Midtown Cocktail Week: High spirits

Sacramento bartenders pour another for Midtown Cocktail Week

Hold the damn cherries: Sacramento bartenders (left to right) Brad Peters , Andrew Calisterio and Christopher Sinclair know how to pour the right thing.

Hold the damn cherries: Sacramento bartenders (left to right) Brad Peters , Andrew Calisterio and Christopher Sinclair know how to pour the right thing.

Photos By william leung

Belly up to the bar for Midtown Cocktail Week, August 19-26. For more information on participating venues and a schedule of events, visit http://midtowncocktailweek.org.

When it comes to picking your poison, the choices are dizzying. Vodka or gin? Tart or sweet? Maraschino, olive, pickled onion or a twist? While Mad Men has revived an interest in classic cocktails—or a neat pour of scotch slugged in the office to dull all the pain—cocktail culture goes much deeper and is ever evolving. This is an industry that at once honors its past with faithful sidecars, Manhattans and old fashioneds, all while looking ahead to the next trend or innovation. The caipirinha yields to the bacon martini, which quickly becomes pedestrian—and on it goes.

When we surveyed seven bartenders for the fifth annual Midtown Cocktail Week—which runs August 19-26—with a series of events including contests and specialty tastings, we were surprised not just by the diversity of answers, but by the details that connected them, such as bartending pet peeves, Sacramento’s signature cocktail and Andrew Calisterio’s Instagram feed. Here are some boozy bits to ponder next time you ask the barkeep for another.

Christopher Sinclair

The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar

What are your current favorite liquors and drinks to mix with them?

Two things that haven’t even hit the market yet: George Dickel [Tennessee Whisky] six-year-old rye and House Spirits [Distillery] rum. With the rye, I’d mix a classic Sazerac, and with the rum, [I’d make] a classic daiquiri.

Bartending pet peeve?

Sticky tools, sticky bottles, sticky anything. I like a clean bar.

Favorite bar joke?

It’s a nerdy one: A neutron is sitting in a bar, and he wants to pay his bill. He summons the bartender and says, “Hey, pal, what do I owe ya?” The bartender says, “No charge for you.”

Tired trend?

I’m really bored with lazy ordering; people who are brainwashed by brands, and that’s all they know to order. I’ve had people go jump from Hennessey to Jack [Daniel’s] and Coke. That’s going from a cognac to a Tennessee whiskey!

Big trend?

Anything [Grange Restaurant & Bar bartender] Andrew Calisterio posts on Instagram.

Andrew Calisterio

Grange Restaurant & Bar

How long have you been bartending?

About three years. I started bar backing and bussing tables [at Grange] and took any opportunity I had to walk behind the bar to pick [Grange bartender] Ryan Seng’s brains. One day, one of our bartenders couldn’t show up, so I stepped up and said, “I know all the cocktails, and I know what to do.”

What drink do you order when you go out?

I always enjoy ordering something new—asking the bartenders what they like or what they’re working on is generally good. But you also can’t go wrong with a nice shot of whiskey with a nice craft beer behind it.

Someone says, “Make me a whatever.”

I always enjoy it if they’re willing to try something new. Or, if they tell me they [don’t like] a certain spirit—like they hate gin—I’ll make them a White Linen. I love to tell people, “If you hate Jagermeister, I’m sure I can make you a Jagermeister drink you’ll like.”

Signature Sacramento cocktail?

The White Linen, a cocktail created by [former Ella Dining Room & Bar bar manager] Rene Dominguez, who now works in New York. It has gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and St-Germain elderflower liqueur with [sliced] cucumber. It’s such a clean, refreshing cocktail that works well with hot, dry weather. It’s amazing. I’m kind of watering for one right now.

What’s the deal with your Instagram feed?

I like to make sure people know what I’m doing, and the easiest way is to throw a picture up on Instagram and say, “I’m over here.” It’s immediate interaction.

Ian Beightler

Hot Italian

How long have you been bartending?

About five years.

How do you put a Hot Italian spin on your cocktail list?

We always try to add Italian flavors and spirits to all our cocktails and bring out the modern Italian influence.

What drink do you mix to impress someone?

I do infusions with fresh ingredients. I’ve been liking a lot of cucumber and jalapeño infusions; [they’re] super refreshing, especially with the summer to beat the heat.

