08 January 2009

Interview with Drinks Writer Jack Robertiello

1. What is the first alcoholic drink you remember tasting?

Beside beer, it would be either a Manhattan or a Jack Rose, my parent's cocktails. Also the first drinks I ever made.

2. What are your 3 favourite drinks, cocktails or spirits? recipes if you have them?

Well, a Manhattan made with two parts Rittenhouse Rye, 1/2 part each sweet vermouth and the French apertif Figoun (made with figs, angelica and oranges), and four dashes Angostura is my go-to between October and May. Hold the cherry, please.

I admit I am a philistine, but when in the Caribbean, any place I stay must have a professional blender and plenty of ice for whipping up fresh fruit drinks - pineapple, guava, mango, what have you - made with two or three of the local rums.

In the summer, it's whatever is fresh, smashed and shaken with gin and stuff. Here's this week's fave: Cut up 1/2 fully ripe white peach and muddle with 1/4 lime and 2 sprigs fresh tarragon. Add ice, 3 ounces Plymouth gin, 1 ounce Cointreau, 2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters, 2 dashes Manzanilla sherry.

3. Tell us about a new flavour you have discovered recently?

I'm opposed to the new; I champion the old - such is my lot. For instance, there's a South African brandy based liqueur I like, Van Der Humm, flavored with tangerines, herbs and spices that's quite useful as a sweetener in brown cocktails. In foods, a friend recently brought over a round watermelon we expected to be yellow fleshed. Instead, when we cut it open, it was pale green, very much like a cucumber, perhaps the result of a rogue garden cross. It tasted slightly sweeter than a cuke, but with a watermelon's porous and easily mashed flesh. Great muddled with Hendrick's gin, lime and soda.

4. If you could pass just one thing, on to a bartender what would it be?

Smile you twit! You're working in a field that has never before received such attention and respect. And it may not last, so enjoy! Seriously, I'd be happy to be the person who reminds all the oh so serious contemporary bartenders that mixology isn't everything - great bartenders are hosts above all, and a frowning, sullen one makes for bad company.

5. What does the future hold for yourself and what do you see happening in the future in the industry?

I plan to be part of the first human-finished Scotch whiskey experiment. Look for it in private bottling soon.

The food and beverage industry is one driven by trends and waves; in the U.S. now, for instance, Spanish food and wine is undergoing a surge. In the 1990s, bars and restaurants were making or branding their own beers and ales. Now, those same places put all their beverage energy into cocktails, though not at the highest level, of course. The current cocktail revolution will only be sustained for so long before another beverage trend emerges; the really good bars, superior bartenders and smart businesspeople will remain, but the ├╝ber-trendy will disappear like the froth on a Ramos Gin Fizz.

6. What has been your biggest satisfaction from working behind in the spirits industry?

I've been on many sides: as a bartender, restaurant manager, writer, editor and consultant. The fact that I am actually working every day tickles me and my accountant endlessly.

7. If you were to have a conversation with a cocktail/spirit, (and presuming it could talk back to you and tell you its past). Which cocktail/spirit would it be and why?

We talked, endlessly, the Sidecar and I. But we never worked it out.

8. What influences your drinks from outside the industry (i.e. art, fashion)?

I'm not a fanatic locavore, but I try to avoid fruits and vegetables out of the season. It's not because I'm guilty about my carbon footprint; it's because, after tasting a berry picked an hour before, one allowed to become slightly over-ripe and a bit aromatically funky, I can't imagine eating those things grown to be shipped, rather than eaten. That means strawberries for six weeks in the spring, and in good seasons many drink and infusion experiments. Ditto tomatoes in late summer, melon in midsummer, etc. Otherwise, it's my liver's ceaseless demands for nurturing that influences me. That, and the pink elephant in the yard.

9. If you where to break a writers/journalist golden rule what would it be?

I've done it; I burned a source, though not directly nor on purpose, through poorly obscuring her identity in a story. I don't know if she suffered any career damage from it, since she never took my calls again.

10. Outside of flavour and the craft of the cocktail what in your opinion effects the appreciation of a drinks the most?

Company. Atmosphere. Setting. A Margarita on a distillery patio in Jalisco; a wee dram at the end of the day outside the pub in Islay; some Sazeracs with friends standing at the bar at Tujaques.

11. If you where to champion a drink, cocktail or spirit which would it be?

Mon bon ami Calvados. Fine on its own, Calvados deserves an honored place as a cocktail ingredient. Get on it, Tony!

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