Tag Archives: kansas city

Admittedly, as much as I mean to do it, I can not keep a regular schedule with this project. Which is a shame. I really enjoy writing and sharing things I consider cool ideas. Life can be weird and stressful and hectic and crazy if you let it– I try not to, but for that to happen, some things slip through the cracks. For me that thing is writing.

I can’t (I can) believe I haven’t posted anything for nearly 3 years. I do get a lot of pent-up writing creativity out through unnecessarily elegant e-mails and overindulgent shit-talking with close friends. But those are only excuses, and while I could use this space to do a catch-up-on-life sort-of-post, I’d rather just keep to what this is in its heart. So,…


Cocktails in restaurants are necessary thing. A funny and necessary thing. The profit margins are much higher at the bar, and as we all can attest, drinking bring euphoria, which brings, happiness (to most of us), which can bring higher check averages. We know all of that. We also know that cocktails today can be many things; Mom’s Dirty Gin Martini, Grandfather’s Irish whiskey on ice, Uncle Jerry’s non-alcoholic cocktail full of garnishes and speciality ice– meant to promote his inclusion in an awkward situation and, again, up that check average. None of these, however are always great with most food. Diners today are different and expect more from their experiences at restaurants. There are even reservation systems that book experiences over tables these days. Personally, I love beginning a meal with an aperitif, or even a strong, spirit-forward cocktail. Something to calm the senses while awaiting the rest of the party or looking over the menu. Typically after that I’ll go for glasses or bottles of wine to compliment the savory portions of the meal, and end with a brandy or digestif– again, something to sip while winding down and chatting with friends.

This also lends itself very well to how Americans are eating more and more frequently. Small plates, tapas, whatever you call it– Social Dining is becoming increasingly favorable these days, and personally, I enjoy it. Sharing plates– being able to experience the majority of a menu with friends, ordering complimentary bottles– it’s more fun. It’s interactive time spent with the people you want to surround yourself with with. Not every one enjoys wine, I get that. So here’s something to consider:

Getting Hammered v. Tasting Food.

I love cocktails as much as the next person, but I also love food. Some cocktails and spirits can be real palate killers. An Absinthe Sour, while fun and very tasty, is not the ideal way to begin your dining experience. On top of that, I want to remember these experiences I’m throwing so much cash down to experience. This summer at the restaurant where I was creating cocktails for the menu, I decided to try flipping the switch a bit. It’s something I have been thinking about for some time. As my knowledge of wine has been increasing over the years and my palate and mind have been expanding, I wanted to shift the focus from the idea of a “base spirit”. My dream was (slightly crushed, yet thankfully) realized upon visiting Bad Hunter in Chicago, Il. Reading through the menu there, I quickly realized that ingredients most consider as the base spirit in cocktails were being used in these drinks as modifiers.

To be successful in pulling something like this off you have to be prepared for two very important things: Your liquor cost is going to go down, and you will help people realize the long forgotten truth that VERMOUTH IS DELICIOUS. Which you may need to remind certain folks about. This ingredient, and most of the other wine-based liqueurs have been enjoyed for centuries, and before Americans began using them in cocktails in the 19th century, Europeans would (and of curse still do) drink the stuff all day long all by its damn self.

So I put together a menu of cocktails, designed for summer, in the midwest, in a very modern and very indoor restaurant. Using ingredients most people didn’t recognize like quin quina, rancio, sherry and obviously blanc and other styles of vermouth. You can achieve nearly everything you need to balance most cocktails using ingredients like this. Some are extremely bitter, others honey-sweet but what is really cool about a lot of them is that they are wine-based. With a little staff training, and go-to pleasers like mango, apricot, cacao, 10yr bourbon, etc. the guests remained happy, and even a little sober. Which, again, is not such a bad thing.

It’s hot in the summer in the midwest, and so is bourbon. The idea of getting a cocktail with 10-year-old bourbon at a reasonable price is one of those unicorns if you can find it, and reflexively, an easy seller. When using a fine spirit with so much character and influence from time in wood, you almost hate to throw a bunch of other ingredients in with it. On the other hand, you can use small amounts of a spirit like that to enhance other flavors, and even punch them up a bit. One of the bartenders on staff wanted to use apricots as an ingredient during the warm season. We had the idea of grilling them to bring out some more of the sugars, but to also add some complexity and to harken to the always-a-favorite campfire-sing-a-long-late-summer-night vibe. The perfect excuse to use a long-resting in a high-char barrel, low-rye mash bourbon, wouldn’t you say?

