We asked Happy J. Byrne, bartender at Ampersand 27, about his take on mixing the perfect cocktail.
WHERE: What are some trends in cocktail mixing that interest you right now?
Byrne: Sherries and ports are super popular—also scotch. People are starting to care less about how the purists think a cocktail should be made (which is far from consistent) and are making drinks with a ton of depth. Most notably, bartenders are starting to focus on providing better service. I think more of us need to realize that we are hosts first, servers second, and the person who makes your drink third. I don’t care how great your Old Fashioned is if you don’t extend a welcome and shake your guest’s hand.
W: Do you have a favourite spirit to experiment with for new cocktails?
B: Pisco is a favourite of mine, and Aquavits are becoming more accessible as well. However, the sheer diversity of the Gin category offers a ton of new challenges. There are some beautiful gins out there that are really challenging the traditional London Dry style for space on the back bar. It’s nice to find a style or type of gin that doesn’t hold up to classic cocktails and then you really get to play with it.
W: What’s your go-to summer cocktail for enjoying on a patio?
B: Any style of spritz cocktail. Patio drinking can take its toll, so I like a low alcohol content with bubbles and lots of ice. Staying hydrated while drinking socially is key. I recently came across a Mai Tai Spritz that I really enjoy, so I scaled back the alcohol content to extend my patio time.
W: Do you have any tips for finding a customer a new cocktail that’s out of their comfort zone?
B: Keep to their preferred flavour profile (sweet, sour, bitter, etc.) and explore a new style of spirit or one they may not love, and use it as a modifying ingredient rather than the star. There are complex layers to many drinks, so subtlety is key. A well-balanced and individually crafted drink can really change someone’s opinion of any spirit.