Vincenzo Marianella on the Art of Balancing Cocktails

Bartender Los Angeles

In the past year, Vincenzo Marianella has vaulted Copa d’Oro to the forefront of the Westside cocktail scene, but it might not be instantly apparent what separates his bar from others around L.A. As a result, he recently hosted a small group of writers to explain his personal vision for balanced, market-fresh cocktails.

Marianella ensures that each Copa cocktail has certain baseline hallmarks: “quality ingredients, fresh product and good ice.” He makes sure to arm his bartenders with those raw materials, but that’s not all. “If you give the right product to someone, give them a nice jigger and a cocktail book, everybody can make cocktails,” acknowledges Marianella. “Just follow the recipe and use a jigger for proportion.” However, there’s another factor that makes cocktails great, and helps coax cocktail lovers away from home bars: balance. “If you have the best organic lime juice, the best Triple Sec, but this person doesn’t know how to balance it, it’s probably going to come out pretty bad,” says Marianella.

He illustrated his point by using the Manhattan as an example, saying, “Every cocktail book says a Manhattan is two parts whiskey, one part sweet vermouth and a couple dashes of Angostura bitters…If I make a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark, probably I would use the same proportion. If I use a Carpano, which is excellent, I would use even less because I think it would overpower it…and if I use Woodford, I would use an ounce or an ounce and a half.” Most home cocktailians don’t have the same understanding of product, or cause and effect.

When constructing cocktails, Marianella’s base always has to be 2 ounces, the sweet part (simple syrup or syrup and liqueur) always has to be 1 ounce and you have to have a tart element.

Bar Los Angeles
He’s done extensive cocktail research and has worked with cocktails for a decade, and he’s convinced that there are only two base cocktails: sours (“simply a combination of citrus juice, sugar or other sweetening and liqueur”) and aromatics (“composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters…no citrus or juices are used…they are stirred and not shaken.”)

Marianella took sour requests, and freelancer Yolanda Evans asked for a gin cocktail with lemon, grapefruit and strawberries. Marianella has a wide variety of fresh fruits and herbs on his bar, so it wasn’t a problem to accommodate her request.

Cocktail Los Angeles
Marianella poured 2 oz. gin, ½ oz. fresh lemon juice, 1 oz. grapefruit juice, ¾ oz. St. Germain and dash of simple syrup. He muddled strawberries and added more simple syrup to bring out the flavor. “Shake it don’t fake it,” then strain. The end result: The Yolanda, which she’s hoping will make the menu.

For his second cocktail, he advised to add hard products first. In this case, that meant bell pepper, blackberries and raspberries. Add ¾ oz. lemon juice, a splash of simple syrup and muddle. Then add the base – 2 oz. gin – followed by a flavoring agent, a dash of simple syrup and a splash of peach liqueur. Garnish with a skewer of red pepper and blackberry. Voila.

In between pours, Marianella explained why certain core cocktail ingredients are used, and to what extent. For example, a dash of simple syrup contributes mouth feel and anything over ¼ oz. is for sweetening. Bitters in a cocktail, by themselves, taste bitter. In brown spirits, they provide roundness and sweetness.

When it comes to a standout aromatic, Vincenzo Marianella’s Negroni consists of 1 oz. Martin Miller’s Gin, 1 oz. Carpano and 1 oz. Campari. Martin Miller’s has botanicals, so he goes a little heavier on the gin and lighter on the sweet vermouth to achieve balance.

Marianella prefers to stir aromatics for a couple reasons: “When you shake a cocktail, you get bubbles and they go between the tongue and the palate, and it gives them hell. Stir, richer and smoother.” Run the rim of the glass with orange peel for essential oils, but don’t put it in cocktail unless the customer asks. Same goes for an Old Fashioned.”

In terms of shaking, “That’s how we decide if it’s cold,” says Marianella. “When we cannot handle it anymore, it’s cold.”

Throughout the evening, Marianella shared his vision for Copa d’Oro, saying, “We want to be a bar for everybody, not just for cocktailians and bourbon lovers.” Since Marianella wants to introduce customers to new products, the only mass market brands he carries are Maker’s Mark and The Macallan. Overall, Copa d’Oro sells 85% cocktails, 10% beer and 5% highballs.

He finished by stressing patience when it comes to well-balanced cocktails, saying, “I always say you go to a restaurant, it takes 10 minutes to get a Caesar salad, why won’t you wait 2 minutes to get a cocktail?”


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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