Creating the grilled apricot element was the most interesting part, and my favorite because I get to use a popular tag line of mine: Time is the most important ingredient. Beginning with halving and pitting fairly ripe apricots and preparing a pretty hot grill, a key part to this process is salting the inside half of the apricots. This leeches out the moisture to the surface which helps to caramelize those sugars. You really want to get a lot of carbon on these. Just like the char on those bourbon barrels. Once they’re on the grill, let the apricots get to the point where the sugars are caramelizing on the surface, then turn to get both sides.


Once the apricots are grilled and evenly covered in that heavy char, transfer them to a mixing bowl, and while still hot from the grill, cover the apricots with plenty of white, granulated sugar.


This is where a little patience and time will come in handy. Much like an oleo saccharum, the granulated sugar will pull out all of the oils and sugars inside those apricots, while preserving all the flavors we gained from grilling.


Now that the apricots have macerated for some time, you just want to dissolve the rest of the sugar and infuse a little more flavor. Simmer this mixture over a low flame for just a few minutes until its all incorporated, strain off the solids, let the syrup cool and bottle it up!


This grilled apricot syrup was great for non-alcoholic drinks, too. We had an almond milk in another cocktail, so with those two ingredients, a little extra acid and some fizz from club soda we we able to create a really cool ‘egg creme’ or phosphate-esque drink for those who didn’t care to look for a ride home any particular evening. For those that did, we had to offer:

Linen Suit

1.5 oz Miró Extra Secco vermouth

.75 oz Eagle Rare 10yr bourbon

.5 oz grilled apricot syrup

1 bsp Sfumato rabarbaro

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir until properly chilled and diluted. Strain into a small rocks glass over a large cube. Garnish with a lemon bow tie.




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You have to do it. The people basically demand it. and why not? As long as you show up, have eggs and are able to handle multiple sides and beverage orders, it’s basically a piece of… pancakes. In my case in was inevitable. There had been whispers and threats of brunch even before we opened.

Opening for brunch is a wild thing. When word hits, or the idea is barely suggested, brunchers get overly excited. Immediately and frantically making premature reservations for themselves and 9 of their closest foodie friends. So fast, it seems, that when you do finally open your doors to the public it’s as though they’ve forgotten to brush their hair or change clothes from the night before. Enthusiastic brunchers storm the doors at the exact moment the new restaurant opens for service– Of course they’ve already heard great things about you because the local media is just as anxious to get the word out about the most anticipated brunch in town. It’s silly really. But we love them for it. We work hard. It is no easy task working a 12-hour shift on a Saturday just to turn around on a few hours sleep to greet our morning lovers with hot coffee and poached eggs. How disappointing would it be to open for no one? We do it for the people and that’s why it matters. That’s why it’s important. Opening our doors, letting our friends in and watching them leave happy, slightly buzzed and ready to resume their Sundays as they see fit– We’re all in this together, after all.

As I mentioned we had been hinting at brunch for a few months prior so I had some time to think about how I was going to approach the beverage side of service. Brunch is a different animal. So many factors come into consideration that are never thought of for regular dinner service. For example, listing a cocktail on a menu that consists of 2 ounces of over-proof whiskey and some other high-alcohol modifiers is a normal thing and one would really have no reason to think twice about it. At brunch, you’ve got people coming in sometimes after a long couple days of intense drinking. Wether they know it or not, they could potentially be walking in with a high blood alcohol concentration. I knew I wanted to approach this brunch menu with that in mind. I wasn’t going to put anything on the menu with more than an ounce and a half of any spirit, and nothing over 80 proof. It was a fun and interesting challenge. I mean… for my nerd side. I was able to come up with some pretty cool ideas, and I think, some pretty tasty beverages. I also dedicated a whole portion if the drinks menu to non-alcoholic beverages, and even listed a mocktail option– which allows both the bartender and the guest to get creative.

