Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Cocktails & Barrel Aging at 1886

1886, the Pasadena bar which recently won the award for "Best Really Hidden Well Known Bar" from LA Weekly, has been continuing to turn out excellent drinks since Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest consulted on its creation last year.  Head bartender Garrett McKechnie recently released his fall cocktail list, which is the first where he has truly driven the program.  Since the bar opened last year, a patio has been added and the customer base has grown, spilling out from the main room and filling up the patio.  1886 has truly filled a niche that hadn't been apparent before it opened.

A new addition to the program is the launch of 1886's first barrel aged cocktail, the Vintage Caprice.  The Caprice, made with Beefeater Gin, Benedictine, Dry Vermouth and orange bitters was aged in a barrel seasoned with sherry.  This was no small barrel; 24 liters of Beefeater, 6 liters of Benedictine and 6 liters of Dolin vermouth went into it.  Half of the first batch was removed from the barrel after 4 months and the remainder was left to further age.  The Caprice aging in the barrel will be eight months old at the end of the month.  I recently had the opportunity to try a freshly made Caprice and the 4 month and 7 month aged Vintage Caprices.  It was really instructive to taste how the cocktail evolved through the aging process.  The rough edges literally melted away and the final end product of the 7-8 month old Vintage is a thing of beauty.  Something not to be missed.

When the team at 1886 decided to embark on the barrel aging process, they reached out to Erick Castro, the West Coast brand ambassador for Beefeater & Plymouth Gins.  He was able to procure a barrel for the aging process and as much gin as the bar needed to fill up the ample vessel. Marcos Tello collaborated with the bartending staff at 1886 to help decide which cocktail they should age.  They selected gin as the base spirit because as 1886 bartender Danny Cymbal said, "lots of bars were doing whiskey-based, darker cocktails, but the end result was hidden by the color of the liquid.  So we decided to try it with a lighter alcohol."

Bartenders suggested various cocktails to be the one that was barrel aged and after much discussion and sampling of the options, it was Cymbal's suggestion of the Caprice that was selected.  Ironically he is not a fan of the unaged Caprice, "I wanted to choose something not all that great to see if it could be improved in the barrel," he explained.

I recommend trying the taste comparison yourself by sampling the fresh, 4 month and 8 month versions of the Vintage Caprice.

The Indian Summer is a good choice for a warm autumn evening as the watermelon juice and jalapeno blend to take summer into fall.  The cocktail is made with Blanco Tequila, agave syrup, watermelon juice, cilantro, jalapeno, watermelon chunks and chili salt.  This drink is more on the refreshing and juicy side.

One of my favorites from the new list is the Therapist.  It is from the Stirred section of the cocktail list, which is where I recommend visitors begin their ordering as it also includes the Vintage Caprice.  The Therapist is made with Highland Park 12 year single malt Scotch (the same stuff that is so wonderful in the Scottish Cashmere at Drago Centro), Drambuie, Carpano Antica, chocolate bitters, and carmelized orange essence.  Another fan of the bar named Aaron (not me) got a shoutout on the menu as he helped inspire this tasty concoction with a reference to fashion designer Alexander McQueen.  It is aromatic and multilayered.

There are four sections on the menu including the aforementioned Stirred, as well as Regional, Shaken and Seasonal.  In addition to the Caprice and Therapist, El Jimador, a tequila based cocktail created by Tello is featured.  The Regional Section includes the 4th iteration of Tello's Pimm's collection, known appropriately as Pimm's #4, which includes Jamaican Rum and his top secret recipe for Pimms, topped with Ting's Grapefruit Soda.  The other two cocktails in the section each pay homage.  The first, 1886 Kentucky Colonel (no relation to Colonel Sanders), was the house cocktail at the Hotel Bel Air when legendary bartender Dale DeGroff was behind the stick there in the 1980s, and the second, the Raymond Hill Smash is dedicated to the hill behind 1886 where the Raymond Hotel once stood.  The Colonel is made with boubon, Benedictine, orange, Angostura bitters and the Smash is made with Cognac, mint and oranges.

The Seasonal section includes the Indian Summer, as well as the Malted Mule, a collaboration between bartender Lacey Murillo and The Raymond pastry chef Jeff Haines that includes homemade gingersnap ice cream, Lemon Hart 151, Mt. Gay Eclipse aged rum, Jamaican rum, and homemade barley malt syrup topped with ginger ale.  That is a lot of Caribbean flavors all in one beverage.  The final seasonal offering is the 1886 Chin Chin, an adaptation of a cocktail created by Sammy Ross of Milk & Honey.  Note Ross also created the Penicillin, so he is truly a creator of modern classics.

The Shaken section has one original and two tributes.  The original is the St. Elmo's Fire from bartender Brady Weise, a beer cocktail made with 90 Minute Dogfish Head IPA, gin, aperol and lime juice.  Drinking one of these might just Emilio Estevez to drive after you in the snow.  The Big Mac cocktail is a bourbon and berries beverage from Damian Windsor of the Roger Room and the Earl Grey Martini is a gin sour from Audrey Saunders of the Pegu Club in New York, another modern cocktail legend.

Now instead of Pasadena residents driving downtown to get their cocktail fix, traffic is going the other way as folks from all over LA are making the pilgrimage to 1886.  This latest menu further solidifies its place among the top tier cocktail establishments in the city.

1886 at the Raymond: 1250 S. Fair Oaks, Pasadena.  Phone:: (626) 441-3136. Web:

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