My Own Private Cocktail – Week 1

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Week 1 has been wrapped up in the books at La Maison Blanche. 

By far, this summer gig in Shelter Island has been a strange affair in many terms. One glowing reminder of oddity is that I’ve never lived at the place that I have tended bar or served as an employee of the establishment. During one of my double shifts (Lunch and Dinner) Thursday through Saturday, I take a 1-2 hour break before services. The odd thing is the very nature of a break for a bartender only extending beyond ten minutes outside puffing on a Lucy or catching up on a caffeine bump of coffee. The positive of having your bed two floors above you gains you a quick disco nap between shifts and/or catch up a bit on a quick bite of social media or a movie.

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My Own Private Cocktail – “Getting away from everything feels good”

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Oh how a month can change everything in your life.

One month ago, I was serving as the Northeastern Regional Manager for Rhum Clement and Rhum J.M. I had served in the role as a freelancer during mid-September till the end of December and was brought on full-time with the title of Brand Manager – Northeastern U.S at the start of 2013. It was a difficult but rewarding position with an emerging brand that had taken hold over the past three-five years in the Northeast – primarily New York Metro – and the opportunity was ripe for education, job training, etc. My role switched to a Northeastern Regional Manager in a matter of days at the end of March and priorities were flipped from managing marketing endeavors with direct sale components to managing primary sales relationships with vendors, distributors, etc with less emphasis on brand marketing.

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Thirty Days of Cocktails: 06/03/13 – Sweet and Tender Hooligan

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My love for spirits and cocktails was influenced by my father’s father. My grandfather served as a copy/graphics man for a collection of grocery stores in the Bay Area. The sort of guy that would have worked with Peggy Olsen from “Mad Men”. He loved sports and drinking bourbon during cribbage matches. As a small boy, I would visit my grandparent’s house when they relocated to Bakersfield CA in the 80s. The house had a “wet bar” and my grandfather and I would sit at the big dining room table and play cribbage. He would ask me to make him his drink – bourbon and soda – and I would pour myself a straight soda and we would sit for hours studying cards and pegging boards. My grandfather was a man of few words but I remember him teaching me the game and the smell of bourbon on his breath.

In the wet bar, my grandmother had a small but significant collection of cocktail books. On occasion, I would play “bartender” and pretend to make drinks for an imaginary cocktail parties I had seen in old black-and-white movies by perusing the cocktail books. Cocktail names including “The Godfather”, “The Manhattan” and “The Martini” were odd and curious items of which I studied. One drink that stood out for me was “The Stinger”. It reminded me of a villainous character that I would catch on an episode of “Thundercats” or “Voltron” with its unrecognizable ingredients of Cognac and Creme de Menthe.

Fast forward twenty-five years later, I still love a good “Stinger”. The main problem is finding a decent Creme de Menthe. More on that subject in a future post. During my San Francisco days, I discovered one of my true loves – Fernet Branca.

Oh Fernet – the dances we have had over the past 12 years.

One of my favorite Fernet stories involves Zach Galifianakis – star of “The Hangover” and “Between Two Ferns“. I met Zach during my tenure as General Manager of Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco in 2005. Zach’s only claim to fame at that time was as co-star of “Tru Calling” and host of “Late World with Zach” and he was headlining a weekend at Cobb’s. During his first night at Cobb’s, I introduced Zach to Fernet. His reaction to his first sip was memorable in a pure Zach fashion. During the second show that night, Zach asked for me to bring him a glass of Fernet to the stage. I handed him a glass via the backstage entrance. He returned to the center of the stage and proclaimed, “My new buddy Max just turned me on to this new drink called Fernet. It tastes like a used band-aid but I love it.” He took the shot and exclaimed “FUCK!”

For my cocktail, I decided to keep things alive and kicking with using Fernet’s lesser know brother – Fernet Branca Menta. The Menta has the same punch as its older brother but a sweeter side with a mint kick to round out the entire experience. For the Cognac portion of the drink, I used the Rhum Clement V.S.O.P – a lovely Rhum Agricole from Martinique with time spent in toasted French Oak barrels. By tradition, you are only required to shake a drink if it contains citrus. The Stinger breaks the rules with advising a hard shake that I highly endorse. It creates a frothy head on the drink and just makes things all the more magical for the tippler. The name of the drink is one of my favorite songs by The Smiths. One sip of the cocktail and it will all make sense to you.

Sweet and Tender Hooligan
2 oz Rhum Clement VSOP
1 oz Fernet Branca Menta

Add all ingredients to cocktail tin and shake to holy hell. Double strain into coupe glass and garnish with one mint leaf.

Enjoy!

Thirty Days of Cocktails: 06/02/13 – The Viking Way

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It appears I broke my own rule with this cocktail build.

I have had numerous conversations – either three sheets or completely sober – about how cocktails need to be simple builds. The Manhattan is a classic example. Whiskey, vermouth and bitters. Boom. The Sazerac – raw sugar, Peychaud’s, lemon peel, whiskey and absinthe. Keep ’em coming. Even the friggin’ Margarita is three ingredients – Tequila, an orange liqueur and lime juice. No salt for me please. But, at times, I get a little ridiculous and decided to make something that requires way too many things in one glass.

And here we have a very odd little duck called “The Viking Way”.

The base is Rhum J.M Gold. A beautiful Agricole Rhum from Martinique that rests for one year in recharred Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels. It’s a beast at 100 proof and has lovely vanilla and wood tannins on the finish. The cocktail’s modifiers were not your usual suspects for the drink’s creation. Aquavit is the Scandinavian spirit spiced with herbs and a healthy dance of caraway. It is big time sexuality over in the Netherlands but a bit scarce in the US due to availability. My buddy Sother Teague at Amor y Amargo in NYC loves to substitute an order of a vodka and soda with either a juniper-infused vodka (aka Gin) or a caraway-infused vodka (aka Aquavit).

And it works every time.

The combination of the J.M Gold’s slight wood notes married with Aquavit and balanced out by Aperol – an Italian apertif – and Dolin Dry Vermouth produces a complex front with a long finish on back end highlighted by two dashes of Bitter Truth Orange Bitters.

The Viking Way
1.5 oz Rhum J.M Gold
.5 oz Aquavit
.5 oz Dry Vermouth
.5 oz Aperol
Orange Bitters

Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Top with ice and stir for 40-50 revolutions. Strain into coupe and garnish with orange peel.

Put on your favorite vinyl, sit back and take a long sip.

Thirty Days of Cocktails: 06/01/13 – Creole Shandy

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Summertime in New York City is beyond brutal. Being a West Coast native, humidity is a dragon I prefer not to tangle with….ever. I grew up in the deserts of California – Bakersfield, Exeter, Visalia – and I know heat. A dry and comforting heat that is combatted by shade and water bottles. Humidity is the beast I’ve confronted once during a trip to see the cousins in St. Louis in the mid 90s. I fought that beast with copious six packs of Tequiza (the horror…the horror). True story – we actually depleted the local grocery of its entire inventory of Tequiza. Not a shining moment in the memory banks.

In the vein of summer time and beer with a citrus kick, I drummed up “The Creole Shandy” one Sunday afternoon after we had wrapped up our first Summer Brunch 2013 and I had the crazy notion to introduce my buddy Rob to the power and the glory of “Fast Five”. The only way to watch dudes covered in baby oil chase dudes in tight white t-shirts in fast cars in Brazil is with Miler High Life kicked up with some NO2 of boozy good times.

The Cocktail:

The Creole Shandy

Creole Shandy
1/2 oz Rhum Clement Creole Shrubb
1/2 oz lemon juice
A pint of your favorite pilsner (built for Miller High Life)

Add Shrubb and lemon juice to pint glass. Top with Miller High Life. Easy stir and drink up till you see the sun rises.

Rhum Clement’s Creole Shrubb is a superb blend of the finest white and aged Agricole Rhums, married with macerated Créole spices and sun-bleached bitter orange peels. Créole Shrubb burst with luscious aromas and flavors reminiscent of Martinique. It rocks with lemon juice and a cold Miller High Life.

Crush ’em this summer kids.

