We take our cocktails pretty seriously around here. Up to a point. We may take weeks parsing spirits to feature and sourcing arcane ingredients, but when it's time to put the new list to bed we schedule an 'anything can happen’ throw-down that never fails to separate the men from the boys. As reward for a life spent in unabashed cocktail adoration, I get to play the part of the kid in the candy store during these sessions, sipping through concoctions to chose those worthy of inclusion on the Barndiva List. Not counting seasonal updates which take place weekly, we replace the entire list about five times a year.
These days you can find a well made drink almost anywhere ~ restaurant, roadhouse, tavern, pub, jukejoint, club, or saloon ~ but for a perfect cocktail you still need to frequent a bar that has a proper cocktail program. This isn’t something an establishment can pull out of a hat on paycheck Fridays, it takes long term commitment, a deep knowledge of spirits and the way they work, and a liver worthy of Tolstoy. For which I thank my Russian grandma. Every day.
In recent years an interest in the field of Mixology has raised the game considerably, which has contributed to an ever expanding ingredient repertoire and exciting new technologies. But I sometimes worry that the context of why we love cocktails is being forgotten in the race to get clever in the glass. When I go in search of a great cocktail I want the experience of being cosseted in a handsome room with warm lighting and cool music, I want to be surrounded by a good-looking crowd. The word cocktail goes with the word lounge in my world, always has, always will. My answer to the man who asked us to turn down the Serge Gainsbourg the first week we opened because “we are dining over here” was polite but succinct: “yes, but we are drinking over here.” He’s lucky I didn’t stick him with a tinkling piano.
I’ve made no secret that Barndiva was my chance to bring a classic bar scene a la Visconti by way of Nick and Nora Charles into Healdsburg. And if Barndiva was to celebrate the foodshed without losing an urbane subtext, the bar was a golden opportunity to extend that vision to the art and science of libations. Life is one long ridiculous mystery in any case. To get through it with any grace, every now and then you need to heed the urge to put on a good set of heels and head off into the night to find a well appointed bar that has great style and a professional, insouciant bartender. (a plague on the overly friendly kind).
As we move into our seventh year, we’re going to up the ante with our bar program. Because we can, and because we think the interesting conversations we’re having with our customers about food can be broadened to include cocktails. Up to this point we’ve been very lucky to have clever young men like Dan Fitzgerald, Brandon Manning, and Spencer Simmons share their passion for mixology with us. But I am especially thrilled with the new summer list, which was entirely generated from the crazy-talented mind of a guest mixologist, Stefan Ravalli, who will be behind the bar with Sam and Adam throughout the summer. Come in some night for a cocktail from the new list. Or play Dealer's Choice. As in all things, we welcome your feedback.
Hot off the press, here is a preview of the new cocktail list, which Stefan and Adam will launch this coming Wednesday. About our drink names: yes, there is a story to each one but it's usually not one which makes sense in the traditional manner. Think of them as metaphoric breadcrumbs. They may not lead you directly home, but we throw them with equanimity and the promise that if you follow them with an optimistic heart they will definitely take you somewhere worth visiting. Cheers everyone.
The Lover Gin infused Peaches and Fresh Ginger; Dry Sake; Navarro Gewürztraminer Juice; Lemon Verbena. Finished with Local Peaches dabbed with Orange Blossom Water and a Flame of Chartreuse.
The initial trigger for this drink was a cache of Navarro Grape Juice Stefan found in the wine cellar and mistakenly thought was unloved rather than hidden. To partner the juice he infused gin with Preston Farms peaches from the Healdsburg Farmers Market and fresh ginger. Lemon Verbena adds a clean citrus note while the filtered sake subtly contributes dimension to the body of the drink. I suspect Stefan was a precocious youngster, which may explain his jones for crushing, macerating and setting things on fire. Whatever. The idea of using a chartreuse burn as a transitory garnish here is brilliant, and it works to open the senses to everything that will follow.
This is a dead sexy drink, which I why I have named it after one of the most sensual novellas in history, written by Marguerite Duras in 1984 when she was nearly seventy years old. The Lover is set against the backdrop of French colonial Vietnam, and tells the autobiographical story of a clandestine romance between a pubescent girl (Duras) from a financially strapped French family and a much older and enormously wealthy and cultured Chinese man. Surprisingly, a Jean-Jacques Arnnaud’s 2002 movie with Jane March and Tony Leung did it justice.. but read the book.
Strange Land Rum Infused with Earl Grey Tea; Cynar; Velvet Falernum; Fresh Lime
Velvet Falernum is a sweet syrup redolent of almond, ginger, lime and sometimes vanilla or allspice. It was made popular in the 1930’s and the best source for it is still the purveyor John Taylor. Falernum also has distinct clove notes, which Stefan plays off here with the lime and herbaceous flavors of the Cynar an Italian bitters made from 13 herbs and plants, the most recognizable of which is artichoke. Strange Land is garnished with a fresh Pineapple Sage from our gardens; it is this scent which rolls over the nose first, like the smell of a meadow. The rum, tea and spices in this drink made me think of the line “close your eyes and think of England,” from a poem entitled Strange Land written by an English ex-pat living in New Zealand at the turn of the century. The saying only gained popularity however in the 1920’s, when an entry to the diary of Lady Hillingdon was made public upon her death. Apparently, upon hearing her husband approach her bedroom door on a night in 1902, she plucked a line from the original poem and used it in quite a different, but exceedingly more memorable context: “When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, close my eyes, open my legs and think of England.”
