The bar that fueled the craft-cocktail-fire in me was a small speakeasy in the lower east side of New York City. Table seating only. The entrance door was large and made of metal with slabs of wood decorating it - or hiding it.
There was no signage on the building. You'd walk right by it and not even notice. The only way to know you were in the right place was a small wooden sign nailed beside the door. If you were across the street, you'd look over and see nothing more than what appeared like a nice apartment entrance.
Inside... was a different world.
It was dark, romantic, small, and very intimate. Candles at every table were the only lighting available and there weren't many tables. The largest party they could seat was eight, most tables were built for two or four. The maximum occupancy couldn't be more than 40, including the bartop. The ceiling was covered with beautiful dark wood slabs running horizontally pulling you deeper into the bar with a warm welcoming.
I romanticized that my experience must have been similar to the speakeasies during the height of the prohibition. Behind the bartop, the towering bartenders performed magic with rows and rows of unlabeled bitter bottles and pre-made concoctions that mystified any observer. How they could know what was in any of those unlabeled bottles was a mystery.
They moved so quickly, not fast, but quickly. Calculated, smooth, and with precision. I admired the organization. No bottle was out of line, no liquor bottle was out of place, even in it's busiest moments, cleaning and organizing was a constant behind their bar.
I was in aw. I had never seen anything like it, nor had I ever tasted anything like what they were mixing up. The cocktails were so complex, so smooth, and undeniably beautiful. They were boozy but didn't taste like it. They highlighted the liquor without being overpowering. They had a hint of sweet, but only to accentuate a particular flavor from the liquor or liqueurs they were using. The balance was something I didn't even know one could achieve. The price? Unbelievably affordable. I was shocked at how accessible these master-level cocktails were.
I would go back many, many times.
I immediately wanted to be on that level of bartending. They weren't even bartenders. They were artists. Scientists. Magicians. From my first day in this bar, I began studying. I didn't want to be a bartender anymore. I wanted to be whatever the hell they were.
The bar? Death & Company. And they became my teachers (unknowingly to them).
It was their level of obsession that I am constantly chasing. I'm fascinated and obsessed with the way they view cocktails and the perfection that they demand out of their menu. Don't Forget the Garnish follows that same spirit. It's a lifelong endeavour and I love it.
As a homage to my favorite bar in New York City, I want to share with you two of my favorite cocktails that they've created. One will be no surprise to those that know me. My favorite classic cocktail is the Boulevardier, so naturally any variation of that I want to know. My favorite variation has come from Death & Co., the Cure For Pain.
Brian Miller created the Cure For Pain in 2009, just three years after Death & Company opened its doors. I find this cocktail is a perfect example of the complexity that Death & Co. is known for. Six ingredients, the smallest amount is a teaspoon. All measured with precision to ensure a complexity of flavors and balance that will blow anyone's mind. This cocktail taught me how well Creme de Cocao goes with whiskey and porto. A lesson that I've taken to many of my own cocktail creations.
The second cocktail we'll make today is a cognac-based cocktail that highlights pear brandy in a way that we can all learn from. It's called, Rational Thought. We can thank Devin Tarby for creating this one back in 2017. I have made many of this one over the last few weeks. It's just such a well-balanced sip that is perfect for cold weather. The cinnamon. The pear. The cognac. Ugh! It's simply delightful!
Do yourself a favor. Go buy the ingredients to these two cocktails. You deserve it. If you'd like to know more Death & Company recipes. You can buy their two books: Death & Co., and Cocktail Codex. Either buy both or start with Death & Co.
1. CURE FOR PAIN
1 1/2 Rye Whiskey (preferably Rittenhouse bottled-in-bond rye whiskey)
1/2 oz Bourbon (I love to use Buffalo Trace)
1/2 oz Tawny Port (preferably an aged port, like Taylor Fladgate 10 yr Reserve Tawny Port)
1/2 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1 tsp Campari
1 tsp White Creme de Cacao (Giffard makes the best)
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a coupe and garnish with an orange twist (be sure to express the oils from the orange peel first).
2. RATIONAL THOUGHT
1/2 oz Pear Brandy (please use Clear Creek Pear Brandy! It's crazy delicious)
1 oz Dry Curaçao (strongly recommend Pierre Ferrand)
3/4 fresh lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon syrup
Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake with ice! Strain into a coupe glass.