The Epic Trip – Part Deux…

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For all non-service industry folks – Tales of the Cocktail is a mysterious affair. I tell people outside of the usual circles of bartender and brand ambassador folk that I’m headed to New Orleans in late July. The usual responses I receive fall into two camps – “So…you are going to New Orleans at the worst possible time during the year weather-wise” or “You are going to a cocktail conference…umm…am I missing something?”

I equate Tales to understanding the ending of a Fassbinder film (the Rainer Weiner kind – not the hot Irish-German actor) or being part of a military wing of the United States Armed Forces. Unless you’ve been “in the weeds” on a Friday night behind a bar that is four-deep or you get excited over the launch of a new Heaven Hill whiskey – it is kind of hard to explain the might and magic that goes down every last week in July in NOLA.

Back in January, I spoke to the guys behind Brooklyn Gin – Joe and Emil – about doing it proper this year with renting a townhouse for Tales 2012. For Tales 2011 – Joe, Emil and I had rented a suite at the Monteleone and threw two solid cocktail pop-up events. My lovely fiance Lauren is from NOLA and she served as our trusty guide in finding a reasonable place to rent for the week. We searched the Interwebs for a suitable spot and landed a sweet spot a few ticks from the epicenter of Tales – The Monty. Deposits were mailed and rental agreements were signed and we were set for Tales 2012 in proper fashion!

Fast forward to Sunday the 22nd as we departed from Nashville and set our sites on the big drive ahead of us. We rocked and rolled through Alabama and Mississippi via I-65 and I-59 in about 8 hours. The South is an amazing place though I was impressed by the amount of fast-food chains that litter the highway like a drunk person eating a gyro Saturday at 4AM on 14th St in Manhattan. By the time we hit Mississippi – I had lost count of the Waffle Houses we had passed over the course of six hours.

Our plan for the first night in NOLA was set to stay with Lauren’s dad and his place in the West Bank. I hadn’t met Lauren’s dad until our visit for NOLA so I was bit preoccupied with meeting the father of the daughter I planned to marry next year. To my surprise – things turn out for the best and for dinner – it was decided to hit one of NOLA’s best Vietnamese restaurants Nine Roses. The food was excellent and it felt like I was back at home with my Filipino family during one of their big dinners. On the way home – we decided against our better judgment to stop at the Drive-Through Daiquiri shop and pick up a bit of knowledge of drinking daiquiris in a car.

I went the safe route and ordered a Strawberry Daiquiri. Drew’s eyes landed on a the Pralines and Cream selection and he went giddy as a schoolgirl. Lauren’s choice was Rocket Fuel. Sweetness doesn’t even hold a candle to a daiquiri from a NOLA drive-through. Holy crap – hello diabetes! We crashed out at Lauren’s Dad’s place with an episode of “True Blood” and a few drams of Vintage 23 Year Rye. A nice start to the NOLA section of the Epic Trip!

Plus – Lauren’s dad gave us several books of photographs of Lauren and the family detailing her dad’s time at the Playboy Clubs during the 1960s, amazing photos of Mardi Gras parades during the 1970s and this drop dead fantastic photo of Lauren’s childhood.

Monday the 23rd – we were set to meet up at our townhouse with the landlord to get keys, etc BUT before we left the West Bank – we headed up to visit Ms. Anna May and her amazing Po Boys at the Cajun Daiquiri and Cafe. Hands down – the best Roast Beef Po Boy in all of NOLA – dressed and dripping with debris. I went through about 15 napkins. Ms. Anna May has known Lauren since she was a young lass and she came out from the kitchen and thanked us for stopping on by for some of her grub. We headed back to the West Bank house, packed up and we set for our trip to the French Quarter!

We hit 508 Conti Street, unpacked and settled into our new home for the week. The place was spacious and had a good sense of home and solitude in the heart of the French Quarter madness. And then – in fine Tales fashion – things got a bit more awesome.

Napoleon House is always my first stop in the Quarter. I love sitting at the bar and ordering up a Pimm’s Cup. It ranks with one of my more ridiculous customs during trips to NOLA but damnnit – I love it.

Afterwards, we decided to check out the Canal Cinemas right next to the French Quarter for a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises”. And wow – the theatre has in-seat service with craft cocktail selections, beer and wine plus you select your own seat when buying a ticket! Oh damn – we need this in New York STAT! I ordered a lovely cocktail called “500 Days of Summer” – Apricot-infused Junipero Gin (WTF!), rosemary tincture, fresh citrus and simple. Lovely concoction. And the movie kicked major ass.