Like eggs, bacon and freshly-squeezed orange juice, there are just some things you can’t leave off of the brunch menu. The Bloody Mary is a staple wether you like it or not, and while I jokingly remind people that the sun is down when they order them during dinner service, I am unable to hide behind that fact on Sunday morning. The bruncher loves this savory, palate-wrecking-eye-opener for reasons I can’t always fully understand. Nonetheless, in keeping with the idea that we are here for them, I began to decide how I was going to tackle the queen of the brunch beverage.

I knew right away we were going to use a Bloody Mary mix to keep service speedy, and I knew we were going to make it in house. I also knew that, like with any service, it’s extremely difficult to anticipate how many orders of Bloody mix we would need to get through one brunch service. This is not as big of a problem at night. What isn’t used can usually be used the next day, or has an extended shelf life. In our scenario we open once for Brunch on Sunday and don’t open again until Wednesday at 4 p.m. Tomato juice will not make it that long- even with all of the spices and et ceteras you throw into it. It gets weird. So, I had to come up with a way to waste as little as possible, but be able to make a lot of mix on-the-fly. What I came up with, I think, is pretty awesome.

The Bloody Mary consists of the following ingredients: Spirit (we let the guest choose this part), tomato juice, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Of course liberties are taken and the cocktail is jazzed up in a myriad of different ways, but it’s the tomato and lemon juices that are going to ruin your mix. The spices and other ingredients have a much longer shelf life. That’s where my process begins. I decided to put all the (basically) non-perishibles together, jar them and add that to tomato and lemon and spirit. To accommodate for the needing-to-make-a-bunch-at-a-time, I jarred enough “Bloody Base” for one 46 ounce can of tomato juice. It’s working really well, and it’s super-easy.

Grind up your dry spices.

Grind up your dry spices.

Add to that your wet ingredients.

Add to that your wet ingredients.

Now you have what you need to make a batch of Bloody mix. Add one jar of Bloody Base to one can of tomato juice, whack together to fully incorporate, then bottle.

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Voltaire Bloody

1.5 oz Spirit

.75 oz lemon juice

2.5 oz Bloody mix

Garnish with an olive, smoked tomato, pinch of salt and a tiny sidecar of Coor’s.

In a Collins glass, stir together spirit, juice and Bloody mix. Add ice and place skewered garnish atop. Sprinkle salt onto the garnish and cocktail, serve with small beer.

Voltaire Bloody

Voltaire Bloody

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The First One.

What I want to accomplish with this is simple. I am a simple man. I work hard, I have ideas, I do research. I quietly make it through my life, season-to-season, adjusting and tweaking all of my life’s processes. I work as a bartender in a successful restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri. My roll as bartender— or Head Bar Man, as my business card reads, includes a myriad of duties and tasks, problem solving, out-of-the-box thinking and other abstracts that maybe I take for granted. I have these ‘a-ha’ moments from time to time. I want to tell you about them. Explain the process, walk through (your) questions, share recipes, start conversations. I want to be better. I want to share.

I figured I would start with something fairly simple. Share with my burgeoning audience what has been a very popular cocktail on our drinks menu since day one. We opened our restaurant in late May of 2013. Kansas City in Spring is a funny place. It’s always a guess to what the weather will be from day-to-day. It seems at any moment we could be thrust back into the below freezing temperatures of our harsh, grey winters or hurled forward into the sun-beaten-can’t-even-hide-in-the-shade summers at any given time (it always feels more extreme than it actually is during the seasonal shifts). We want so badly to come out from hibernation, to fill the patios and sidewalks of our favorite cafés. Invite our friends to Happy Hour and get a jump on the weekend. Springtime in Kansas City is a hopeful time. The Chiefs have already lost, and the Royals haven’t had the chance to quite yet.

We opened our restaurant in a neighborhood once populated with livestock brokers. Cowboys and saloons. Today one of the biggest draws to our block is one of the country’s largest barbecue competitions. This is where I wanted to begin conceptualizing our opening cocktail menu. I knew right off that I wanted to open with a menu that was split with classics and new interpretations. I knew we were going to sell a lot of whiskey and I wanted to be able to sell whiskey drinks to people that maybe thought they couldn’t enjoy them. (This plays on the whole ‘problem solving’ idea of this blog.) So, in keeping with those themes I began to think. I thought about Kansas City in the springtime. I thought about barbecue. I thought about backyard parties and tailgating at Kauffman Stadium. I thought about charcoal, wood and smoke.

