Have a sip
Chris Tucker at L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen
Mixologist Chris Tucker at L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen takes a hands-on, artisanal approach to mixing spirits. For starters, he makes his own juices, syrups, purées, reductions and gastriques in chef Ame Harrington’s kitchen (see photo). What’s more, he also emphasizes using small-batch spirits—unique rye whiskeys, botanical gins—when inventing new drinks or perfecting classic cocktails. And his affection extends beyond the bottle: Tucker also appreciates how liqueurs complement food, like the cognac he recently sampled at Boulevard in San Francisco, which just begged for dessert. Conveniently, L also serves up great fare: Stop by during UnScrew (Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.), where you can sample the Lounge’s $4-$6 drinks-and-eats menu.
You made a killer drink at this year’s Cocktail Week contest, yeah?That was a cocktail contest where you used tequila as the primary ingredient. And I like the blanco tequilas; they’re always the most mixable. So I used that, with a little bit of sugar baby watermelon syrup, mixed that up with a little bit of cilantro, ancho chili powder and sea salt, added to that crème de violette, a splash of bitters, a little lime juice and then the tequila, of course, and I called it “Amatitán Malaise.”
Amatitán?Yes, because the tequila comes from Amatitán. And “malaise” because it has this purplish kind of hazy color to it. It was a hot day that day, and it’s a fun drink.
So when did you start making cocktails?I got into this industry—gosh—when I was 22. Way back at America Live! I was going to school at the time and it was just one of those things. I had an opportunity to get behind the bar and then, before you knew it, I was making drinks and having fun doing it.
So, where are you at now as a mixologist?I’m playing with the flavors of fall: apple, pear, cinnamon, baking spices, pomegranate. And then citrus comes in, and everyone thinks citrus and they think summer, but that’s not the case. So you can sip on a citrusy cocktail now and dream of a warmer day.
But citrus goes well with whiskey, right?Yeah, absolutely.
Do Sacramentans like whiskey?Yes. I think the Midtown Cocktail Week did a great job exposing everybody to what there is out there, trying to get everybody to break out of the mold of what they’re used to having. People who normally have a vodka and Red Bull when they go out, or a Captain and Coke—which are great products and great drinks—will come in here and are open to having something a little bit different than what you can get at any other bar.
What do you mix for someone who doesn’t know what they want?I ask them to give me a flavor. Don’t worry about the terminology: Do you want something to be dry? Something a little bit sweeter? Refreshing? Do you want it to be long and lingering?
My brother, 24, drinks vodka tonics. Please help him.I’d probably first go, because it’s a vodka tonic, after a bitter element. There’s lime, so there’s some citrus flavor in there. So go to gin instead. Start with a very clean gin, something modeled after a vodka-flavor profile. I mean, Bombay Sapphire came about because of vodka drinkers. … Put a little bit of fizz in the glass. Some citrus or mandarin zest. Maybe put in there some lavender syrup. Then take it from there.
Last time, you made me a Last Word. I bet there aren’t many Chartreuse drinkers in Sac.Not too many, no.
Only in Quentin Tarantino movies.Yeah, in that double feature, Death Proof. I can’t imagine doing shots of the regular label; gets a little harsh.
L is also a wine bar. You’re into wine?Oh, yes, very much so. But thankfully we’ve got Jonathan [Klonecke], who’s taught me a lot.
How has he influenced you?He and Ame, our chef, have completely changed my attitude, more toward subtlety, with both wine and food. And I’ve tried many new wines.
Specifically?Until working here, I’d never had a Gewürztraminer from the Golan Heights.
Where’s that?Out of Israel; it’s an Israeli Gewürztraminer. …
And I’ve adopted their approach to mixing cocktails—let the flavors speak for themselves. Because there’s something beautiful about retaining that simplicity and being humble when approaching cocktails.
What’s a good holiday cocktail?Right now, for our fall, we’re doing a our version of an Irish coffee, which is an iced Irish coffee: French press-brewed coffee, which we then chill, Irish whiskey, a little bit of simple syrup, a splash of almond liqueur, then top it off with a little bit of vanilla bean crème Anglaise.