After the film – we hit the Quarter. Molly’s, No 13 and almost ended up at DBA but the cover charge wasn’t on our agenda for the evening. And – to my chagrin – we checked out Pat O’Brien’s and had a rocking good time in the Dueling Pianos room. A Pat-O’s Hurricane is necessary whenever you visit NOLA and the Quarter although the guys behind the pianos did not know one song by either Slayer or Metallica. No “South of Heaven” for me that night.

We retired to the house for a bit of bourbon and good night’s sleep. Tomorrow – TALES was on like Donkey Kong!

The Epic Trip – Kentucky, Nashville, TN and TOTC 2012

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As I sit on the floor of Louis Armstrong Airport in the great city of New Orleans, reflection and the need for serious amounts of sleep are serving as pivotal elements of the game at 7:42 on a Monday morning the 30th.

Our trip began on Wednesday July 18th in NYC. News of a storm brewing on the cusp of the Eastern Seaboard did little to damper my joyful mood of leaving the rotting smell of summer in the Big Apple to the Epic Trip of 2012. The itinerary was a sold affair – three days in Kentucky with Drew Kulsveen of Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, a night in Nashville to research the ever-expanding cocktail scene’s penetration into the Southern states and a big week of cocktails and friends and a rash of bad decisions in New Orleans for Tales of The Cocktail 2012.
Alas, trying to escape from New York was on par with Snake Pilsken trying to save the President.

Tuesday night the 17th, we packed up the vermouths, a collection of herbs and spices and a mess of bar and kitchen tools into the Box of Wonder – my 50 qt wheeled cooler. The Box of Wonder is a cooler I bought for Tales 2011 and it has served as a faithful member of many pop up cocktail adventures during the past year.  Excitement was the smell of mama’s cooking in the air, boarding passes were printed, bags packed and we were ready to rock!

Wednesday morning the 18th, I checked the NYC weather report and it appears 30% chance of rain. We were looking good to go. Car ride was a quick jaunt. The cooler weighed just under 46 lbs upon check-in. Security was a breeze. We grabbed a pint of Green Flash West Coast IPA and a Knob Creek double bourbon to ease on down the road to our vacation.

Yeah. Those good times came crashing to floor within four hours.

My phone rang to inform me our plane was delayed. A following hour, we finally boarded and settled into our seats. My mind was set on Seelbachs at the Seelbach Hotel in Louiseville, KY. The storm clouds so prevalent during of NYC Summer of 2012 came on with gusts of madness and jealous. A magnificent storm of fury dropped a ridiculous amount of rain and wind in less than 30 minutes. We taxied out to the tarmac and then…nothing. For 2.5 hours, we circled the parking lot of LGA. We become drunk guys at 3AM looking for a pretty girl to chat up. My anxiety slowly racked up and the pilot announced we were returning to the gate per FAA regulations. The plane was parked and without a whimper…the flight was cancelled. That’s it. Get off and suck it US Airways customers.

We deplaned and stood there dumbfounded. Our glorious vacation had become a pitiful stay-cation. In NYC. Oh vay. The US Airways customer service line was a red roped celebrity affair in the Meatpacking District. Lauren – my fiancé – called US Airways and we were set for 10AM tomorrow.

Frak. Frak. Frak.

There are few things on par with rolling your suitcases out of the terminal and hailing a cab to take you back home. A first date crashing into the “friend zone” after several rounds of drinks. The abrupt realization that you left your wallet across town after arriving at your best friend’s dinner party. That moment when you realize that Santa Claus doesn’t really exist. We returned to the cats and a house all packed up. My solution – a movie marathon and glasses of Rhum Clement, Gentleman Jack, Ron Abuelo 12, Old Van Winkle 10 Year and several others that seemed to blur together as the night progressed.

We awoke the next day – Thurs the 19th – to bright skies and high hopes. The bags were packed (once again!) and away we went. Alas – the plane was delayed by 30 mins (US Airways…you bastards) BUT we made to the air with me holding Lauren’s hand in fine Superman fashion.