Bartending pet peeve?

When they say “Make it good”—like I was going to make it any other way.

What do you order when you go out?

I like to do bartender’s choice or, depending on where I am, whatever the place specializes in. Other than that, it’s definitely whiskey-infused whatever.

Whiskey’s your drink; what brand and what classic cocktail?

Probably an old fashioned or a Sazerac. I’m into Bulleit Rye right now; my go-to is Maker’s Mark. When in doubt, drink it straight!

Amy Battaglia

The Golden Bear

How long have you been bartending?

I’ve bartended on and off throughout the years, but never in a setting like The Golden Bear. I’ve learned so much about the cocktail working here, that I feel like I’ve started completely over.

What drink do you order when you go out?

Depends on the setting and my mood. My tastes run the gamut from Fernet and a Bud Light to a good scotch.

Bartending pet peeve.

People who get annoyed about being [asked to show identification]. If you’re over 30, take the compliment, and show me the ID.

You’re about to die: What cocktail do you enjoy?

Shady Lady [Saloon’s] Penicillin. I’m completely addicted to its tart, smoky complexity.

What drink do you make to impress someone?

It’s basic, but probably a Sazerac. The proportions are so vital, that even the slightest differences totally change the cocktail.

Patrick O’Neill

Blackbird Kitchen & Bar

How long have you been a bartender?

I’ve been in the restaurant business for 15 years.

How do you develop a cocktail?

We use all fresh ingredients. I like to pair my drinks with the food. I go into the kitchen and find herbs and fruits and play with them and make a cocktail.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I like to look at what people have done in the past and take it and put my twist on it, make it more modern, more relevant.

What drink do you mix to impress someone?

I’ve made at least 90 to 100 Moscow Mules in a service. We serve them in the traditional copper mugs, and once one goes out and people see it, everyone at the table will order one.

Bartending pet peeve?

There’s no bad way to order a drink. Part of your job as a bartender is to try to figure out what people want and to read people.

Ryan Seng

Grange Restaurant & Bar

What do you order when you go out?

I love boozy drinks, I love bourbon—but if the bar has something amazing, I’ll always try that. I’m always looking for new things.

Signature Sacramento cocktail? One we can’t dump is the Tusk, our bacon Manhattan with a candied piece of bacon.

Bartending pet peeve?

I hate those damn red cherries in adult drinks! Of course, we have them at Grange for the poor kids who have yet to outgrow them, but I love our dried cherries in the Manhattan or old fashioned.

Someone says, “Make me a whatever.”

I usually ask the person a couple of questions: “Would you like a long, taller drink? A spirit-forward drink?” [and] from there … “Citrus or sweet?” Sometimes, I just guess, and I’m right or totally wrong.

Big trend?

The most exciting are highly executed drinks, new flavors, innovative glassware and techniques. … I like it when the drink is like a temporary piece of artwork, like a sandpainting, totally in the moment and beautiful.

Signature Sacramento cocktail?

Rene Dominguez’s White Linen—that drink follows you everywhere you work [in this city].

What do you make to impress someone?

I like using candy. Sometimes I’ll use usually discarded ingredients from a syrup or infusion. I’ll dry them out and cook them in to a thin candy to garnish the drink. Dried almonds from a syrup cooked into a brittle, for example.

Brad Peters

Centro Cocina Mexicana, Shady Lady Saloon and Pour House

What drink do you order when you go out?

I’m really into ciders and Sazerac right now.

Signature Sacramento cocktail? [After] so many years at Centro, anything with tequila.

Someone says, “Make me a whatever.”

Any classic cocktail with mescal switched in as the base spirit.

Big trend?

Anything Andrew Calisterio posts on Instagram.

Tired trend?

The title “mixologist.” Mixologists work in a lab, bartenders work behind a bar.

Signature Sacramento cocktail?

The White Linen, although Jason Poole over at Pour House has a new drink called a Whiskey Fig, which might give it a run soon.

Where do you drink in Sacramento?

Sunday and Wednesday nights at Club Raven—Mark Neuhauser is the best bartender in Sacramento.

Tell me a good bar joke.

A three-legged dog walks into a bar and says, “I’m looking for the man that shot my paw.” It’s my Dad’s favorite joke.

You’re about to die: What cocktail do you enjoy?

A Last Word—fittingly.