We at DiscoverSD are thrilled to announce our 2015 Mixologist of the Year, Eric Johnson!
Coming into fame at cocktail hot spot Sycamore Den, Johnson now runs the program at Richard Blais' Juniper & Ivy and newly formed The Crack Shack. We first met this lovable mixologist back in August 2014 with our regular feature In the Mix.
In the last seven years, Johnson has risen through the ranks from Noble Experiment and Craft & Commerce to opening Sycamore Den in 2013. What truly grabbed us this year was his tireless ability to juggle running the program at a nationally known restaurant and have time for charity and his church.
His consulting firm with power mixologist Christian Siglin, Rumbling Tins Co., hosts a yearly charity event, and he has also supported the Seany Foundation, Ocean Discovery Institute, Girls Think Tank and Sierra Club.
So here's to Eric Johnson, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, and one amazing mixologist. Congratulations!
Q: As mixologist of the year, what's your advice for bartenders or average citizens looking to get into mixology?
A: I believe in keeping things simple. If guests are confused to what you are doing you might be overthinking things. Find what works for you and try to perfect it even if they are the simple things.
Q: What has been your favorite ingredient to work with this year?
A: I just can't stop experimenting with mezcal. Maybe I love it because I got to go on an amazing trip to Oaxaca with Del Maguey a few years ago and it brings back fond memories. I also love coffee, we have so many great local coffee roasters like Dark Horse and Bird Rock and Coffee & Tea Collective that I have had a chance to collaborate with.
Q: Best new liquor/liqueur to hit the market this year?
A: That's tough, there are so many great new items coming out weekly. I'd say in San Diego, Old Harbor is doing some great things. The navy rum is very satisfying along with their San Miguel gin, plus it's in our very own backyard. If you haven't tried it, get some!
Q: Best customer of 2015?
A: I'm very lucky to have so many guests follow me over the years from Noble Experiment to Sycamore Den and now to Juniper and Ivy. One guest in particular comes in weekly and is always helping me to be more creative, Craig Robinson aka Pappy. He's the best!
Q: Worst customer of 2015? (this can be funny or not)
A: The guy that comes in the bar with a recipe from another bar or something they saw on the Internet and tells me the exact specs to make a drink. Let me make you a cocktail, that's my job!
Q: What's your favorite cocktail?
A: Old fashioned.
Q: Name any person (alive or dead) to sit at your bar, and what cocktail you would make them?
A: Anthony Bourdain would be an amazing guest. I would give him so much whiskey that he'd never be able to get out of that seat.
(Did you hear that Mr. Bourdain?)
Q: What are you excited to work on in 2016?
A: I'm really excited about my team behind the bar at Juniper and Ivy and am looking forward to developing a new menu with them.
Q: What's the story behind Pineapple Expression (one of Eric's signature drinks made with tequila, pineapple, lime, and banana-cinnamon syrup)?
A: I wanted to make a tiki-style cocktail using tequila and Pineapple Express was already taken by a bunch of stoner bartenders.
Q: We are incredibly impressed with your community and charity work, especially with all you having going on. Tell me about your work with Rock Church and the kids there.
A: I have been attending Rock Church for about five years with my wife and I have volunteered with their Rock Kids program so parents could attend Sunday service. Also through the church, I had the chance to go on a missions trip to Costa Rica and help with a sports/soccer camp for local kids in the community of Jaco Beach.
Q: What charity event has stood out for you in 2015?
A: Every year, my cocktail consulting team, Rumbling Tins Co. does a local charity event called V.I.P.ink, where we donate our time and get products donated by our friends at local brands to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. My grandma and aunt both had breast cancer so it's a great event to be a part of.
Q: Biggest victory/happiest moment of 2015?
A: I think seeing my friends open some great cocktail bars and restaurants in San Diego is a victory for all of us. It's great to see San Diego grow so much from when I got here seven years ago.
Q: Biggest challenge of 2015?
A: My biggest challenge this year was making the decision to leave Sycamore Den to take the opportunity to manage the bar at Juniper and Ivy and help with the opening of The Crack Shack. It has been challenging but very rewarding as well.
Q: Summarize 2015 in five words?
A: New doors opening, hopefully more.
Q: Your mission/resolution for 2016?
A: This coming year I really want to focus on getting my bar open, I just need some investors - anyone out there interested?
If you haven't been to Juniper and Ivy yet, belly up to the bar and offer congratulations to Eric Johnson, our 2015 mixologist of the year.
With 18 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 850 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org.