One of the most refreshing drinks on a newly warm, spring day is the Whiskey Sour. Strong, tart and quaffable— the three best descriptors for a whiskey man. With its three simple ingredients of whiskey, sugar and citrus it’s no mistake why this beverage has made it though the times as well as it has. Sure, it’s been bastardized by some, or in some establishments, or just by the bummer that was prohibition and the demise of the bartender apprentice- but in the end it remains a timeless classic. So, how was our Sour going to outshine the rest? What was going to draw guests time and again to our bar, in this forgotten area of town? The same thing that brought them here the last time they made the journey— Barbecue.

I had seen people smoking ingredients for cocktails for some time. Everything from ice and citrus all the way to the spirits themselves. I did research on smoking non-traditional foods- specifically citrus. I wanted to gain the smoky flavor from hickory and fruit woods without cooking the actual fruit. It’s simple when you think about it, and it’s barbecue mantra: Low & Slow. Also, you have to keep in mind we weren’t going to be the type of restaurant to have a smoker set-up in the kitchen, or a smoking gun at the bar. That was just money we didn’t need to spend. People do barbecue down here all the time, and it’s some of the best. I read about the different affects of particular woods and the flavors they impart. How quantities required by each wood were sometimes different. I decided on my ‘custom blend’ of woods and rolled our barrel smoker out into the alley behind the restaurant. I couldn’t have been happier with my initial success. After letting the now bronzed and smoke-ringed lemons rest, I juiced them. The juice smelled and tasted of barbecue. I used a combination of hickory and apple woods that I thought really represented Kansas City barbecue.

When it was time to make the first drink I did it in the same way I had made Whiskey Sour in the past. I used a nice high-proof bourbon and shook that with half as much sugar and citrus (I prefer lemon). I strained it into a chilled cocktail glass and garnished it with a brandied cherry. It was.. okay. The smoke was definitely there, and the bourbon. They played nicely together, but over all something was missing in my smoky sour— the sour. Sometime during the smoking process this was lost. I immediately thought of reducing the smoked lemon juice on the stove to sort of ‘concentrate’ its tartness and trying again. I brought the liquid down by about half and mixed the drink again. It was far too tart at this point and I began to lose what confidence I had gained after having created such beautiful looking smoked lemons. I took a step back and thought about the other smoked cocktails I had, of other variations of the classic four cocktail. I remembered The New York Sour wherein the cocktail is poured over ice and given a red wine float, and that ice was a good idea to use here because it will help open up the smokiness locked inside the lemon juice. This is where it happened. My fist ‘a-ha’ moment at my brand new bar.

I was going to layer the flavors and make the whole drink an experience. So I rebuilt the drink in the original way with the unreduced smoked lemon juice. I poured it over ice to help release the smokiness as the guest enjoyed the drink. I was going to float red wine on top to mellow out the reduction of smoked lemon juice I was then going to drop on top of that. And so it goes: Smoky tart, to red wine cool down, to sweet smoky whiskey.

It’s been a success. People seem to really enjoy the drink. Smoking outside in an alley in January and August of course aren’t ideal bar prep situations, but at the end of the day it’s well worth it. This drink can even be found on a cocktail menu in Louisville, KY thanks to a mutual friend at Rye on Market,Doug Petry. When I met Jeffrey Morgenthaler last week during PoPFest, you better believe I mentioned our shared space on that piece of paper. He seemed cool about it.

The Kansas City Sour

2 oz. Bourbon, bottled-in-bond

.5 oz demerara syrup [2:1]

.5 oz. smoked lemon juice

<.5 oz claret or dry French red wine

4-6 drops smoked lemon juice reduction

Combine together bourbon, syrup and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker and shake well with ice until properly chilled and diluted. Strain mixture into an Old-Fashioned glass and add ice, leaving space at the top for a float of red wine. After floating the red wine, add drops of the smoked lemon reduction around the top of the drink. Do not serve with straw as the layers are important to overall enjoyment.

Kansas City Sour

Kansas City Sour

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