By Brandon Hernández / Photography by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan
Last month, PacificSD welcomed NorCal mixologist extraordinaire and Aztec alum Erick Castro back to his old stomping grounds. Castro returned to head up the bar program at upcoming North Park old-timey watering hole Polite Provisions, but that won't be the only venture he's pouring his energies into. He and newfound industry bud, Anthony Schmidt, the lead bartender at East Village speakeasy Noble Experiment, are working together to unite imbibing enthusiasts from both sides of the bar via The Elbow Benders Association.
"San Diego is catching up quick as a top city for cocktails," says Castro. "It's one of my favorite cocktail scenes because it's so authentic. Everyone is in it for the right reasons, whereas, in other markets, once things take off, the vultures come in to make a fast buck versus having a real love for it."
Castro and Schmidt get together often. And as is the case with colleagues in any industry, their conversation often shifts to work. Excited about the fact San Diego's tipple subculture is advancing as fast as it is, they've been discussing a way to help bring craft cocktail consumers into the fold with the mixologists, building a community via education. The Elbow Benders Association is their vehicle for doing that.
"We decided to create a club that brings together industry people, drinkers and journalists so we can advance as a whole," says Castro. "It's a cool opportunity for bartenders and enthusiasts to work with innovative boutique brands, because, together, we have a lot of friends in the industry. It'll make it so someone can sample five or six bourbons and figure out that they like theirs with high wheat content without having to plunk down big money to go through a bunch of different versions of the same spirit at a bar."
The group behind The Elbow Benders Association is 11 'tenders strong and growing quickly. Their plan is to hold monthly get-togethers at local bars, restaurants, breweries and distilleries beginning in January.
In the meantime, get to know the guys and their craft cocktails on the following pages.
'Hood: Golden Hill
Workplace(s): Polite Provisions, Normal Heights
Drink recipe: The Kentucky Buck - 2 oz. bourbon; 3/4 oz. lemon juice; 1/2 oz. simple syrup; 1 medium sized strawberry, muddled; 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Shake and strain into Collins glass. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with lemon wheel.
When to drink it: With friends, when the weather is hot and the conversation is good.
Motto: A cocktail recipe, like a sculpture, is only fully brought to life by chipping away what doesn't belong, not by adding the non-essential.
For Christmas...: A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 12 year Bourbon.
'Hood: Ocean Beach
Workplace(s): Prohibition Liquor Bar, Gaslamp; House Spirits Distillery
Drink recipe: Respect My Physique, made in honor of a friend's divorce - 2 oz. rye whiskey, 1/2 oz. Punt e Mes [Italian vermouth], 1/4 oz. Green Chartreuse [110 proof French herbal liqueur], 1/4 oz. Cynar [Italian bitter liqueur], dash of Peychaud's bitters. Stir, serve with a big-ass ice cube and a lemon peel.
When to drink it: This drink can be consumed anywhere, at any time, but generally tastes best in a dark bar, after a bad break-up, probably alone.
For Christmas...: Just one winning lottery ticket. I don't ask for much.
Age: Somewhere in the Thirties
'Hood: Mira Mesa
Workplace(s): Craft & Commerce, Little Italy ; UnderBelly, Little Italy
Drink recipe: The Boulevardier - equal parts whiskey (bourbon or rye, your preference), Campari [Italian aperitif] and sweet vermouth. The lovechild of the Negroni and Manhattan, but with an identity strong enough to stand on its own. Beautiful cocktail.
When to drink it: Whenever, wherever, whatever and with whomever.
Motto: Control what you can; don't worry about what you can't.
For Christmas...: Peace on earth, good will towards men (and women) - and a great, local Tiki Bar.
Workplace(s): El Dorado, Downtown
Drink recipe: The Night Creature - 1.5 oz. rye whiskey, 1.5 oz. Mezcal tequila (blanco), 3/4 oz. Averna [Italian herbal digestif], 1/4 oz. Benedictine [French herbal spiced liqueur], dash of Angostura bitters. Add all ingredients, stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
When to drink it: Someone should first off be cautious when drinking this - it's a doozy. Definitely during the cold months of the fall and winter. Or, if you have real grit, one in the morning with your eggs.
Motto: How you think I got this belly, overnight? A brother was hungry, I got an appetite.
For Christmas...: I want a '69 Camaro Pro Street - 671 supercharged 377 small block. Dual demon carbs, dual exhaust with a hood scoop. Some skinnies up front and some monster Hoover's in back. Built to win.
Pedro Antonio Melgar Flores
'Hood: East Village
Workplace(s): Saltbox, Gaslamp
Favorite Drink: Too Biter, Too Sweet - it's a play off the Chet Baker cocktail, a drink made by the talented Samuel Ross at Milk & Honey in NYC. It's a fancy cocktail with aged rum and a little Fernet Branca [Italian liqueur].
When to drink: I think it's a great nightcap cocktail. It's on the sweeter side, and also can be enjoined in a cold night.
Motto: Fernet about it.
For Christmas...: All I want for Christmas is to be with my two babies.
'Hood: South Park
Workplace(s): Blind Tiger Cocktail Co., Fortaleza Tequila
Drink recipe: The Old Man - 2 oz. Black Maple Hill bourbon, 1/2 oz. maple syrup, 2 dashes Fee Bros. black walnut bitters, smoked sage. Serve on rocks and garnish with orange peel.
When to drink it: Drink with your father while listening to Neil Young on the front porch.
Motto: When in doubt, drink Fernet.
For Christmas...: Friends, food and booze.
'Hood: Ocean Beach
Workplace(s): Young's Market Co.
Drink recipe: Blood and Sand - equal parts scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering [cherry-flavored Danish liqueur] and orange juice. It has citrus and vermouth, which is unconventional. It is an equal-parts cocktail, which means all components are naturally in balance...very Zen. Different scotches and vermouths can drastically affect outcome.
When to drink it: I would drink it after dinner, in a whisky bar, with Seth Laufman.
Motto: Serve people not drinks...and blind-taste things all the time.
For Christmas...: I want a cat.
(Note: Hassan was out of town on group photo day)
'Hood: Marina District
Workplace(s): The Lion's Share, Marina District
Drink recipe: Corpse Destroyer - London Dry Gin, Cocchi Americano [Italian aperitif wine], lemon juice, blackberry shrubs.
When to drink it: In a cozy corner of the bar amongst good company.
Motto: Have hospitality at your heart and treat people how you would like to be treated.
For Christmas...: A new MacBook Pro.
'Hood: Pacific Beach
Workplace(s): Vin de Syrah, Gaslamp; Blind Tiger Cocktail Co.; Tequila Fortaleza
Drink recipe: There Will Be Blood - 3/4 oz. Banks 7 Rum, 3/4 oz. Dry Sack Sherry, 3/4 oz. Cherry Heering [sweet Danish liqueur], 1 oz. fresh orange juice, shaken and fine strained up. This is a modernized original spin on a classic cocktail called Blood and Sand, which traditionally calls for blended scotch and sweet vermouth instead of rum and sherry. It's a nice angular answer to the more linear original.
When to drink it: Enjoy this cocktail during the winter and spring seasons at Alchemy Restaurant in South Park with co-owners Ron and Matt. Make sure to ask Ron to show some sweet dance moves.
Motto: There are only two types of people in the world - those that love scotch and those I will never fully understand.
For Christmas...: I've always wanted my own hype man, but I would settle for a Bear Force One reunion tour and Mila Kunis as my date.
'Hood: Ocean Beach
Workplace(s): URBN Coal Fired Pizza, North Park; Blind Tiger Cocktail Co.
Drink recipe: Colleen Bawn - it's a classic from the turn of the century, with 1 oz. each of Rittenhouse Rye, Yellow Chartreuse [80 proof French herbal liqueur] and Benedictine [French herbal spiced liqueur], with a whole egg. Shake first without ice and then again with, serve in a martini or cocktail glass with grated nutmeg.
When to drink it: Sweet, herbal, creamy, pungent and totally delicious, this is warming and complex, and is perfect as a last drink on a cold night.
Motto: If not now, when?
For Christmas...: It's been over a decade, and I still don't have a Furby.
'Hood: East Village
Workplace(s): Noble Experiment, East Village
Drink recipe: Doblón - 1.5 oz. Scotch (I love Highland Park 12), 1 oz. fino sherry (I love Valdespino), 3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice, 3/4 oz. runny honey (3:1, honey:water). Add all ingredients to a shaker can. Add ice. Shake/strain into ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with lemon wedge. Try the same with an orange peel in the shaker (ice will muddle). Delicious! Motto: Serve with a smile.
When to drink it: With friends at a friend's house.
For Christmas...: A bar.