Potent, portable potables
Andrew Calisterio, certified bartender
Andrew Calisterio has a dream: bottled cocktails that aren't just crafted to every whim, and made with the freshest ingredients, but also available for purchase at a local grocer. Sounds fantastic, right? Too bad it's also illegal. Sure, drinkers can get their hands on one of Calisterio's creations if they happen to catch him behind the bar at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co., The Golden Bear or any of the other festivals, pop-ups or private events he works, like the upcoming Midtown Cocktail Week (August 19-24)—but they have to be consumed on the premises, because California alcoholic-beverage laws don't allow manufacturers to sell their products directly to the consumer without a distributor (the law was established after Prohibition was repealed in 1934). Calisterio is no booze-peddling moonshiner, however. He's an experienced, certified bartender with entrepreneurial drive. With his new venture, Pop!, Calisterio hopes to revolutionize the world of ready-to-drink cocktails and show why bottling his drinks shouldn't be a crime. Carbonated ketchup? That's another story.
How do you get around the legal problem of bottling and preparing cocktails?
The cocktails have to be made at the location [where] they're going to be served and consumed. If I make them at the Hook & Ladder, they have to be consumed at Hook & Ladder. If I make them at Golden Bear, they have to be consumed there. It's just like making a regular cocktail; you can't build a cocktail and put it in a to-go cup or take it and sell it at another place. Hopefully, with attention to what I'm doing with Pop!, more people will realize it's silly that we can't do this. You can walk into Safeway and buy a plastic jug of whiskey and get shit-faced in the street, but I'm going to make a craft cocktail in a small glass bottle, that's created around more of a flavor—and actually has less alcohol—and I can't sell that?
Is your target market the amateur or experienced cocktail enthusiast?
Definitely across the board, anybody and everybody. I try to make my cocktails balanced. There's always the person that says, “I don't like gin. I don't care for it.” I want to show you that what we're doing with gin is pairing flavors that are going to support what we want to bring out. It's not just taking a slug of warm gin from your mom's cabinet. It's a lot more refined and focused. I want everybody to jump out and try something new. Experience something different.
What are some of the advantages of bottled cocktails?
Say, if you go camping, you don't have to crush a bunch of Bud Lights all weekend long. You can have a couple cocktails out by the fire. You can take your favorite drink anywhere. My mom really likes White Linens. I can bottle a White Linen for her to enjoy while she's out on the boat. She doesn't have to fumble around and try to measure everything or make sure she has everything on some big checklist.
What’s your goal for Pop!?
I definitely would like to bring attention and focus to the law and getting some of that cleared up. Continue to bring this cocktail culture to more people and show that it's not just about getting wasted. It's also about a culinary experience and enjoying what these craft distillers are making and what these amazing bartenders are able to do with these flavors. I want to share my brand of cocktails and my style of bartending with as much of Sacramento as possible, more cities around the county and, eventually, the world.
How do you think other bartenders will respond to this concept?
The last thing I'd want to see is when you walk into a bar and what's replaced the bartender is a refrigerator full of bottles. There's nothing that will replace the experience of sitting in front of a bartender and having a conversation with somebody that has seen and heard some crazy stuff … [and] deals with the most random, diverse group of people. … I would hate to see bottled cocktails replace bartenders, but I would love to see it incorporated into the culture.
Any plans for Midtown Cocktail Week?
I'm actually doing a class on bottled cocktails and carbonation. I'm hugely honored to be one of the speakers this year, because when I was coming up in my bartending career, these are the things I would do: I would go to these events, learn from these people and take notes. Now, I'm the guy that's telling people how to do it. It's kind of weird, but I'm excited.
Worst beverage you’ve created?
Normally, I make everything beforehand as a cocktail. I don't blindly start creating things, pouring them into bottles, capping them and going, “Well that sucked!” When I first built my carbonating setup, I was trying a bunch of different things, and I carbonated ketchup to see what happens. It was basically a light, fluffy whipped ketchup with little effervescent bubbles in it. It sucked. Carbonated ketchup was the worst. It didn't work out too well.