Big hats. Seersucker suits. It’s a warm May afternoon and the bets have all been made. The brightly-clad jockeys astride their matching horses are making their way to the starting gates. The only thing missing to complete the scene? A cool, refreshing mint julep. A julep is a classic cocktail synonymous with the excitement of the Kentucky Derby. The traditional version combines Kentucky bourbon, fresh muddled mint leaves and a little sugar or simple syrup over ice. If you like to spice things up a little, try my version with a bit of a South Carolina twist.
The Rhett Butler is based upon the hero of Margaret Mitchell’s classic novel Gone With The Wind. Rhett hails from Charleston, South Carolina, just like the Blenheim’s Ginger Ale that gives this cocktail its kick. Blenheim’s, much like Rhett himself, is bold, spicy and unapologetic. It’s made with fresh ginger and the flavor comes through strongly without much sweetness. The ginger is nicely balanced by the cooling flavor of the mint. Serve this option alongside the traditional mint julep at your Derby party for an unexpected and modern twist on the classic.
Rhett Butler Serves one
3-4 fresh mint leaves (plus one more sprig to garnish)
1 part Kentucky Bourbon
2 parts Blenheim’s Ginger Ale
Sugar to taste (optional)
Muddle the mint leaves (and sugar if you are using it) in the bottom of a tumbler. Add ice. Pour in the bourbon and ginger ale and stir well to combine and help dissolve the sugar. Garnish with another sprig of mint and serve.
Note: For those of you who really like to turn up the heat, Blenheim’s makes an “extra hot” variety of ginger ale that you can use to make your Rhett Butler. Skip on the sugar as well for a drink hot enough to sweep you off your feet and carry you up the stairs!
Percy Rodriguez, the Beverage Director of New York City-based L’Amico and the Vine is ready to reveal its spring time beverage creations. This Missouri-native joined legendary Chef and Restaurateur Laurent Tourondel at L’Amico—the Italian-influenced American restaurant—as Beverage Director in 2015 and continues to reside at the helm today.
A veteran of the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Rodriguez started as a bar-back at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria in 2007. In his current role at L’Amico, Rodriguez incorporates microbrew and craft elements into an accessible, yet diverse wine and beverage program. With offerings that complement Tourondel’s signature wood-fired cooking, Rodriguez strives to demonstrate how unique varietals can be familiarized. He is continually educating diners on the diversity of some of the lesser known Italian regional grapes.
Rodriguez sits down with Swig Contributor Kristen Oliveri to speak about all things beverage at L’Amico and the Vine. While his cocktail menu is as seasonal as can be, it is packed with thirst quenching creative beverages. He is also quite proud of the wine list he’s built from scratch that showcases some of his distinct favorite flavors.
Q: How do you begin to put your cocktail list together? What does your process entail specifically?
A: When I begin the process of creating new cocktails, I choose to examine a few different things. First, I look at what’s in season that can be an interesting addition to a cocktail that you might not usually consider. I do a good bit of reading and research from old cocktail books, current cocktail bloggers and writers, and I check in on industry trends via Twitter, Eater, Grub Hub and the like.
It may go without saying, but I also try cocktails from other programs I respect. Once I have an idea of which direction I want to go in, there is a two-week long process of research and development to fine tune the recipes.
Q: How did you become involved with the beverage industry?
A: I started as a host at Joe Bastianich’s Becco for a few weeks until I became a bar-back for Dennis Mullally at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria.
Q: What’s new for this Spring on L’Amico’s menu?
A: Italian Rose. Chablis. Ramps!
I’m playing around with a pickled ramp garnish made into the shape of cocktail onions for a play on a briny Gibson.
Q: Walk me through your wine list. Anything really intriguing on there?
A: I’m proud of all facets of my programs, but I could talk about the wine list I’ve built for L’Amico for days. It’s meant to be complimentary to the incredible cooking of my boss, Chef Laurent, with tons of opportunities for exploration (if that’s the experience a customer wants to have).
I try to focus on the lesser known varietals that Italy has to offer (like Timorasso, Cataratto, Vitovska, Grignolino, Schioppetino), and introduce our patrons to as many different styles as possible (petnat, orange, bio-dynamic). I’m loving the current vintage of the Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle from Ermes Pavese, and I think the Collio Merlot from Frank Toros in Fruili is a seriously fun wine with killer depth.
Q: What are the better spirits to play with when experimenting with new cocktail ideas?
