I’ve heard some bad ideas in my time (many of them attached to the words “time saving”) but Push Button Cocktails? That’s the tagline the Rabbit Company is hoping will sell their new Electric Cocktail Mixer, a product that is dumb, dumb, dumb. Come on people, one of the great anticipatory sounds of the civilized world is that of ice hitting the sides of a cocktail shaker held aloft. At the end of a long day it's the sound of an evening opening up in front of you with the promise of great food and conversation...and if you play your cards right and the stars align, maybe a whole lot more. The idea of replacing it with a Double AA battery pushing a superfluous motor that grinds the life out of the inherently delicate ingredients isn’t just stupid, it’s soul destroying. They aren’t called spirits for nothing.
I have little patience for dumbing down the art of the drink. I’m no snob ~ great dives can produce great martinis ~ but skill and individual style come with the territory (+ a touch of OCD doesn’t hurt). Since we opened Barndiva, cocktails have been at the heart of the dining experience we’ve wanted to create; seven years on we have developed one of the best cocktail programs in Northern California. Our passion has been fueled by consistently bringing on bright new talent and giving them stellar ingredients and an environment in which they have every opportunity to thrive.
But it hasn’t always been easy to put all three elements in play at the same time. Rachel Beardsley is the first woman to manage the Barndiva bar ~ about time, right? Turns out, Audrey Saunders notwithstanding, the mixology world is a glorified version of boy's town, as I suspect it always has been. In addition to the usual stereotypes, beauty like Rachel's can be an obstacle for being taken seriously behind the bar. She rocks it with professionalism and a cool but commanding presence. Brendan O'Donovan, who manages our wine list with an impressive understanding of nuance and nose has been a great foil for her. But with respect to the Fall list, it’s also hard to ignore the energy a new apprentice is having on the program. Justin Wycoff worked under Ryan in the kitchen for the past two years, but found his heart wasn’t in it for the long run. Affectionately known around here as Junior, he is the younger brother of our talented sous chef Drew sharing the Wycoff gene for crushing long hours with unbridled enthusiasm. Both brothers have an impressive focus for detail, but it turns out Junior also has a bit of the mad scientist in him. We’re going to encourage him to take what he learned under Ryan ~ especially from the garde manger station ~ and run with it.
Cocktails are an innately human endeavor, one of the few which fully combines art and science, but you don't need to be James Bond to understand the difference between shaken and stirred ~ it’s all in the wrist. And heads up: anyone who tells you differently is just trying to push your buttons.
Here's a preview of our new cocktails. It comes together at a great time of year for spirit drinks which pull inspiration from the gardens and the forest. Consider yourself invited.
Lady Penrose is a gin cocktail where the complexities of the spirit soften and open, house-infused with garden sage. Gently shaken with huckleberry jus and fresh lime, the drink is topped with sparkling Roederer from just down the hill from our farm in Philo. Named after the great modern photographer and Man Ray muse Lee Miller, Rachel incorporates a perfume of angostura for a spiced nose and a bit of heat ~ in her incredible life, Lee had plenty of both to go around.
Golden Boy uses our ever popular house-infused browned butter whiskey with a hint of black pepper syrup and fresh lemon juice. The drink stars Barndiva’s apple juice from our farm, pressed at Apple a Day over in Sebastapol (a blend of Spitzenburg, Golden Delicious and Jonathon’s ~ if you dined with us in the past month you've no doubt enjoyed a shooter on the house and would agree, it's killer). A charge of soda frames the conversation of this drink, the epitome of smooth ~ more Oscar De La Hoya than Clifford Odets.
Ruling Class Lite is made with house-infused burnt orange tequila hit with a splash of fresh lemon juice. The drink's citrus is tempered by a light but distinctly herbal tarragon syrup. Rachel’s first interactive cocktail, RCL comes with a sidecar of beet and tarragon foam, earthy and wonderful. Check out the drift.
Bitches of Seiziéme is a thoroughly modern take on a champagne cocktail made with sparkling Roederer, house-infused orange peel brandy, coriander syrup and a hint of creole bitters on the nose, reminiscent of absinthe. Ask the bar about the name.
Ninth Ward is Brendan’s contribution to the collection with fennel infused vodka, a bit of citrus, and a mist of Herbsaint over a beautiful sea of egg white foam. Garnished with bronze fennel from the gardens.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted.)