My Own Private Cocktail: Part 1 – Shelter Island Recap

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It was a tough bartending run on Shelter Island this past summer.

Per my previous blogs regarding “My Own Private Cocktail”, the rose fell off the bloom about two weeks into my tenure at La Maison Blanche. From my discussions with seasoned service industry veterans of past Shelter Island summers, the 2013 season never seemed to get its legs up and running. Weather is always a factor when working on an island and rain storms poured down at least two Saturdays for both July and August. The original plan of working double shifts Thursday / Friday / Saturday hit a major snag because the lunch shifts were a significant bust during July and were so so hit and miss during the first weeks of August. At times, I was left tending an empty bar while watching Mets games and movies on the television. I followed the rules of “ABC” – Always Be Cleaning – during my time behind the stick during each shift but when every bottle has been polished and inventory is restocked, options becoming limited and time becomes a soul crusher.

Around week 3, things did take a bit of turn when I picked up additional shifts at The Pridwin Hotel on Shelter Island and, with the help of my good friend Richard Scoffier, at Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton. The Pridwin is one of the older establishments on Shelter Island and resembles the hotel from “Dirty Dancing” minus the musk of Patrick Swayze in its hallways. Nick and Toni’s serves as one of the top destinations in East Hampton for the elite tourist trade with its stellar food and beverage programs. My summer went from first gear to fourth gear in a matter of days. I shifted from working 3-4 days a week to a full 6-7 days per week. And then, the weight started to drop off my body.

My mode of transportation for the summer was a brand new Electric Bike I picked up from Currie Technologies. It was the “starter” bike for the series and after a few days being on Shelter Island, I knew I had to get some type of transportation because I had switched from an urban environment with trains and taxis and buses to a complete suburban wilderness of stop signs and winding roads. The electric bike isn’t so much a scooter or moped but serves as an assistant for tackling hills and long rides. The irony of the whole situation is that with the additional weight of the SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) battery on the back of the bike and my hefty backpack required the assistance of the electric component to tackle the hills and long commute I had to East Hampton a few days of the week.

I knew that the East Hampton gig could be my saving grace for the summer because of the restaurant’s reputation as one of the Hamptons major spots for food and drink. So in true Max craziness, I decided that I could tackle a 30-mile roundtrip bike ride from Shelter Island to East Hampton, work a shift for 8-10 hours, charge up my battery and ride back to SI in, at times, pure pitch blackness with only a LED headlight as my guide. I’ll tackle my experiences of the SI – EH commute in future entries of this blog. But let’s just say it was a surreal and, at times, a very dangerous experience.

The shift from a promising summer on Shelter Island to a series of challenging days in the weeks to follow was a slow and awkward process.  My motto is always keep looking for the next opportunity and the next challenge that you can approach and hopefully find success within it. I’ve developed this philosophy over the course of many years of dealing with difficult situations in the Service Industry and always trying to stay on a positive track because this business is a people-centric environment and keeping your head above water has always produced a healthy amount of proactive results instead of just sinking down to the bottom of the pool when nobody wants to play with you.

By my first week at La Maison Blanche, I spoke to the owner John about hosting a Pop-Up Cocktail Party on the establishment’s expansive porch. All I needed was a sound system, a cash box and free reign to build a few tasty tipplers. He liked the idea and by the second week of my residence – I launched the Cocktail Pop-Up Porch Parties at La Maison Blanche. I enlisted the assistance of my fellow barkeep Mike Derby to supply the music because I knew the clientele would be young and thirsty and my music knowledge is deep and wide but I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference between a Britney Spears hit song and a Beyonce deep cut. I asked Mike because he had the “ear” of SI and people know him because of his residence on SI over the past years. Mike Derby took up the moniker of “DJ NoRequest” and we were set to rock the house…err porch…by the second Friday of my arrival on SI.

Pop- Up Cocktail Porch Party #1 – 07.11.14

Under advisement from the staff at Maison Blanche plus the necessity to liquidate a few items from the downstairs liquor storage room, I had to switch up gears with my usual builds for cocktails with the inaugural Porch Party #1. One ingredient that I hardly use ever with my builds – Pineapple Juice – is a very popular ingredient in ANYTHING out here on Shelter Island. One of more popular orders during service is Malibu Rum and Pineapple.  Amazing.

Before I left NYC in June, I mailed three boxes to Maison Blanche with a ton of bar tools, raw ingredients including a bottle of Togarashi and boxes of teas and bottles of Orange Blossom and Rose water. You know, the usually stuff that one brings to a two-month summer bartending excursion in the middle of frak nowhere.

I brought a mess of dried Verbena with me and decided to use it in one of my favorite Tiki concoction I built last year with Blue Curacao and Cachaca. The drink is called “Caribbean Jewel” and involves my simple but unique Mint-Verbena syrup that catches up the herbacous notes of Cachaca and provides the brightness necessary for a Tiki / Rum-focused drinkie.

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Caribbean Jewel
1.5 oz Cachaca – I would recommend Avua Cachaca
.75 oz Mint Verbena Syrup*
.50 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz Blue Curacao

Add all ingredients to cocktail tin and add ice. Shake it with the passion of lovers for 15 seconds. Strain over ice into a Collins glass. Top with more ice and splash of club soda. Add a Mint Sprig for garnish

*Mint Verbena syrup
1 cup fresh mint – ripped up
1 tbsp lemon verbena
1 cup white sugar
2 cups water

Bring water to boil. Add mint, sugar and verbena and stir it up. Cover and steep for 45 minutes. Strain, date and bottle.

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Next up on the docket was a vodka-based drink. I’m a big advocate of vodka and I firmly believe that a well built vodka cocktail enables bartenders to gain the trust of their customer base and stretch them out to new levels of cocktailian experiences. Plus vodka and soda drinkers are the easiest customers on the planet. All you need to do is make sure that you have the correct garnish – lemon / lime / two lemons – one lime / – and you bang it out in 30 seconds. Thank you – next please.

Certain people go frakin’ wacko for cucumber in ANY type of clear spirit. It never fails when somebody orders a vodka and soda and just about loses their minds when they spot the sliced cucumbers at my stage and just about tear off my clothes with gusto upon the possibility of adding a cucumber or fourteen to their drink. Never ceases to amaze me.

The real challenge with cucumber is how can you pull out all of that succulent juice without spending thirty seconds mashing it up to holy hell while you are saddled with numerous orders from the floor and your patrons. My answer is just an old-school methodology called “Oleo Sacchrum” in which citrus peels and sugar are combined in a bowl to produce a sweetened citrus oil for cocktail builds. It’s been a common practice with barkeeps since the 19th century and it makes an excellent stage for other types of fruits and vegetables juice/oil extraction process.  For my cocktail build, I made an approachable recipe with sliced cucumbers, lime peels and white sugar combined with a Crop Cucumber Vodka, Cointreau  and fresh lime juice cocktail build. If you can’t find the Crop Cucumber Vodka, just slice up a cucumber and toss it into a pitcher with you favorite bottle of vodka for 24 hours. Plus I used my all-time favorite Outkast song as inspiration for the final product.

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So Fresh and So Clean
1.5 oz Crop Cucumber Vodka
.5 oz Cointreau
.75 oz Cucumber and Lime Syrup*
.5 oz Lime Juice

Add all ingredients to cocktail tin or pint glass and top with ice. Shake it like you’re rolling hot at the craps table in Vegas. Strain into a Collins glass over ice. Garnish with a cucumber slice.

*Cucumber and Lime Syrup
1 whole cucumber
4 medium-sized limes
1 cup sugar

Slice up cucumber and add to non-reactive (i.e. stainless steel or porcelain) bowl. Use a vegetable peeler to peel limes minus the white pith (to avoid bitterness). Add sugar and stir. Let sit at room temperature for 1.5 hour minimum. Stir every 15 minutes. At the end of the soaking period, add 2 cups of boiling water. Stir and let steep for 10 mins. Strain, bottle, label and store in refrigerator for 2 weeks.

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To make things a bit more “gee whiz bang”, I decided to carbonate the “So Fresh and So Clean” with a soda siphon pitcher. A soda siphon pitcher is one of those old-school soda bottles with the CO2 cartridge attached at the neck. The cocktail was batched, chilled for a few hours and I filled up the siphon. I tightened up the nozzle, added the CO2 cartridge and boomtime – we have carbonation!

Please note: the music for this viddy is so damn German.

For service, I set up a table outside on the porch and wrapped it with a white tablecloth. I set up a hotel pan as my rinse station, a few bar mats, my set of tools and a collection of boozy concoctions. I kept the siphon pitcher on ice to maintain its carbonation and we were set to make some cocktails. Mike and I set up the portable speaker system and the first song I dropped was Disclosure’s “Latch”. Perfect start to the evening.

BTW – It is so liberating to shake up a cocktail, strain it out and toss the used ice out into the yard. Love it.

By the second hour, most of the service industry on Shelter Island stopped for a cocktail or three and we drank a few beers, a few laybacks and had a serious good time. By 2AM, it dawned on me that I would need to be up by 9AM for the Brunch shift and we still had a full house in front of the bar. I ran out of the “Caribbean Jewel” within a hour because peoples LOVE blue drinks and out of nowhere around 1AM, I called upon the Pineapple golds and made a spot-on Absolut Wild Tea Vodka, Pineapple, Agave and Iced Tea cocktail I called “Wild Thing”. I learned another lesson that evening involving how much people go nuts for Iced Tea drinks. Mental note attached to that one.

By the end of the night, the cops did show up and we had to turn down the music. My rant on Shelter Island’s police department will be held for the second part of this Blog. We had one last shot, I tossed everything into milk crates and we packed up after a successful night of dranks and laybacks and dance dance music. My mind was already taking notes and thinking up the next cocktail list set for next Friday. At the end of the night, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception given by the Shelter Island service industry group and had my mind on a successful summer to come on SI.

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