A: You can’t go wrong going with local, craft products, especially in New York City. There are so many purveyors popping up every season that, quite honestly, it’s hard to keep everyone straight. The offerings range from vermouths (Uncouth Vermouth) to gins (Greenhook) and browns (Hudson/Tuthilltown) and so much more. I’m also a big proponent of amaro and I believe if you want to take your cocktails to the next level, invest in a few bottles. Get a Fernet, a Montenegro, and a Cynar, and get to experimenting.
Q: What’s your guilty pleasure cocktail?
A: White Russians. I’ll never order one, but will occasionally make one (or five) at home.
Q: What’s your favorite food and wine/cocktail pairing on the menu today?
A: For dessert at L’Amico, order the full cheese plate and get a .375 of the Brachetto d’Acqui from Braida. It’s more frizzante than sparkling, and nowhere close to the sweetness of some moscatos. Plus, the acidity is present enough in this dessert wine that it cuts through the fattiness of the cheese in such a great way that you’ll be ordering another round before you know it.
Q: Can you share with us one of your favorite cocktail recipes?
A: At the Vine, the concept for the cocktail menu is to showcase twists on old classics. I try to challenge myself to make drinks that reference the originals, but take them to the next level in flavor and presentation. I try not take myself too seriously, because at the end of the day, these cocktails still need to have some resemblance of the original. Once I came across this Sour Apple Liqueur by Leopold Bros using New York apples, and I knew this was the direction I wanted to go in for a throwback cocktail.
Here’s the recipe below for my Appletini.
2 oz belvedere
1 oz green apple
.5 oz mint syrup
.5 oz lemon
1 egg white
Dry Shake. Ice, shake. Coupe, float with apple sprouts.
Many bars around the world claim to have been the one to have invented the famed beach beverage: the Piña Colada. But just one—the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico—has the street cred to make the real deal claim. Swig Contributor Kristen Oliveri sat down with Erik Fois, Food and Beverage Director of the Caribe Hilton, to discuss the overall beverage plan for the sprawling hotel that has nine different food and beverage concepts, as well as putting to rest who invented the Piña Colada once and for all.
Q: You have the difficult task of creating an all-encompassing beverage program for a hotel that includes nine different dining concepts. What is that like?
A: All food and beverage outlets in the hotel offer a wide selection to our guests that come from both inside and outside the hotel. We continuously measure our offerings and adjust them if needed. It’s really all about striking a balance between listening to the guests’ needs while maintaining a competitiveness in the market.
Q: You make fresh juices for breakfast and for banquet events. What ingredients do you use? Do you incorporate them into cocktails?
A: Wherever possible, we try to incorporate fresh juices for breakfast and have a minimum of four freshly prepared juices available daily. The ingredients solely depend on the season that we are in. Oftentimes we use fresh cucumber, carrot, apples and other fruit, but we always try to incorporate some local flair by using fruits that are available on the island. As for cocktails, we often use fresh coconut water to enhance the flavors or the spirits that we use.
Q: What are some of your more innovative cocktails?
A: One really unique cocktail that we make is what we call the evolution of the Piña Colada. A ‘clear colada’ is a modern take to the classic Piña Colada that encompasses both creativity and great flavors. The cocktail is made of: coconut oil infused white rum, clarified pineapple juice, house made pineapple syrup and coconut water, served with a coconut ice pop.
Q: In terms of tourism, what do you find most people want to drink when they come for a vacation?
A: There is no doubt that people come to Puerto Rico to taste the local rum. Our guests continue to be amazed by the wide variety of flavors that we have to offer here.
Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure cocktail?
A: Personally, I really enjoy a well-crafted negroni. It’s a simple, classic cocktail that anybody can prepare, but not many bartenders can execute well.
Q: The Piña Colada. Did you invent it?
A: It is most certainly invented in this hotel! The Piña Colada was originally created at Caribe Hilton in 1954 by Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, during his days as a bartender at the resort. After three months of experimentation, Monchito finally settled on the Piña Colada mixture he felt captured the true flavor of Puerto Rico. He continued to serve the drink at Caribe Hilton for 35 years until his retirement in 1989. He left quite the legacy, as in 1978 Puerto Rico named the Piña Colada its official national drink. Below is the traditional recipe.
2 oz. White Rum
1 oz. Coconut Cream
1 oz. Heavy Cream
6 oz. Fresh Pineapple Juice
½ cup Crushed Ice
Add the rum, coconut cream, heavy cream and pineapple juice together in a blender. Add the ice and blend for about 15 seconds or until smooth. Serve in a 12-ounce glass. Garnish with a fresh pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry.