jason purchased, from the pot and column stills, fermenters, and a large selection of locally made barrels which were aging a variety of products.  On one wall, of particular note a large American flag was prominently displayed.  I later learned from Jason’s father, who also works at the distillery that this was Jason’s grandfather’s flag who had passed away a few years ago.  It is obvious that family means a lot to Jason.  As he later related, his family made their fortunes in the garment button business.  Rochester had 19 button factories at the turn of the 20th century making high quality buttons for suits.  Jason’s family business is the last left in the area.  Interestingly, Jason is colorblind and was told as a child that he would only be able to make black buttons if he took over the family business (Jason’s mother Anne is the president of the company now).  This is where the distillery’s name came from.  Everywhere you look, the Black Button logo is apparent, constantly reminding Jason of his heritage.

img_1865I was surprised at how open Jason was with the information he shared during the class.  Everything from the exact recipes he uses, to the manufacturers of his equipment, along with stories of the failures of some of his first efforts and the mistakes he’s made in terms of underestimating the space needed as the company grew.  A long question and answer period followed.  What amazed me is that Jason knows everything off the top of his head.  He had no reference book or flash cards, and there were no questions that he didn’t know the answer to, or gladly share with us.  In fact, he said several times that he is willing to follow-up with everyone long after the classes are over via email to help with any questions they may have. Chelsea Washburn appreciated this greatly.  “Having Jason so openly show and share some of his methods gives one a better grasp in how to run a well-oiled small-batch distillery.”

After a quick break for lunch, there were presentations from companies that Black Button works with including filtration specialists and an insurance agent who works with distillers.  It became clear that there is an endless list of concerns from all angles to consider.  One story that struck me was of a brewer who bought a building in the southern tier of NY, filled it with all the necessary equipment and obtained his brewing license.  It was only when he was about to begin making beer that he was told that he couldn’t do it because it was a “dry” town.  Believe it or not, there are still six locales in the state where making, buying or selling alcohol is illegal.  Another interesting story was about someone who wanted to open a distillery just up the road from Jason and approached him to get the ok to go ahead.  As they talked, Jason found out that this guy had suddenly had the idea to open a distillery just a few months prior and felt he knew everything he needed to know in order to start churning out product.  He didn’t even feel the need to write a business plan.  But, after talking with Jason, he apparently reconsidered his rash idea and decided to follow another path.

img_1873The day at the distillery ended with a launch party at Good Luck, a local restaurant who had collaborated on a new whiskey with Black Button.  As attendee Chelsea Washburn remarked, “Not only is it a beautiful dram to sip on but Good Luck astutely highlighted the label in handcrafted cocktails.  The best part is that it’s such a great way to build small business relationships in the community.” After planning, distilling and aging the product, the final yield was only 42 bottles of Black Luck whiskey.  If you want to try it, you’ll have to visit Good Luck before it’s gone.  This is truly boutique distilling.  Other limited products Black Button has crafted recently have been a Lilac Gin and a Garden Gin made in conjunction with the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua.  They also have worked with O’Begley Distilling to co-create a whiskey.  Jason is always looking for new expressions to create, which keeps him constantly involved in the process.  All of this in only the past four years, and Jason himself is not yet 30 years old.  Pretty impressive for a young guy to hit the ground running.

As the evening wound down, I asked Chelsea what her three takeaways from the day were.  “First, you cannot make it in this industry yourself, you will need other’s advice and expertise.  Reaching out is easy to do with fellow distillers.  Everyone wants to help as it is such a new or rather refurbished industry.  Secondly, know your story to sell your brand.  As much as people will enjoy your product, they will remember and share your products’ story even more.  Knowing the story behind as to why you make your spirit the way you do or how it comes to taste the way it does or simply why it bears a name so dear to you.  People want to know the passion behind your spirit. Lastly, file your liquor federal taxes…ALWAYS!”

Black Button products are everywhere in the area, as I’ve discovered on several cocktail menus in the western New York region.  Of course having a wide range of spirits and liqueurs helps greatly.  They make everything from apple pie moonshine to bourbon cream, along with vodka, gin, whiskey and limited experimental editions.

Black Button Distilling • 85 Railroad Street, Rochester NY 14609 • cheers@blackbuttondistilling.com • 585-730-4512

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1fe9d5242f6232930e511bac9874edcd18f1badd_320Lynn House is a woman of many talents.  Not only has she overseen the bar program at Chicago’s Blackbird, but she has worked at Graham Elliot and The Drawing Room. Just a few of her mixology awards include being a 2009 national finalist for Bombay Sapphire/GQ Magazine’s Most Inspired Bartender, 2010 National finalist for the 42 Below World Cup Cocktail competition, 2010 national finalist Benedictine/Esquire Magazine Alchemist of our Age, and 2011 national finalist for Bacardi Legacy.  She now represents PAMA liqueur full-time as their official Brand Ambassador and is president of the Chicago chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails).  I caught up with Lynn recently to ask her how she got started.

GSN: What drew you into the world of bartending and mixology?

Lynn: I worked in restaurants to pay for college.  So I have been in the industry for over 25 years.  I was primarily a server.  About 15 years back I had the opportunity to help open Spring Restaurant in Chicago.  Ironically the chef (Shawn McLain) and I grew up together.  We had both worked in the same restaurant during college.  He was receiving huge accolades and for me it was an opportunity to leave causal dining and go into the more financially lucrative fine dining scene.  While there I continued to learn about food, sake, wine and beer.  However what struck me as odd was that we were paying little attention to the products we were using behind the bar.  It made no sense to serve a beautiful piece of fish, that had just been flown in from Japan, with a cocktail made out of blue curacao (fact).  I realized although I had worked in restaurants and bars for years, I had no idea of what I was serving, I wanted to learn more and I wanted us to carry higher quality products and make better cocktails.  I approached my boss, who also ran the wine program, and told her she should incorporate spirits  trainings in with our wine program.  She had no interest and said if that’s how I felt, then I should do the research and lead staff trainings.  I purchased several books on spirits, sat in on tastings, lead staff trainings and the rest as they say, became history.  I would then go on to study with the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service, The Advanced Academy of Culinary Mixology and Bar Smarts.

41Vt9BpmU1L._SY300_GSN: How do you see culinary skills and mixology talent working together?

Lynn: To me these skills go hand in hand.  Both the mixology world and the culinary world are about flavor building, finding a balance, creating a sensory experience and hospitality.  It frustrates me more people don’t embrace this.  I have had chefs tell me cocktails don’t match well with food.  I have had bartenders serve a fantastic drink but can’t tell me one thing about the food menu.  I am fortunate to have come from a culinary and wine background.  I am always looking for ways for the two to intertwine and I believe that is what gives me a unique voice in this business.

GSN: Where do you see the bartending world heading these days?

Lynn: I see it getting a little simpler.  The fact is, the 20 minute cocktail works best in small venues.  Places that do high volume have to find a happy medium.  Our customer is smarter and more willing to step out of their comfort zone when it comes to experimenting with spirits.  We are going to continue to see huge growth in artisanal local made spirits, wine, beer, and bitters.  I think we are also going to see more and more local and national programs train bartenders in their craft.

GSN: What advice would you give to a beginning bartender?

Lynn: My best advice for a beginning bartender is to find someone who they truly admire and see if you can stage with them, or take them out to lunch and pick their brain.  Learn as much about food, wine and beer as possible.  It will help your palate become more well-rounded.  Take advantage of all the training programs available.  Be patient and be humble.

GSN: What three cocktail books do you consider crucial and why?index

Lynn: The Joy of Mixology, The Spirit Journal and the Flavor Bible.  Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal is simply one of the greatest compilations of spirits in one book.  He has an amazing palate and is very detailed and thorough.  The Joy of Mixology has been a wonderful resource for myself to learn about cocktail construction, and The Flavor Bible is an absolute must for everyone.  Even though it is traditionally thought as a book for chefs.  I have so many friends who use this as their number one resource.  My personal copy looks like it has gone to hell and back.

GSN: What’s the one cocktail you’ve created you’re most proud of?

indexLynn: London Calling.  It was a modern twist on a Pimm’s Cup.  Plymouth Gin, Pimm’s #1, ginger syrup, lemon, home-made apple butter and cucumber soda.  It has been featured in countless publications including Gaz Regan’s The Bartenders Gin CompendiumThe Clash was one of my favorite bands of all time and I wanted to create a cocktail that paid homage to them.  That cocktail followed me at 2 two restaurants and was part of my fall menu for 5 seasons.

GSN: Who do you admire in the spirits/bartending world?

Lynn: My heroes are Bridget Albert, Debbi Peek, Steve Olson, Tony Abu-Ganim and Gaz Regan.  They have all had a profound influence on my career.

Bridget Albert & Lynn House

Bridget Albert & Lynn House

GSN: How did you end up working with Heaven Hill and PAMA?

Lynn: I sustained a severe bar injury last year.  I tore the tendon in my right arm from shaking KD ice.  It was incredibly painful and because I could not sit out of work for 3 months it took a very long time to heal.  I started to think about my longevity in this business.  I love the world of liquid, but my body was having difficulty with the hours and physical stress.  I spent the next 8 months putting feelers out and looking for an opportunity that would best fit my character.  Heaven Hill was in the process of creating the position.  I knew several members of the team, had done work for them before and had nothing but the utmost respect for the company.  My dear friend, teacher and mentor Bridget Albert really thought this would be a good fit for me.  She encouraged me to put my name in the hat.  I did, and the interview process began.  Eventually after about 2 months of phone interviews and flying in to meet key people, I found out I got the job.

GSN: What is your life like, as a brand ambassador?

indexLynn: Life as a brand ambassador is a tough one to describe.  First and foremost I love it!!!!  There is a tremendous amount of travel.  I am on the road an average of 3 weeks a month.  For some this can be difficult, however for me it’s exciting.  I have been able to visit places I have never been to before, meet amazing new people and reconnect with friends I often only see once a year at Tales.  You have to be organized because you are juggling several balls at once.  First you are the face of your product, so there is always a sense of being “on”.  I am very involved with our social media, I work not only with bartenders, enlightening them about PAMA, but I work with our distributors and retailers teaching them about PAMA.  I write recipes for national accounts.  No longer do I get menu credit, but I know when I go into an AMC theatre, that’s my recipe on the menu.   I design recipes for individual accounts, participate in events like Repeal Day, Camp Runamok, Tales and PDX.  I work hand in hand with our PR company making guest  bar appearances, tv and newspaper interviews and MC’ing press events.  I design spirit dinners and work closely with the USBG.

GSN: How did your work in theatre and acting play into your work as a bartender and brand ambassador?

Lynn: My work in theatre and acting trained me to be comfortable in front of people.  In acting we talk a lot about filling the space.  When you step onto the stage, you take control of your environment.  That is definitely how I approached the bar.  I treated it like a stage, my customers were the audience and I filled the space.  In acting you also spend a lot of time training your voice.  Bars can be loud and stressful on the vocal chords.  It’s important to know how to project without going hoarse.

GSN: What’s the bar culture like in your hometown of Columbus, Ohio?crw_3341a

Lynn: The bar culture in Columbus is dramatically different now than it was when I grew up there.  When I was growing up we ate at Friday’s and Godfathers pizza.  You drank either beer (mostly beer) or Long Island Iced Teas.  I usually frequented the campus bars whose specialty was Buckets of Suds.  I have just returned from a visit to Columbus and I was in shock at how much it has changed.  Beer is still king there, and there is a thriving Brewery District.  However, the craft cocktail scene started to emerge a few years back and it is continuing to grow.  There is a huge focus on traditional classic cocktails.  Ohio is a control state, and so not everything is available.  I was impressed to see several distilleries had opened.  Their tasting rooms stay constantly packed.  Because it is in a control state, Columbus has really embraced the idea of staying local.

GSN: What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you while bartending?