Note to fellow travelers – Dulles (aka Ronald Regan) Airport has two things. A Five Guys burger joint and shuttle buses to your plane. A plane that only has three seats in a row. Yeah. Let’s do this.

FINALLY – we hit the tarmac of the Louisville Airport and we had arrived in Kentucky. Close to 24 hours after our vacation had begun. Drew – our main man in Kentucky – picked us up and away we went…to the grocery store!

This is a funny thing about getting older. Years past on previous vacations – I would have suggested that we hit the first bar and drink until everybody looked pretty in the place. Now – the thought of buying groceries and starting up the BBQ is my ideal of a relaxing night. Call me crazy but the grocery store we hit had two things I covet – six packs of Bell’s Brewery AND Brocoli Bacon salad. Go ahead – stop and take it all in. I lost my breath for a few ticks on the clock.

We hit Drew’s house, unpacked and settled in for the night. An epic evening containing an impressive thunderstorm, BBQing in the rain, raiding Drew’s jaw-dropping liquor cabinet and something involving rash decisions at 1AM during a blackout to go outside with glasses of 28 Year Old Willett and light off serious fireworks. Fireworks that go boom in the sky. Oh damn. And yes – dear reader – I did fall asleep on top of the bed with my clothes on. Please note: the term “fall asleep” is employed with loose definition.

Friday morning – the 20th – we awoke (sans hangover), drank coffee, ate Sweet Potato pancakes and hit Bardstown. Lunch at Talbot Tavern (oh yeaahh…Hot Brown), a massive tour of the new Willett / KBD distillery – including drinking “white dog” straight from the still and a walk-through of a very impressive distillery in the works and a required trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery.  And now…my diatribe on Maker’s Mark.

I owe a lot to Maker’s Mark. A ton of respect. It was my first “real” bourbon back in ’04. When I was a kid, my grandfather fed me sips of Canadian Club and blended Scotch and I served as “bartender” during weekend visits and cribbage matches. I’ve always appreciated whiskey but Maker’s was my first step in the right direction. The Maker’s bottle give me the courage and the emotional fortitude when running Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco during 2004-05. During a weekend with Mike Epps, Maker’s kept me from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday night. And the best part – Maker’s red wax seal and label was built by the Don Drapers of the NY Advertising world in the 1960s plus  our favorite “Pappy” – Mr. Van Winkle – helped Bill Samuel’s Sr with the recipe for Maker’s. None the less – Maker’s is a solid product and is invaluable in bringing the masses into the fold of bourbon’s universe.

Plans for the evening had been set for Louisville but with our trip set for Nashville the next day (and a full schedule of events) – we decided to stay local and check out Bardstown’s “locavore” restaurant – Circa. Dinner was lovely – solid appetizers of goat cheese crostini and tasty arancini and mains including braised rabbit, filet mignon and bourbon-soaked flank steak. When you are in Kentucky – bourbon is all around you. We retired to Drew’s place and watched “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ on a 70” 3-D TV. Holy frakin’ hell. Bourbon and Voldemort – in your face!

warning – big frak of a spoiler right here…

Saturday morning – the 21st – we set out for Nashville. Lauren served as Geordi Laforge so I crashed out in the back of the car. We drove through a good chunk of Kentucky and hit Nashville in the early part of the afternoon. We dropped off some tasty treats to Drew’s buddy – Nick Brown: leader singer of the rockin’ band Mona – at his crib in Nashville and we hit Burger Up for lunch. Awesome place – highly recommended! We checked into our hotel – reset a bit – hit the local mall for swim trunks – and headed out to Lauren’s best friend Katie Magoun (Bubbles!) brother’s place – Jay and his lovely family – for an afternoon of swimming and good times.

