As Phoenix mixologists work through the somewhat overwhelming task of getting our fair Valley on the map of craft cocktailing, reinforcements from Portland, Oregon have arrived by way of Ryan Magarian. The decorated career bartender and brain behind Aviation Gin, a craft, small-batch spirit, was hired on to completely transform Jade Bar's cocktail menu while the rest of the bar underwent a redesign and expansion. Magarian spoke with Chow Bella the morning of Jade Bar's reopening about how he makes a cocktail, some of his favorite local spots and where he sees mixology moving in the next ten years.
See also: Mixologist Ryan Magarian at Jade Bar Is Bringing Cocktail Culture To Sanctuary Camelback Resort, Reopening on Friday, Oct. 11 Magarian is the first to admit that his love affair with cocktails began in college for all of the wrong reasons. His first job at Club Med was spurred by his "wanting to drink and wanting to meet women."
"The idea of bartending aligned with my hedonistic lifestyle at the time," he says.
However, as he saw how patrons truly appreciated the depth of flavor a fine mixed drink can have, he began to grow more passionate and serious about bartending as a career. After over 15 years of drink making, his unique, clean and chef-inspired concoctions are well known and highly sought after in the mixology world, and, lucky for us, we can try all of his Arizona cocktail concepts now at Jade Bar.
The task of creating a completely new cocktail menu wasn't a matter of rehashing what he's already accomplished at other restaurants. To Magarian, creating a flavor set specific to Arizona was key.
"I wanted to create the quintessential Arizona craft cocktail bar," he explains. " In order to do that, it has to be distinct from L.A. and New York."
This Phoenix flavor, for Magarian, meant a focus on refreshment with "intelligent, fresh, crisp, and dry" elements by way of melons, chiles, unique vegetables and fresh fruit. While complex, innovative "brown, stirred drinks" are often a mainstay in craft cocktail bars back home in Portland, he just didn't see that working in a Phoenix drinking scene.
"That doesn't mean the drinks here can't be as good," he says. For him, the four principles of great cocktail making apply, regardless of region: "outstanding product, precise execution, passion and promotion." Magarian takes execution seriously with a 30-hour training intensive focused on fostering passion in bartenders, along with the science, technique and history of cocktails. He says that passion instilled in bartenders will assure a passion in patrons, as well.
"If I can change the lives of the bartenders, then they can go out and change the lives of guests," he says. "We can make recipes all day but if there's not training that ensures consistency and passion, then the recipes don't mean anything."
While he leaves on October 21, he plans to be back behind the bar at Jade Bar for a week in November and then quarterly to update the menu and ensure its implementation. Through working with Jade Bar for five years, Magarian has also found some gems in Phoenix that he loves, such as Lux and Crudo.
"I'm always super-impressed with what Micah [Olson] is doing at Crudo-- he understands deliciousness trumps innovation," he says.
As an ex-Jade Bar mixologist, Olson, like many other cocktail hotshots in town, was trained by a Magarian cocktail menu when he began. Magarian and Olson are both known for respecting where cocktails came from and expanding that base with a chef-like attention to flavor.
His culinary perspective in mixology lends itself to many interesting combinations that can be found on Jade Bar's new cocktail menu. Sage and gin, shiso and chartreuse, tequila and vermouth and a whole host of extracted juices, such as bell pepper juice, can be found on the menu, which he feels has something for everyone.
"The menu is 50% straightforward, fun and accessible and 50% focused on depth and creativity," he says. "If you're a hardcore cocktail enthusiast, you're going to find something that's going to blow your mind... If you're just looking for a yummy drink, you're going to find that too."
In general, Magarian finds inspiration in anything from a funny name or concept to a well-balanced salad for his drinks, but he always starts with a classic base.
"I usually start with a classic template and play mister potato head with different flavors," he says, but it's the focus on developing balance, rather than extreme flavors, that he finds most important. While the cocktail world can sometimes be saturated with odd drinks with complicated combinations and executions, Magarian doesn't see that as a permanent feature in the craft cocktail game.
"In order to establish yourself, you have to get weird first because the media rewards weird," he explains. "Eventually, the large group of bartenders focused on making a name for themselves through extreme innovation will begin to dial it back and make their focus just general delciousness."
This transformation happened to Magarian when he first started and he feels it will likely happen throughout the cocktail industry resulting in a golden age of cocktails.
"The next ten years will be the most delicious period of mixed drinks in the history of the world," he says. With cocktails like his on the scene, whether they're off the signature, secret or even non-alcoholic menu, we can't help but agree with him there.
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