Cocktails don't have to be frou frou, contain 10 ingredients, or be incredibly difficult to be mouth-wateringly delicious.
This was the lesson I learned from the warm and friendly Adam Lockridge of the Whisknladle, Prepkitchen, and Catania restaurants. He doesn't try to keep his cocktails a guarded, locksafe secret, but like a chef inviting you into his kitchen, is happy to show you how to make a shrub, a syrup, or encourage you in your own inventions.
On most days you will find him at Prepkitchen Little Italy busily making ingredients (they make everything in house), like orange mint jam, while simultaneously entertaining guests at the bar and surrounding tables.
From his humble beginnings as a teenage pizza maker at Dominos, Adam has always resided in the restaurant business.
"I've never held any other job," he said.
Even while attending the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, he worked at the mammoth Cheesecake Factory, where he serendipitously met the future COO of the Whisknladle group.
A "straight-edge" kid, Lockridge didn't touch a drop of alcohol before he turned 21. Upon that momentous transition, he turned not to cocktails, but to craft beer and Scotch, working at Good Micro Brew in Silver Lake.
It was when he moved to San Diego in 2009 that the match was lit for this mixologist. Working under Ian Ward and Lucien Conner, Lockridge became interested and learned the liquor ropes, finding a personal mentor in bar manager Aaron Zeiske, who he says guided him in the philosophy of cocktails.
His lightbulb cocktail moment?
"It wasn't one cocktail," he said with a smile, "it was seeing all of these different ideas and philosophies that exist. I love the personalities involved, you can always tell who made your drink."
His first invented cocktail? The Salem Fizz, a clever nod to the Salem Witch trials, made with bourbon, fresh pressed apples, baked apple bitters, cinnamon, and egg white. (I'll be asking for this come October).
His cocktail menu at Prepkitchen is impressive in size but thankfully easy to navigate, with sections titled Friendly Handshakes, Lively Banter, Spirited Discussions, and my favorite, Forgive but don't Forget. The opening section contains easy-going and familiar libations like house-made sangria, a Champagne cocktail and the popular French 75 (for those of you in that debate, this one's with gin).
Lively Banter includes the eye-opening Yes Please!!, with vodka, house cacao, cold brew coffee and vanilla. It also lists the most popular cocktail on the menu, the Stampede. Also a favorite of this Southern Bourbon gal, the Stampede is made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon (hence the name), orange mint jam, and Amaro Nonino.
Spirited Discussions pleases palates with the Colonel Jerry, a hat-tipping to the famous mint julep, while Forgive but don't Forget contains two other customer favorites, the Scalliwag and Heart of Darkness. The former is a pirate-themed cocktail with Black Magic Rum, apricot and a proprietary tiki mix of grapefruit, cinnamon and allspice, while the Conrad-inspired latter is a unique combination of tequila, Aperol and strawberry shrub.
Look for Lockridge at Prepkitchen Little Italy on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and starting soon, at Catania a few days a week. My advice is get that Stampede cocktail before heading north to Del Mar. Don't forget your big hat.
With 15 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 700 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 email@example.com.