We shook off the salt water around dusk and headed back to Nashville proper with Katie and her boyfriend George to check out Nashville’s nightlife. Our first stop was Holland House. Damn solid place with inventive drinks and a square bar. Jeremiah Jason Blake – Holland House’s bar manager – treated us to shots of Fernet and said “I’ll see ya at Tales!”. We walked over to the next stop – No. 308. Another winner in Nashville. Inventive interior, awesome drinks (No. 209 Gin and house Tonic!) and goddamn motherfrakin’ hot wings! We stayed until the crowd grew younger and we headed back to the hotel to rest up for the big push towards NOLA. Katie and George bid us adieu and at the hotel – we parted and set up a time for the next morning – breakfast at 8AM and then..onto Tales…

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Cocktail Front #5 – Thurs June 28 – 2012

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To quote Will Smith – “Shit just got real”

Two of the finest examples of Midwestern and West Coast micro-distilling joining us for some Cocktail Boomtime – St. George Spirits from Alameda, CA and F.E.W. Spirits from Evanston, IL.

We are dropping a ton of boozy awesome goodtimes. St. George Spirits has been producing excellent micro-distilled spirits since 1982 and F.E.W Spirits is a recent player to the Midwestern distillery disco and is currently not available in New York City.

Andie from St. George will be in attendance with a tasting of St. George Spirits’ rocking line of booze and Master Distiller Paul Hletko of F.E.W. Spirits is bootleggin’ his booze to NYC for a special tasting of his solid line of spirits!

And…our Patron Saints of Grilled Magic — Food Freaks – are joining us with their excellent food truck. Check out their latest article in the New York Times

The Cocktail Front #5 Menu

Junebug
St. George’s Dry Rye Gin, Apricot + Rosemary Shrub, lemon juice and Peychaud’s Bitters

The Don Draper
F.E.W. Spirits Rye Whiskey, Uncouth Vermouth’s Sanguine Vermouth and Dutch’s Colonial Cocktail Bitters

Heartbreaker
St George’s Breaking and Entering Bourbon, Uncouth Vermouth’s Very Berry Vermouth, Regan’s Orange Bitters and lemon and lime juice

Burning Down the House
F.E.W. Spirits’ American Gin, Verbena + Pink Peppercorn syrup, grapefruit juice and a base of Rose Cava

Hit me up for more info on the event – max@wtf-brooklyn.com

The Cocktail Front #4 – Thurs June 7 – 2012

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Hey you crazy kids!

Square One Organic Vodka and Rhum Clement are serving as our patron saints of the Cocktail Boomtime for the evening. Square One Vodka will be in attendance with a tasting of the solid vodka plus a special tasting of Rhum Clement’s Rums with The Booze Muse – Elana Effrat

Food Freaks is joining us with their excellent food truck. Check out their latest article in the New York Times

Here we go!

The Cocktail Front #4 Menu

The Kirk Lazarus
Square One Botanical Vodka, Chinatown Lychees + Hibiscus + Rose Hips Cordial, egg white, fresh lemon juice and Peychaud’s Bitters

Chaow Chu’s Delights
Square One Organic Vodka, Strawberry + Thai Basil syrup, fresh lime and soda

Marco?….Polo?
Rhum Clement V.S.O.P Rum, White Peony + Damascus Lavender Concentrate, agave syrup, fresh lemon juice and soda

Papa Cherry
Rhum Clement Premiere Canne Rum, Cherries A-Go-Go Shrub, Demerara syrup + fresh lime and grapefruit

Hit me up for more info on the event – max@wtf-brooklyn.com

The Cocktail Front #3 – Thurs May 3 – 2012

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Oh damn. Things are heating up for the summertime! And a special sneek preview tasting of the new Banks “Golden Age” Rumnot currently available in the US!

Without further adieu — shout-out to the awesome boozy booze from the folks at Kentucky Bourbon Distillers and Banks Rum for serving as our sponsors for the event.

The Cocktail Front #3 Menu

Gowanus Iced Tea
Johnny Drum 100 Proof Bourbon, Lapsang Souchong Iced Tea, fresh lemon and BBC’s Orange Bitters

The Raylan Givens
Willett Rye, Bespoke’s Sweet Vermouth, Spiced Honey syrup, fresh grapefruit juice and Angostura Bitters

Island Hopper
Banks Rum, BBC’s Mexican Spiced Citrus Syrup and fresh lime juice topped with Jarritos Pomelo soda

Drake’s Wooden Leg
Banks Rum, Pimm’s Cup, Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn syrup, fresh lime and Ginger Beer

Drop me a line for more info – max@wtf-brooklyn.com