Opinion - Food
Wed August 6, 2014
Handcrafted Cocktails Lift Spirits in Northeast Indiana
What defines a good night out for you? For me, it’s great friends, fantastic food, and more recently, a preciously crafted cocktail.
Historically, the last in this list has been difficult to find in our region. Fort Wayne was a city of banal concoctions—Jack ‘n Coke, Vodka n’ anything, and premixed martinis and margaritas dominate the bar scene. Enter the age of the craft cocktail.
What is a craft cocktail? According to Barman’s Journal, it is a cocktail in which every element is handmade or tailored specifically to the drink, including custom glassware and ice cubes, house-made syrups, and small-batch bitters. Each one is like a work of art.
Where can you find a lovingly invented craft cocktail? A few places have emerged in Northeast Indiana, and I had the opportunity pick the brains of the men behind the bars about their trade.
- Christopher Glover: Bartender, Old Crown
- Aaron Butts: Chef and Bartender, Joseph Decuis and The Golden
- Jason Bodley: Barman, Oak & Alley
- Cory Johnson: Bar Manager, Club Soda
1) Why do you have a passion for bringing craft cocktails to our region?
Christopher: I grew up in Fort Wayne, and it seems like the cool thing to do has always been to leave – go somewhere bigger, brighter, and more exciting. I think Fort Wayne has greater potential. I see a town on the edge of becoming a cultural hub – a place that people talk about in Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Chicago. A hub like that needs good drinks and a good place to drink 'em.
Aaron: I have the same drive to bring craft cocktails to our area as I do cooking great food for the people I know. I love to see the reaction on people's faces when they take a bite of something truly delicious; the same goes for a cocktail made with care and great ingredients. It's in my blood.
Jason: I love where I live, but I am often inclined to leave town to go out to eat because Warsaw didn't have a place like this. Craft cocktail bars exist all over, and we needed one. I enjoy working with new ingredients, products, spirits, and creative people behind the bar making clever drinks. Travelers who are in town visiting one of our various Orthopedic companies get something they're used to and locals are given something new – a different approach to food and drink. It really is unlike anything else around here.
Cory: I am passionate about libations in general. I am new to the cocktail scene—beer and wine have been my specialties, but recently, with the creative cocktails that are popping up everywhere, I was intrigued. The list here has been in the works for several months. Over the past 15 years, Club Soda has been one of the leaders in pouring innovative cocktails, so it was fitting that we should develop a "Craft Cocktail" list.
2) Tell us about the cocktails you prepare and serve.
CG: At Old Crown, we enjoy the classics. We prepare them "pre-prohibition" style – an Old Fashioned made with high-end ingredients; a martini like Grandpa remembers; a high-quality, New-Orleans style Sazerac; a Manhattan done right. More recently, we've moved into some new, unexplored techniques and recipes. My Bourbon Sprawl involves two kinds of infused syrups and pressure-infused bourbon, resulting in a complex, sweet-and-spicy cocktail. The Ma Peche uses a house-made peach and sage liqueur with cream and brandy. The Vodka Nouveaux is made with honey and chamomile-infused vodka. I try to have something new and different every week or so.
AB: Our drink menu consists of classic cocktails, original concoctions, craft beers, and wine. We use premium spirits, homemade bitters and syrups, and local fruits and vegetables. We take great care in using the proper technique to make these cocktails. The original cocktails have a chef-driven feel—having two chefs behind the bar is the reason behind that! We’ve experimented with beet infused bourbon; interesting house-made bitters; fresh Indiana corn muddled with cilantro and orange-chipotle tequila; shrubs made from local, organic berries mixed with botanical gin, mint and lemon; and a new cocktail of tomato water, parsley, bourbon, celery seed, and jalapeño.
JB: We like to use fresh, natural ingredients and quality spirits. I look forward to the seasons changing so we can pick up new ingredients and see what we're able to do with them. We also make our own syrups, tinctures, and bitters. Our drinks are typically spirit-forward, and we try to add ingredients that showcase or complement the profile of the original spirit.
CJ: Our cocktail list has always featured drinks made with the freshest ingredients available to us, and classic cocktails that have been around for a long time inspired our new craft cocktail list. The word cocktail originally meant a beverage that contains a spirit, sugar, water, and bitters, which many of the drinks on our new list contain; only recently have fruit and juices been added to achieve sweetness. An old fashioned is the original cocktail and our new list contains two varieties of it. Other drinks on the list include The Hemingway Daiquiri, a classic cocktail made famous by author Ernest Hemingway. It is our version of a margarita using Hennessey Cognac. Lastly, which may be the most refreshing drink on the list, is a cocktail made with fresh-brewed hibiscus tea and mint.
3) What is your favorite drink to make?
CG: I'm a sucker for a good Negroni. It's one of those drinks that when done well is excellent. I like to make it with equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari, but other recipes exist. I like making it because it's a simple but nuanced process. There's a bit of zen in stirring a drink.
AB: My favorite drink to make and drink is a simple margarita, made with fresh citrus, good tequila, Cointreau, sugar, and a fresh egg white.
JB: Three Blackbeards, from our new menu, is my favorite to make. It is a souped up old fashioned with spiced rum, bourbon and rye, tangerine syrup, and our house-made charred pineapple bitters. My favorite cocktail to drink right now is a gin and tonic. I've been spending the summer trying new combinations of gin and tonic to come up with the best flavors.
CJ: My favorite drink to make is The Last Word, a very classic cocktail that is not made much anymore. It begins with Hendricks Gin, add a little maraschino liquor, Green Chartreuse, and lime juice, then shaky, shaky, and strain it into a coupe glass. It tastes so good and it is pretty, too.
4) What’s the most exciting thing you have on the horizon?
CG: I'm hoping to plan a craft cocktail event sometime in the next few months, but it's very much an idea in its infancy. Beyond that, I'm looking forward to the hot pepper harvest from our garden! Look for some really killer Bloody Marys this fall.
AB: Since our concept is in its infancy, everything is exciting. Stay tuned for details about our next event.
JB: We're going to do a few tastings soon. Nathan, our chef, and I are looking forward to coming up with a drink/cuisine themed menu.
CJ: The most exciting thing on the horizon for us is our expanded drink list that will include even more innovative drinks. We started the list with only ten drinks, and we will work our way up from there. We have other ideas in the works but because the list is still new, I want to give it time to settle before we expand.
Where To Find Them:
3417 N. Anthony Blvd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46805
Oak & Alley
114 S. Buffalo St.
Warsaw, IN 46580
235 E. Superior St.
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.
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