Solid as Arak
By David Nelson / Photo by Paul Body
s rinses go, Arak Razzouk beats the heck out of Listerine.
Bartender Ryan Kimball of downtown’s El Dorado Cocktail Lounge lodges some of this Lebanese anise liqueur in an old spray-perfume bottle. By ever so gently pressing the spray button, he can spritz the interior of a well-chilled champagne coupe - the classic martini/Manhattan glass from the Roaring Twenties, the first Golden Age of Cocktails - with a light coating of arak, the crowning flavor in his award-winning “Charles Peartree” cocktail. The drink, which he invented for the San Diego leg of Bombay Sapphire’s national search for America’s Most Imaginative Bartender, scored him a ticket to the Las Vegas finals, to be held in September.
The 24-year-old LA native moved south to attend San Diego State. In 2011, he took a job at downtown’s El Dorado, “sweeping up cigarettes on the back patio,” as he describes it, before graduating to bouncer, and then deciding he might as well bartend - an act of kindness for anyone who likes to chill with a thoughtfully shaken libation. Kimball’s got prowess on that front, which the insight and inspiration he combines in the Charles Peartree advertise in flashing neon.
The drink is “built to showcase Bombay Sapphire Gin,” Kimball says, but he needed an interesting ingredient to play a supporting role. His own invention, a “refortified” red vermouth, should get conversations going at the Vegas shake-off.
With regular red vermouth, the Charles Peartree might be rather odd. But with Ryan’s reconstituted Martini & Rossi rosso, it’s an engaging drink with an unusually sophisticated finish.
Vermouth, whether red or white, is wine-flavored, with many aromatic flavorings (lemon peel is typical), and fortified with an unflavored “neutral spirit.” Fortification prevents the liquor from spoiling after the bottle is opened.
Kimball’s inspiration was to simmer vermouth in a saucepan until the alcohol volume was reduced by five percent.
Getting this part right, he says, required “a lot of math, and phone calls to my little brother, the engineer.”
He then “refortified” the vermouth by adding pear eau de vie, a European-style fruit brandy that he chose to add “strength, aroma and flavor.”
After explaining the process, Kimball carefully constructs a Charles Peartree, adding a broad strip of lemon peel as final flavoring and putting it in front of me with a smile.
“It’s pretty nice, right?” he says. “Wherever you would have a martini in your night, this drink fits.”
The Charles Peartree
A coupe-style champagne glass (or a martini glass)
1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
1.5 ounces Martini & Rossi “Refortified Rosso Pear Vermouth,” as made by Ryan Kimball
2 dashes Fernet Branca bitters
A few drops of Arak Razzouk
1 strip fresh lemon peel
Combine first three ingredients in a mixing glass. Swirl a bit of Arak Razzouk in the glass to coat the interior. Add ice cubes to the mixing glass, stir to chill, pour into coupe. Add the lemon peel and serve.
El Dorado Cocktail Lounge
1030 Broadway, East Village
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