From the iconic George’s at the Cove in La Jolla to neighborhood hotspot Hundred Proof, bartender Stephen Kurpinsky continues to bring his inventive cocktail style to thirsty San Diegans.
In the restaurant business since age 15, Kurpinsky’s passion for the craft is apparent as both a mixologist and President of the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild. As new Beverage Director of Hundred Proof he is reworking classic cocktails, bringing in guest bartenders for special events, and debuting a unique lineup of brunch cocktails entitled “Saturday Morning Cartoons.” With a Fruit Loops Ramos Fizz, Rice Tikis, and Crunch Berry Clover Club on the menu, it’s sure to be a drink experience you won’t forget.
PACIFIC chatted with Kurpinsky about his recent move, who’s coming to visit, and what’s up with cereal cocktails.
PACIFIC: What’s the biggest difference in coming from George’s to Hundred Proof?
STEPHEN KURPINSKY: Now I’m in a neighborhood as opposed to Prospect Street, which can be touristy. The style will adjust, at George’s it was cocktail geeky, at Hundred Proof I want it to feel more approachable. For customers, I want it to feel like the neighborhood spot — their second living room — where they can have a cocktail and not have to think about it. The nerdy stuff will be behind the scenes.
How did you come up with the brunch cereal cocktails?
I went to brunch a few times and really thought about what makes a place successful. You need to draw them in. But, I also wanted to do something fun. I wanted to make sure when customers taste these cocktails, they taste like the actual cereal. It should trigger a memory in your life.
What’s cereal whipping cream? And Rice Krispies orgeat?
The first is whipping cream with Fruit Loops steeped overnight to enhance the flavor. The Rice Krispies actually take the place of the almonds in the orgeat.
Any hints on who will be the guest bartenders you are bringing on?
Yes! On October 22 we will host Erik Castro and have a Spaghetti Western night with Arizona Distilling Co. serving spaghetti and meatballs, and we will be dressed up. On October 29 we will be Halloween themed, with Andrew Calisterio from San Francisco, Erin Hayes from Chicago, Brooke Arthur from Los Angeles, and House Spirits from Portland. We’ll turn the bar into a haunted house. And, there are others to come from Mexico City, London and more.
What does the San Diego chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild do?
We promote education, safe working environments, and opportunity through partnerships with mentors and liquor brands. Locally, we have a fund for injured bartenders to come back to their careers through the Bartenders Relief Fund. We also foster mentorship through a six month program, completely sponsored by Monkey Shoulder, where we choose five bartenders per year, giving them the opportunity to work under the best with trainings and brand ambassadors, which will offer more value to the San Diego cocktail community. We also have a lot of tastings, events, cocktail competitions, and fundraisers.
What’s your favorite spirit to tinker with?
Gin or mezcal, because in both cases, every single one has a uniquely different flavor that you can play with.
Unsung hero of the cocktail world?
The “Regal Shake.” You take a grapefruit peel and put in the shaker and shake with it.
What’s the most memorable cocktail you’ve made in your career...so far?
By far the La Jolla cocktail at George’s. It’s made with tequila infused with mangos, lime zest, and dried chilies, shaken with lime and agave, and strained onto a sea salt ice cube with seawood suspended in it. We sold eight times more of that than any other cocktail.
What do you do when you aren’t whipping up cocktails?
I am a trained musician, so music, sailing, and I’m also an aspiring photographer.
A stranger comes into town, sits down at your bar. What’s the one cocktail he or she has to try at Hundred Proof?
Definitely the Session Daiquiri. It has all the flavor of a daiquiri with half the alcohol, and amontillado sherry is the trick.