Ernest in Love Tequila; Aperol; Compressed Local Watermelon; Lime Juice; Lemongrass-infused Agave Nectar. Finished with a misting of Rosewater.
I’ve dedicated drinks to Ernest Hemingway over the years, but not because this prodigious drinker is a favorite writer of mine. There was a great capacity for joy in Hemingway, tragically undone by a suicide gene that he knew lay sleeping in his DNA and could do nothing about. He was perhaps never happier than the year he married Hadley, his beautiful first wife, in 1921, and they headed off to Europe where he could write. Hemingway is famous for using simple sentence structures to great affect, but he also had a master’s comprehension when to use a series of coordinators to create compound sentences. In much the same way, the simple one key fruity notes of Aperol and watermelon allow the agave to deliver a one two three punch in this cocktail. The mist of rosewater is an unabashedly romantic gesture that also serves to heighten the grassy essence inherent in all blanco tequilas. Stefan likes the way the Aperol also gives a long finish to the cocktail, which he considers crisp and fleshy. Ernest in Love is also, obviously, a play on words.
Strawberry Life Hennessey Cognac, Local Strawberries compressed with Thai Basil, Nigori Sake, Maraschino, Lemon Juice, with a Float of Crème de Violette
I am in love with this drink. It is an utterly delightful concoction, summer in a glass. Makes me happy the way early Beatles songs do, hence the name. The Croatian cherries in the maraschino impart a burnt almond flavor that rounds out the predominant appeal of the fresh strawberries. Stefan’s addition of the unfiltered sake brings an earthy flavor you can’t quite identify, coming from the yeast particles in the unfiltered sake and the smell they impart. Like an indelible fingerprint of the dirt the strawberries grew in. Cognac used in this way is a revelation.
Cosmo Killer Vodka infused with local Cucumbers; Green Chartreuse; Verjus; Elderflower Cordial and a Perfuming of Kaffir Lime.
I was an unabashed fan of Sex and the City until the movie came out. What I could never figure out was how a girl like Carrie, with such exquisite taste in footwear, could have settled year after year with a Cosmo as her drink of choice. Come on already. Few spirits have the mutable charm of vodka when played to its strengths. A vodka cocktail should not to be loaded with too many flavor profiles, but it can certainly handle more than a zuz of cranberry juice.
Stefan has gone green and floral with the vodka he infused with local cucumbers. The Verjus ~ juice of green grapes ~ plays chaperone to the Elderflower so it does not get into sickly sweet trouble. The cucumbers also bring it back from the edge of coy, but it is the perfume of Kaffir Lime that lends an incredible grace note to this cocktail.
Weapon of Choice Bay Leaf-and-Chili-Infused Gin; Pimm's no.1; Compressed Local Watermelon; Ginger Beer
I have no idea why the words ‘weapon of choice’ came into my head while I was tasting this drink for the first time. The Pimm’s part must have brought me to Sherlock Holmes and from there the heat of the chilies, used to balance the sweetness of the fresh watermelon muddle, brought me to Professor Moriarty. The Cucumber garnish and the medicinals of the gin infused with bay leaf are herbalicious. FYI, Moriarty’s weapon of choice was the silent but deadly Air Rifle, invented by mysterious blind German mechanic von Herder.
Poodle Springs Pisco; St. Germain; Maraschino; Lemon Juice and a scoop of House-Made Apricot-and-Bitters Jam
An unmade bed of a drink, sexy after the fact, which I’ve named after an unfinished story by Raymond Chandler. Keep in mind that even unfinished stories by Chandler are wonderful and that Pisco is one of the hardest spirits to hang anything on; it throws flavors off like a bucking (in this case Peruvian) bronco. The St Germain and Maraschino work well with the Pisco, and while the apricot stone fruit sugars add a smooth finish, Stefan will be changing the jammy notes as our jamming season continues. Olleberries up next, then figs. There’s worst things than being his guinea pig on this one.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon infused with local peaches; Black Tea; Thai Basil; Lemon; Honey; a dash of Allspice Dram. Finished with a misting of Fernet.
Don’t be fooled by the green mist of Fernet which envelops the nose of this cocktails with a eucalyptus-spruce-pine forest intensity. The first mouthful is deep and rich with bourbon leather, while the honey infused peaches play grown up games on the front porch with the Allspice Dram. Most of the bourbon drinkers I know are men, and they will love this, but a certain kind of woman will too. If Charlotte Rampling ever does me the great honor of coming for a drink, this is one I will serve her. On the house, of course.