Lynn: I remember one time there was a leak in my bar sink.  My boss would not believe me.  He kept saying that I was overflowing my sink.  Apparently it chose not to leak on my days off.  He refused to have a plumber come look at the leak. This went on for weeks until finally one Friday night right at the beginning of the dinner rush, the pipe that had been leaking gave way and my bar turned into a lagoon.  It was a fine dining establishment so we had to act like everything was okay.  I’m behind the bar in heels and a nice dress trying to pretend that I wasn’t skating on 3 inches of water.  My boss had just left work, so I got my camera phone and took photos the water just rushing through the bar and sent them to him.  The whole restaurant was laughing because we knew he had to drive an hour to get back to the restaurant. I had a great I Told You So moment when he got back.

indexGSN: How do you keep your life balanced between work and family?

Lynn: I keep 2 phones.  When I’m not working or on the road, the work phone is put away.  Just like I book trips, I book time with family and friends, as well as down time for myself.  You have to decide what is a priority in your life and for me it’s balance.  I love work, but I love my family and friends even more.  When I’m on the road I like to send little notes to them so they know I am thinking about them.

GSN: Lastly, in one sentence, sum up what PAMA is to you.

Lynn: A beautiful well-balanced all natural liqueur that compliments white and dark spirits.

For more information, visit PAMA.com

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sep-640x551I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of George Clooney (pictured at right) and Rande Gerber (pictured in center), two of the men who created their own Tequila brand.   They launched their product only a few months ago and it is already available in 12 states around the U.S.  I asked them how the whole thing got started:

GSN: Rande, how did you meet George?  I’m sure there’s an interesting story there.

RG: George and I met over 20 years ago at a bar I owned in NYC. (Rande is owner of the Gerber Group – ed.)

GSN: What are your hopes for Casamigos in a market that seems to have a new craft spirit every debut every day?

RG: Casamigos was never intended as a product we would release to the public. It was done out of our desire to have the perfect tequila for our taste. It is all we serve at our homes in Mexico so it is our house tequila. We are happy consumers and tequila experts have agreed with our taste.

GSN: George, what is it about tequila that makes it your spirit of choice?

GC: We love the taste of Casamigos and the fact we drink it straight all night long with no hangover the next morning.

GSN: I’d like to know more about the distillery and the choice to cook and ferment the agave pinas beyond the industry standard.

RG: The distillery is the best in Jalisco. We knew if we were going to produce the best, we wanted to team with a distiller that understood there will be no compromise. Whatever it took to accomplish  the best tasting smoothest tequila ever, no matter time of cost, we knew what we wanted. The process is quite time-consuming and expensive but we were able to keep the ultimate cost in line with our competitors by putting our money on the tequila inside the bottle and not outside.

GSN: Tell me about the five-year process of deciding on the perfect tequila to call Casamigos.

RG: We spent the first few years perfecting the taste and wanted it to be the smoothest tequila ever with no burn. Although it took years, we were not going to settle for anything but the best. We were in no hurry since it was always intended for personal use to be shared with friends.

GSN: You both own homes in Mexico.  How has the culture there influenced your personal lives?

GC: We built our homes as a place to get away and share good times with friends. The same philosophy behind Casamigos Tequila which is named after our homes.

GSN: The promotional video for Casamigos is pretty risqué.  Who came up with the idea for the shoot?  Who are the other actors?

GC: It’s loosely based on a night out after Rande and I drank a bottle of Casamigos. We then took creative liberties to expand on a fun evening. Its Rande, Cindy (Crawford), Stacy (Keibler) and I. (video here)

GSN: George, any tequila cocktail recipes that you’ve created that I can share with my readers?

GC: I love Casamigos on the rocks. No salt or lime necessary.

For more info on Casamigos click here.

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Dale DeGroff needs no introduction.  He’s been at the forefront of the cocktail revival since the 1980’s and continues to lead the way through programs like B.A.R. and BarSmarts.  As well, he has been touring a show called “ON THE TOWN! A Salute to Saloons, Bars, & Legendary Cocktail Palaces!” for the past few years.  I had the opportunity to talk with Dale via phone a few weeks ago and ask him about his bartending history, where the nickname “King Cocktail”  came from, his new Pimento Bitters, and the most important thing every bartender should know.

You can listen to the interview below:

Dale Interview Part 1

Dale Interview Part 2

Dale Interview Part 3

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