Welcome to our new column Behind the Stick! What’s does that name even mean? Well, it’s slang for getting behind the bar and slinging drinks for paying customers — a fitting moniker for a space for renowned NYC-based bartender Jonathan Lind to impart tales, tips and tricks from his many years in the world of cocktail culture. If there is something you are dying to know, or you just want to say “Hello,” you can reach him at email@example.com. Cheers!
I grew up a non-drinker. I think that this particular detail isn’t special in and of itself; I’d imagine that most children don’t grow up drinking. I, however, also grew up in a dry house and spent time with friend’s whose parents did their level best to keep their personal alcohol consumption a bit of a secret from us kiddos. I’m assuming they were afraid that coming into contact with booze would rot our brains (in retrospect, they may have been right). The end result of this upbringing is that I had neither the knowledge nor the inclination to drink in most circumstances. Sure, I would have an occasional beer with friends, and I definitely had one or two adult beverages when I may or may not have been underage (what’s the statute of limitations for underage drinking…just curious), but my idea of a good time never required the presence of alcohol.
My first few years in the restaurant industry didn’t even involve a restaurant with a liquor license! Eventually I decided to push my career further and interview at one of New York City’s most legendary fine-dining restaurants, Eleven Madison Park. Lo and behold I landed a job as a food runner, delivering plate after plate of the most exquisitely prepared food you can imagine for upwards of 50 hours a week. I didn’t make a splash, let’s put it that way. With zero fine dining experience and quite literally no knowledge of food and wine outside of an astounding love for all things deep fried, I was lucky to have survived the first few weeks. So it was an absolute surprise when I was pulled aside by the then-head-bartender-now-international-cocktail-mogul Leo Robitschek and asked to join the bar team at Eleven Madison Park. Well, technically the conversation was a bit more drawn out than that. He asked if I knew what vodka was. And then gin. And then a cocktail. I admitted to him that I was a bit of a tabula rasa, and tried to joke my way through it. At the time EMP, as well call it, had not quite reached the lofty heights to which it would soon ascend, but even so, by the time my training was “complete” we had acquired our first major award during my time there, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant in America.
My first bartending job was in the Best Restaurant in America. That’s not a brag, that’s more of a “holy shit can you believe I even survived?!”.
From there it was, and continues to be, an absolute whirlwind of experiences. Over a decade of bar operations ranging from the highest of high end fine dining restaurants to high volume neighborhood cocktail hotspots to clubs in the clouds, I have worked in nearly every type of venue imaginable. I’ve had the honor of training under, and working with, some of the most intelligent culinary minds on the planet, and have been taught more in my time behind the bar about being a decent and caring human being than I ever could have imagined. I’ve also perfected dead-eyed smiles, shutting down unwelcome advances, and gleefully showcasing a fairly impressive breadth of knowledge. Not depth, mind you, I’m a bit of a jack of all trades.
I share this with you, the reader, as a form of invitation. It has been my experience that people sit at the bar for two reasons; either you didn’t make a reservation or because you genuinely love bars, cocktails, and bartenders. So pull up a proverbial barstool and allow me to give you a peek behind the curtain of America’s favorite pastime (sorry, baseball), drinking!
Within the pages or more likely pixels of this column you can expect to be bombarded with regular musings like mixological tips and tricks, consumer advice, sage wisdom, and perhaps some insight into the wild world of bartending! (If there is a specific question or topic you’d like to hear about, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) So let’s jump right in!
I think one of the most popular questions that I get asked is “What do you drink when you go to a cocktail bar?” It’s a valid question to be sure. Of the hundreds of cocktail bars in New York City alone, all of them have a carefully curated menu of proprietary cocktails that are quite often delicious and occasionally delightful. If you really want to see what a bar, and by proxy the bartender, is about, ask them to make you something off menu. I am not endorsing the cringe worthy game of “Stump the Bartender,” but instead have them make you a classic. My go-to is always a Daiquiri. Three ingredients, simple in its preparation, sublime when executed properly, and extremely difficult to master. By ordering a Daiquiri you get a feel for what your bartender considers a balanced cocktail, a look at their technique, and the assurance that they have at least a passable knowledge of classic cocktails. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to the recipe I use for Daiquiris, that you might get a feel for my idea of balance, and hopefully build a level of culinary trust between us!
Jonathan Lind’s Daiquiri
2 oz Rum (In this, I have no preference, both white and dark rums are equally delicious in a Daiquiri. However, I would recommend that it be something you can tolerate drinking on its own. No cheap shit. A good cocktail will showcase the spirit, not hide it.)
.75 oz Simple Syrup (For the purposes of this column, I will be referring to a 1:1 ratio by weight simple syrup as “Simple Syrup”)
.75 oz Lime Juice (Squeeze this stuff fresh! If you can’t/don’t want to squeeze it individually, make sure your lime juice is used within 12 hours of being juiced. Trust me.)
Combine all your ingredients into a shaker, be it cobbler, boston, two-piece, a GNC shaker bottle…whatever. Fill the shaker with ice and shake it with both vim and vigor. I mean shake the living hell out of it. If you’re using a set of metal tins, a good indicator that your drink is “cooked” is that the tins will begin to frost. Knowing whether or not you’ve shaken hard enough, however, is something that must be learned from experience.
Once you’ve shaken the drink, grab a coupe from your freezer and double strain your cocktail into the glass. (To double strain means to use both a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer to remove small chunks of ice from the cocktail. ) What you should see before you is an elegantly frosted glass with a slightly effervescent, pale green nectar of the gods, beckoning you to imbibe. Cheers!
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