Want firm proof that Phoenix's cocktail scene is growing? The hot new openings are cool, sure, but if you read last week's Spring Cocktail Guide with The Clever Koi's Joshua James, I'm going to connect some dots.
It's easier to cover and find coverage of the guys at large behind your favorite the bar; guys like The Parlor's Michael Allmandinger, who runs one of the more exciting, unique bar programs in the Valley, with rare liquors and fresh ingredients -- but how often do we hear about the protégés; the next generation? Or a dynamic duo behind the bar, for that matter?
You can find such a narrative in The Parlor's Libby Longlott, if you wish. But it's clear to me: The generation trickle-down of bar keep and knowledge is in effect -- Joshua James originally mentored Allmandinger before beginning a new venture of his own in the Clever Koi, and it's clear that Allmandinger is bringing up the next generation in Longlott.
So what do you get from three generations of The Parlor cocktail excellence? When you ask for an exciting spring cocktail, in this case, you get the protégé's pride and joy: The Roosevelt. It's a pretty drink with pink peppercorn zip, fresh sage herbaciousness, the subtle fruitiness of apricot preserves, and fresh lemon (long live Arizona citrus) -- and never in first sip nor second does any of it play first fiddle to menagerie of Copper City Moonshine from Tempe's Arizona Distilling Company or the affable, yellow chartreuse. Better believe it's spiked with Peychaud's bitters, and bitter-believe it's bittered yet again with a mist of Bitter Truth's Decanter Bitters -- like dragging it through cloves. Ask for something refreshing, something that evokes spring; "a transitional cocktail between Spring and Summer... with its feet planted in the desert," said Longlott, and chances are strong -- very strong, if you use that quote -- that you'll get her creation.
Tell us a little about where you're at with the Spring menu.
MA: Some are in the spot of kind of playing it safe, in a sense, to a certain extent, with a lot of whiskey drinks in the winter -- a lot of gin in the summer -- making it bright that way, but what I want to do this time is to really still showcase some whiskey, some really nice mescals, and some amaros, some of those kind of deeper spirits, but really brighten them up in a way with having the seasonal herbs, vegetable and fruits or whatever we can, but try not to automatically go vodka/gin just because it's summer, to showcase these spirits and how you can really make them that diverse for any season
Are there any examples of lighter whiskeys -- or, you know, those deeper spirits but lighter versions -- that you can mess around with?
MA: Yeah, there are. We've really been beefing up our whiskey collection. I think depending on how people are aging it or distilling it with different percentages of corn or barely or whatever --
LL: And what they're aging it in.
MA: Yeah, what they're aging it with, or how long they're aging it -- you can definitely get softer. As far as whiskey though, the softer you get, and then as far as then brightening it up, I feel like -- at least for me -- I want to just enjoy that. Something that light, something that smooth, you know, I want to be able to enjoy just that flavor. So I want to be able to use the darker, maybe harsher whiskey or something with a lot of character to it, and then compliment it with other things and compliment it in that way.
LL: With the seasonal ingredients, lighter citrus notes, that sort of thing. Bitters.
So a less obvious way to reach the spring profiles.
MA: Yeah, you know, trying to get out there. Being with the italian restaurant one thing that we're doing is wanting to have the cocktail focus be just as the dining experience -- have it be a coursed out meal. We're starting to do more of an aperitif section, and then with the meat of the menu have some heartier cocktails, and later showcase some nice amaros, some digestifs, and show how they can be complimented inside of a cocktail as well by mixing them all up
LL: And like for example, with the garden to glass concept, we're thinking of using some of the vegetables we're growing in our own garden -- peppers, serranos, green chiles -- that sort of thing. Keeping it light. Going to use some blood orange potentially.
Which things grow right out front of the restaurant?
MA: Well, we literally just replanted yesterday.
LL: It's brand spanking new.
We walk all of ten feet from the bar stools up to the open windows that look out over section of planted things -- rosemary, sage, thai basil, curry plants, lavender -- that Michael and Libby point out one-by-one, and which line the walkway to from the parking lot to the front doors.
Are you going to do anything with the curry plant?
MA: I have in the past, like with a call drink, like a hey bartender -- that's one of my favorite things if we have time, if we're not jam-packed, is to go our there and spark the interest of people by showing them how fresh we can really make it.
Instead of just getting them a chartreuse or something.
MA: Yeah, and I mean, those are my two favorite shelves; the modifiers. The crazy exotics. Some of my favorite things. I mean we do like to make our own ingredients, but that just sort of helps to compliment it.
What's especially interesting to you on those shelves at the moment?
LL: We were playing around with Chareau, an aloe vera and cucumber liquor. Again, nice and light.
MA: My favorite right now? I like the Vecchio Del Gapo, an amaro. And Wolfberger -- they have a nice, simple amer. When they brought it in and tasted me on it, he's like "it has these herbs, and tastes like this," and I was like "Yeah, I taste that." It was nice for once to actually taste these things. And then they have another one called Gingembre, which has those other elements and a then little ginger...
The amaros are something you can finish your meal with, and that's something I want to try to get people to appreciate more, the degestifs, where there's so much care and craft and all of the fresh botanicals and herbs are already in it -- and it lines up really well with our concept, and it's already done and put in a bottle. And you can use it as a modifier in a cocktail, but to really understand and appreciate what they've done already - that's what I really enjoy, that's what I'm really into right now, those little after-dinner sippers.
Which flavors and aromas come to mind when you think of Spring?
LL: Definitely the outdoors and the freshest available produce from the garden. That's what spring is to me. Everything we haven't had available during the winter months. Lighter-bodied food, lighter-bodied drinks.
So, then, what makes a good spring cocktail?
LL: You'll have to check out our new Spring menu!
MA: Love and passion. I think something bright, something fresh, citrus notes, using herbs -- something that compliments the spirits in the cocktail. To me that's what it's all about. When spirits are in cocktails, and you want to taste past them, what's the point in putting it in? Simple, spirit-forward... You go to some places and the bartender might have the go-to's: "I always do this, I always do that," but if you understand the spirit the possibilities are endless.
We know you guys are busy, but if you could pull up a barstool at anyone's spot in town where would it be?
MA: Where would I go...
LL: I would go to... you go first.
MA: I always love Crudo.
LL: I was going to say Crudo.
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MA: Tons of talent. Kitchen backs it. Drink are amazing. I haven't been to Counter Intuitive yet, but I know the talent that backs it and I think it's going to be a home run. In downtown there's the Palomar, Clever Koi... Bitter & Twisted -- tons of talent down there. I could say one thing but there's just so much coming up, and to see the talent spreading, it goes to show what guys like Richie Moe, Jason Asher, and Micah have been doing for the past 15 years, and now the next generation is coming up. You see these guys who started off as bar backs now running a program, or creating menus, or competing in a competition...
CB: People are sticking around.
MA: Yeah, people are sticking around.