JL: Who are some bartenders you haven’t worked with that you admire, and how come?
DN: There’s a plethora of bartenders. Obviously Dale DeGroff, Tony Abou-Ganim, Salvatore Calabrese, Angus Winchester. I have a huge respect for a retired bartender, Paul Harrington, who wrote Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, we used as our bible and introduced us to a lot of cocktails that today are standards, like the Hemingway Daiquiri and the Aviation. Those are a few people who have inspired me or who I would have liked to work with, but give me more time and I will write you a list of 50 bartenders who I would be honored to work side by side with. We are lucky to have such great talented barmen and women.
JL: What was the last cocktail you developed, and what was your approach?
DN: The most recent cocktail I did was a twist on a classic, and we were asked to use a featured product and puree. I came up with the Little Red Hen, a twist on French 75, It was Cognac, Aperol, pear puree, lemon juice and organic simple syrup with two types of bitters – cherry bitters and orange bitters from Fee Brothers – and champagne, served tall over ice…delish!
Keeping it simple and straightforward…sometimes people make things so complicated, it can get lost in translation. I prefer simple recipes, easy to produce, with a balanced flavor profile. I create drinks for all different types of accounts. Ultimately it is bartenders I am working with that will dictate the complexity or simplicity of the cocktail program in question.
JL: What’s your approach when making cocktails at large events like The 8th Annual Newport Beach Wine Festival?
DN: In general, most of the seminars I give are training bartenders or training people to bartend at home. I teach the concept of measuring everything and creating balance in cocktail between tart and sweet. Cocktails are often so sweet…Keep them simple and play with different types of modifiers. In a margarita or cosmopolitan, the modifier is Triple Sec. Take a classic cocktail and create a whole new flavor by using a different liqueur. Take what you know, change one ingredient and see what works…I’ll try tequila and Aperol, gin and Aperol, cognac and Aperol. Use different citrus…I prefer long drinks over short and strong drinks.
JL: What’s a great simple cocktail recipe for people to make at home?
DN: Something that has already been done quite a bit, which is a gin gimlet. It’s gin with fresh lime juice and simple syrup. I might muddle in cucumber and basil. Now that has been done so many times over the country, I’ll take that gimlet and turn it into a cooler. Shake it with ice and serve it over soda with a cucumber garnish. It’s a vivacious, vegetal cocktail that’s super refreshing.
Another one of my favorite spirituous cocktails, take a basic Manhattan, add a little bit of amaro. Nonino is my favorite, add ½ ounce, add ½ ounce of maraschino liqueur, cut back on ½ sweet vermouth along with a dash of bitters and 1½ ounces of bourbon, for my Broken Branch.
JL: Where and what do you drink when you’re not at work?
DN: That drink. I’m a big fan of Tommy’s Margarita, which is a modern margarita. El Tesoro tequila, fresh lime juice and a little agave. Also a mojito. Equal parts of lime juice and simple syrup, an ounce of each, and two ounces of a nice rum, like Flor de Cana, soda served tall. It’s simple and delicious. I put at least 20 mint leaves in there. And of course, half the time I’m drinking, I’m drinking a Negroni. I love Negronis. One of the most important things is that not only does the drink have to taste great, it has to look good too.
JL: Where do you like to drink your margaritas, mojitos and Negronis?
DN: There are so many bartenders in San Francisco that have great cocktails. No matter what city I’m in, there’s always a great place to go. Across the country, amazing bartenders are popping up. It’s an amazing time. I’m the president of the USBG. with 1000 members across the country and it’s obvious that bartenders are taking themselves very seriously, creating better cocktails for their guests and a better experience for their guests, service and conversation.
JL: If you could only fill your glass with one more cocktail, what would be in it?
DN: It might be that margarita: tequila, lime juice, agave nectar. It satisfies so many things I like. I love the taste of agave tequila, I love citrus, I could drink it all day long.
JL: Who would make it?
DN: Julio Bermejo.