When you’re not at work, where do you like to drink and what do you like to drink?
I’m often at home, to be truthful, and I often drink light bright wines. I love cold-climate wines, stuff from northern Italy, Friuli, Alto Adige, those provinces. I’m also producing a pisco, so I’m drinking a lot of that these days. I’m experimenting with that these days. When it comes to the culture of spirits, as I mentioned, I first fell in love with whiskey, but my interest the last 10 years has really been with stuff south of the border. Sugar cane, grape based stuff, and agave based spirits.
You can’t always explain what you fall in love with. You feel a certain attachment to a culture, and things happen. Life happens. Projects happen because of that passion.
Specifically, why pisco?
That’s the story of California and the West. It was the most expensive and glamorous and notorious spirit of the West. That too is a forgotten story. Everybody knows about pirates and rum running in the Caribbean, but we forget that Sir Francis Drake pillaged the coast of Peru, stole lots of pisco, then went up to San Francisco to the Barbary Coast. There’s much more history to that, and that’s exciting to reinvigorate that.
Who are some other bartenders who you think are doing an especially interesting or noteworthy job?
In this town?
It could be anywhere.
Daniel Shoemaker in Portland is awesome. Obviously Murray Stenson in Seattle. Those guys are great friends of mine. In this town, the guys at The Varnish do amazing work. I’m really happy when I go in there. But also my friend ET across the street at Jones is a great barkeep. The guys at La Descarga. You have great drinks. Say five years ago, even in San Francisco, there were maybe five places to get a cocktail. Now there’s a minimum of 30, where I can go and get a delicious cocktail. Great cocktail bars are like rabbits. They keep multiplying. And we’re in this wonderful age. We’re nearing 2011, and there are great drinks all over the land. A new standard is happening because the quality’s increasing in our culture.
Considering the increase of quality bars, how does that affect your approach to your own establishment, or does it?
Good question. It makes it harder to run a small cocktail bar, that’s for sure, because there’s more competition. When I conceived of Cantina, it was 2004. Then we opened in 2007 and there were a few more, but none of the cocktail bars that exist now in San Francisco existed then. So it took me two-and-a-half years to flesh out, refine, open and focus the concept. At that point, several other cocktail bars opened, which is great for the overall culture. But I think as we’re sitting now in this bar, Bar Lubitsch, this is the perfect size. A good cocktail bar has to be small. It’s hard to do it on a giant scale. It’s hard to do good cocktails in bulk. Just like anything artisanal, it tends to be smaller in terms of production.
What’s a great milk cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?
The one that’s the funnest, and the one people really love is the PB&J Granita. Honestly, it’s a liquid peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk, in the same thing. It’s a ton of fun. I use a pack of raspberries, half a cup of lemon juice, a little simple syrup, a quart of milk, two tablespoons of peanut butter, ice, blend it all together. It needs to be a little slushy. Hence the granita term. And I like to pour it in a glass with a little salt or sugar, or both on the rim. So you have savory, sweet, refreshing, all that stuff, and it’s a hilarious drink because it’s good for kids, it’s good for adults. I had the most fun making that drink.
What spirit do you like to use?
You know, I haven’t spiked that one, but I would say it would be better with a white spirit, i.e. a white rum or pisco, in that respect.
What we’re doing is a low-fat egg white nog with 2% milk, egg whites, a touch of extract and sugar, and it’s really great with brown spirits, brandies, a little whiskey or a spiced rum.
If you were to spike the PB&J…
…Don’t tell the kids….
…How much white rum would you use in there?
Let’s be responsible. Proportionate, we do an ounce-and-a-half of booze.
If you could only fill your glass with one more cocktail, what would be in there and why?
Great question. I really like bright refreshing cocktails that are a little herbaceous, so my favorite one now, that I created, is a Cuzco Mule, instead of a Moscow Mule. I love ginger beer. I’m such a hooker for the stuff. I can’t get enough. I feel healthy when I have a cocktail with ginger beer, so fresh-squeezed citrus. Obviously Campo de Encanto pisco, which is my brand, and then ginger beer. Now we’re coming into citrus season, and I love Meyer lemons. They’re actually my favorite fruit, so I’d do a Meyer lemon mule.
Who would make it?
You would, sir. We’d have them together.