Behind the Bar: Jason Catlin at Sens
At a place serving more than 60 sakes, you might think a bartender could end up feeling a little limited in drink options. Not Jason Catlin-- the psychedelic, country-western musician by day, bartender by night, and constant cocktail pioneer uses the Asian flavors at Sens as his muse, finding new ways to introduce people to the wonderful world of sake.
How does someone develop a taste for different kinds of sake? Where do you start? Sake is as complex as wine as far as what type of rice is used, where it's grown, just like grape varieties, what vine it's from, things like that. They get really, really complex. The best thing to do is come to a place like this where you can sample. We've got small bottles that come from the main categories, then once you can distinguish between the flavors we've got tons you can choose from.
What's the biggest misconception people have about sake? I think a big misconception about sake is that it's strong. People respond to it like you're asking them to do a shot of jager because it has a lot of flavor to it that people aren't used to necessarily. So, it seems like it's a really potent drink, but it's just the same as most of them. Some of the alcohol contents vary, but on average they're the same as a glass of wine.
What's the biggest trend you see in bartending these days? Muddling. There are so many drinks where we muddle mint, basil, kumquat or mango. I think adding fresh ingredients to drinks is pretty popular, it's been good for us. We're trying to do something different that puts this bar on the map.
If you were stuck on a desert island with only one cocktail to drink, what would it be? A gin and tonic, because it's my current drink of choice. Plus, it tastes like pine trees and I don't think there are going to be pine trees on a desert island.
What inspires your drinks? Like I said, I'm going through a gin and tonic phase right now, so I like to find ways to take what you're liking at the moment and incorporate them. It also depends on what kind of mood you're in when you're drinking, what you're going to add to it. I'm also loving spicy things, so I'll try to use a chili-infused vodka, things like that.
What's the strangest ingredient you've ever worked with? We muddled Vietnamese fig once in a martini. It actually tasted incredible, because we served it in the fall and it had this pumpkin spice flavor in the end that was really cool. You know how in the fall everyone has pumpkin ales, pumpkin beers; I guess you could say it was our Asian take on that.
What's the strangest cocktail you've created at home? Vodka and soy sauce. It actually was better than you think, we don't do that here though.
Was it a dare? How did that happen? There was a website I found that had you enter the ingredients you had in your house and refrigerator and it would tell you what drink to make.
Was it as bad as it sounds? No it was actually delicious. It felt like I just ate sushi and had a drink, all in one convenient, low calorie shot. No carbs, no nothing.
What makes a good bartender? Listening to people. I think it all boils down to that, to be honest. I think with some people you've got to assess whether they want to be talked to. The majority of the time people come up to the bar they want to be social, they want someone to talk to, but some people just want to drink.
When you're not bartending what are you doing? Music. I played in a band called the Do It Upright Initiative and now I'm working with the same people to create something new; kind of like slow, sad country songs, but psychedelic at the same time.
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