The drive to Brooklyn was fast, filled with yellow cabs and huge skies. The cab driver spoke with a typical accent that made me curious to hear more of his story - like most places I’d never been before in my life.
It’s after 11.40pm when we finally get to Andy’s house. Exhausted, but overcome with excitement for a reunion after four years apart, we undergo the ritual of laughs and ‘remember that time...’ stories, as we spill out of the apartment onto the street. It was cold, cars were buried in snow and the streets were quiet when Andy turns to me “Follow me, I know this bar”.
12.05am, I walk straight past a cream tiled shop front - no sign, no welcome, and then I hear, ’We’re here’. Confused, we follow through into the building, instantly met with a huge curtain keeping the cold at bay - we entered the bar as if we were entering a stage. “Hi guys, come on in and grab a seat out of the cold”, we were greeted. The bar was like nothing I’d seen before; the room dark, tin roof, candles, low seating and a warm and comforting smell. We opted for bar seats where Andy announces the order, ‘Old Fashioneds please’. The bartender was friendly, dressed in a waistcoat, methodical in his approach, reaching for glasses straight out of the fridge. He juggles between bottles of bitters and Bourbon, takes a long handled spoon and effortlessly stirs the drink smoothly.
At 12.10am, the drinks are placed in front of us. The glass is frosted and the spirit reaches three quarters of the way up the glass. A single circular ice cube the size of a snowball bobs, and a strip of orange zest (paired with a maraschino cherry on a stick) complements as a garnish.
Needless to say, Andy and I didn’t stop at one drink that night. (I’ll leave the rest of the story to your imagination), but what I can tell you is that this night was the ultimate example of when people come together for a good drink and share great company - to me, there is not much else that compares. Still to this day, that was the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had.
I’d worked in bars for many years before that night - from pulling beers in England to shaking Espresso Martinis in Australia and slamming back Jägerbombs on shift during the Winter Olympics in Canada. I was experiencing something new and exciting, opening my eyes to the gated bar-work I had been so privy to. It was dawning on me - I was curious and eager to learn these ‘effortless’ techniques. This was a new world where I recognised nothing, but needed to taste it all.
The most successful bartenders are always creating with their own style, and trying to be different from the last guy who served you. I’m always looking to use ingredients in a sustainable way and when you are lucky enough to work side by side with a kitchen, there is a responsibility to use any by-products you can get your hands on, creating a welcome challenge. “What can you do with these scraps?”, is my favourite question from our kitchen. Not looking to complicate the process, I consider coming up with recipes, whilst paying homage to the trusted classics. Our ‘Green Margarita’ uses leftover seeds and the skin of a cucumber, along with discards of mint leaves and stalks, leaving us to create a drink that follows my own personal techniques.
25ml Cucumber & Mint syrup
35ml Fresh lime juice
Kashmiri chilli salt (for the rim)
Cucumber & mint syrup:
Blend 75g of mint leaves with 75g of cucumber skin, 300g of cucumber seeds and 1500ml of cold water. Add to a container along with mint stalks (these are the leftovers!) and refrigerate for 24 hours. Strain the liquid, yielding the cucumber and mint juice. Turn the mix to a low heat and add sugar at a weight ratio of 1:1 (approximately 1800g). Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
Kashmiri salt rim:
Blend 100g of Maldon sea salt flakes with 5g of dried, chopped Kashmiri chilli.
Add the tequila, lime juice and syrup in a shaking tin - fill with ice and shake. Wet the rim of the glass (with the used lime wedge) and dip in the chilli salt. Double strain the shaken ingredients and pour into the glass over ice.