Spirit guide

Erick Castro invents drinks—not a bad gig. Whether he’s behind the bar at Chicago Fire, consulting on cocktail menus for local restaurants or working with the Bartenders Guild, Castro’s dedicated himself to finding new and exciting ways to get you tastefully loaded.

Last week, he was one of 24 mixologists competing in the Shake It Up Seasonal Cocktail Challenge, an Iron Chef-style showdown in Las Vegas. Curious drunks that we are, we had a few questions for Castro. We also commissioned him to create a house cocktail for us lushes here at SN&R.

What’s the attraction in creating cocktails?

For me, it’s the challenge of being able to whip something up from scratch, strictly to please the palate. I try to stay away from flavored vodkas and flavored liqueurs whenever possible and try to keep it as close to nature as I can. Not only does it taste far better, but I like the challenge of not allowing myself the shortcuts.

What’s your process?

The inspiration tends to hit me randomly. For instance, I’ll be walking through the grocery store and pass by some Fuji apples and something will click. Later that night, I’m making all-natural Fuji apple martinis from fresh apples at work.

What’s your personal favorite?

Although I don’t drink them very often, I have to say that I’m a big fan of a well-made margarita—a truly classic cocktail that’s almost never done right. The recipe was never meant to mask the tequila; in fact, the ingredients, when used properly, actually enhance the flavor of the tequila, particularly if you’re using agave nectar and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Is there “cocktail profiling"? I mean, can you usually tell by looking at someone what kind of cocktail they’d be inclined to enjoy?

I really wish I could say that there was one fail-safe method in reading people’s taste buds, but over the years, I have found that the best way to know is to simply ask. And, you know, many people have had so many bad experiences with flawed cocktails that they might have a skewed sense of what they do or don’t like.

The SN&Rtini
1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin
1/2 ounces Cointreau
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
6 fresh blueberries

(Or try a variation, called the Old-School Journalist, by replacing the fruit ingredients with bourbon.)

1. Muddle blueberries and lime juice in a mixing glass for 7-10 seconds.

2. Add simple syrup, cointreau and gin. Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker for 15-20 seconds.

3. Strain contents into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist.