In the mix
Russell Eastman, mixologist at Lounge on 20 in Midtown, placed third this summer in a drink-making competition during Sacramento’s cocktail week, so he can make you a margarita, yes, but he won’t use sweet and sour. How about fresh juice, as a substitute? Eastman took a break to discuss the burgeoning art of making killer drinks:
Mixology is perfecting the craft of bartending, more or less. It’s finding cocktails that are savory. It’s not about turn-and-burn, making cocktails all night. Although that has to be part of the practicality of working at a bar. Even at Bourbon & Branch [in San Francisco, they] shake and stir at the same time.
Are cocktails seasonal?
Ingredient-wise, most definitely. Darker liquors tend to go better in the fall.
What on the menu is a fall cocktail?
A Sazerac’s good, especially if you’re a whiskey drinker. I’m going to try a spiked apple cider, for when it gets cold here in Sacramento. We do seasonal things, too, like change our margarita from the summer to when we go into fall.
What drink do Sacramentans like to drink?
Vodka’s always popular, but we’re pushing the envelope on it, trying to get people out of their usual habits.
How do you do that?
If I have a cocktail on my list or a cocktail up my sleeve that I do, I try to draw them away from, say, a vodka tonic, and talk them into a cucumber gimlet, with a top of champagne. It’s still kind of got that acidic flavor, it still sticks with vodka, but brings a little more depth with the cucumber and some ginger. And then top it with champagne. I started doing that a couple weekends ago and I had these girls come in on Friday night just for that cocktail.
Do you find that people are overly particular about what they drink?
Most people start out very apprehensive. It takes a little effort to talk them out of apprehensions about gin and bourbon.
But there’s such a wide spectrum of flavor palates. You can go spicy, you can go non-spicy on gins. I have a gin that’s almost close to vodka, it has such a citrus tip on it. Most people would not recognize that as gin on their palate. They might mistake it for something else. When I make a gin and tonic with that, I don’t even squeeze lime or orange. I just put a slice of orange in it.
It’s about slowly getting people to venture out of their box, just a little bit. Other times, talk enough game and you can talk someone totally out of their drink. But it’s still about the person drinking the cocktail.
What can I do to throw better cocktail parties at my house?
A Bittersweet Dream, which uses all spice, has got a little bit of bitterness to it, but is also some clove and things of that sort. Or, and this comes from the Caribbean, but a Dark and Stormy is something I would serve: spiced rum, ginger soda and a lot of lime. It’s still got that kind of spicy-sweet thing that goes along with winter.
What do you order when you want a cocktail?
I am so finicky, I will go to a bar and have six different drinks. I have a hard time sticking to one drink, and a lot of it depends on what the bar has. If the bar has the ingredients for a Negroni, I’ll have at least one Negroni while I’m there.
If I see some classic cocktail stuff, say, if someone’s carrying Maraschino and Chartreuse, I’ll ask for a Last Word. I’m like, “Yes! They can make this.”
Does the Lounge have a signature drink?
Our biggest seller, in so far as cocktails, would be the Bella Fragola. It’s like a strawberry-basil lemonade, but it has vodka in it. That accounts for I would say 25 percent of the bar sales.
Yeah, as far as girls go. You’re going to have it, and you’re going to have 12 all night. … I wouldn’t say that’s our signature, but it’s definitely our most popular.