Photos: Mark Hedden.
A couple months ago I was invited to sit in on a customized tonic project that the Bombay Sapphire EAST team was working on with the good folks at Bittercube. At BSE's request, the Bittercube boys--Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz-had devised an ingenious segmented tonic mix & match toolkit--with about a dozen botanicals bottled separately to be used to create an individualized base for a tailor-made tonic for select bars across the country. With the wave of really good tonics out there the BSE team cannily is seeking to insert themselves into the equation and servicing bars like this may work out well for them. At the session I attended there was some encouragement to employ some of the predominant botanicals in the BSE--namely Thai Lemongrass and Vietnamese Black Peppercorn--but one was mainly left to one's own devices to tinker and tweak.
Sat at a table in the back of at my new neighborhood bar Sekend Sun (above) in Astoria with chef Gary Tackett, funnyman Kosevich and Raj Nagra (best dressed man in the spirits game-he was in full Cary Grant mode that day) and we fooled around with combos. I was told that I was the only journalist to be invited to participate in the process--seems that Camper English got in on the action on the West Coast, and his typically in-depth analysis of the project and the process is packed with valuable geekery. My personal lament with the process was that 2 or 3 trial and errors was nowhere near enough--I would have liked to have had a couple hours to keep working on the mix. Zach Patterson, of my favorite bar in Los Angeles, Melrose Umbrella Co., pretty much insisted on that--I think he sort of muscled his way into a several hour R & D session through his typical unbridled enthusiasm for the project. My resulting formulation was pleasant but too minty after it all came together--I'd like to think a few more trial & errors might have fixed that. But my yuzu and mint forward tonic was interesting, and the personalized bottle was pretty sweet.
I threw the tonic extract in my luggage and took it with me to Key West, where I shared it with my friends at The Other Side, pretty much the only place in the Keys where you can get a proper craft cocktail. Head Bartender Tim Rabior was kind enough to assemble the tonic for me, which involves making a simple syrup and mixing with charged water. Owners Chris Schultz and Keith St. Peter let me host some friends and family for a tasting one Thursday evening in April. It also happened to be two days before my dad was to be married, so the gathering served double duty as a tasting and de facto welcome party.
Soon-to-be stepbrother Arlo Haskell, Director of the Key West Literary Seminar and G & T enthusiast.
Poppa Bear Rowan holding court.
Brother Ian who is currently working on a doc on narwhal preservation efforts in Canada. And soon-to-be step sister-in-law Ashley who's currently working on a step niece was the one person not drinking that night.
Ever the wry observer, Nancy Klingener surveys the crowd. Nan is the voice and vision of NPR for the Keys.