Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer Fun @ 1886

I have been a fan and advocate of 1886 Bar at the Raymond since it opened in November of 2010 in South Pasadena.  Marcos Tello & Aidan Demarest built a strong program by hiring talented bartenders, a thorough training, and encouraging innovation.  Garrett McKechnie, the head bartender, has continued to helm the program and all the bartenders have the opportunity to create cocktails on the seasonal menus.  At this point, 1886 is unquestionably among the top 5 cocktail bars in the Los Angeles area.  There is deep bench strength among the bartending staff, so that regardless of who is on shift, customers are guaranteed a quality craft cocktail experience.

I was recently invited to try the current seasonal menu focusing on summer cocktails.  Highlights are below.  I encourage you to check it out for yourself:

After Hours is a summer spiced rum swizzler that is a collaboration between bartenders Lacey Murillo and Brady Weise.  Weise is known for his beer cocktails, so there is no surprise that this drink is topped with hazelnut porter.  Spiced rum, passion fruit, pineapple, and a touch of bitters are the other ingredients.  This tiki drink walks on the wild side, and as the menu notes includes Rosanna Arquette and Griffin Dunne.  Marcos Tello, the godfather of the 1886 bartending clan, is a huge advocate of swizzles, so this drink fits well within that tradition, yet takes it to a new tropical destination.

The Kai Lani was originally conceived by Brian Miller (ex Death & Company) of Manhattan and head bartender Garrett McKenchnie has put his own spin on this modern tiki classic.  In true tiki style this cocktail includes two rums: an aged rum and Wray & Nephew overproof Jamaican rum, as well as peach liqueur, fresh lemon juice and Garrett's Spice Mix #1. Adhering to another tiki tradition, McKechnie would not divulge the secret ingredients of his spice mix.  The Kai Lani  looks festive and the peach liqueur comes through loud and clear.  It is shaken, which gives it a cool frothy element.

The Tranquilizer is described as "a tropical delight that will knock you on your ass" and that description is accurate.  Wray & Nephew overproof rum and Batavia Arrack provide the kick, while coconut and pineapple juice provide the mellow disguise.  This drink is one of the tastiest on the list, each sip takes you one step closer to the islands, and to having your butt on the floor as this is indeed a powerful beverage.  Get a designated driver and drink these til the hula girls come home.

The Rosebud is an unusual flavor combination as it is made with house-made hibiscus liqueur, Benedictine, lime juice, Reposade tequila, and topped with Fever Free lite tonic water.  The flower garnish matches the hue of the cocktail, which is lightly fizzy due to the tonic water.  The flavor is tart and berry and light.  If you like the Mexican drink Jamaica, you will enjoy this, if not, steer clear because despite its color, this is no Cosmo.

La Brigada is another Murillo creation, this one inspired by her family trips to Baja California.  It includes mezcal, homemade agave liqueur, fresh pineapple and lime juices served over crushed ice with a shard of frozen coconut water.  It is also garnished with a chicharron (unpictured) garnish.  The mezcal provides a smoky element and takes what could have been a sweet drink into more complex territory.  The use of the chicharron is a whimsical touch, that showcases Murillo's creativity and her reputation as one to watch.

The Southern Belle Whistle is a collaboration from Greg Gertmenian and pastry chef Jeff  Haines. The whistle is a bottled soda pop made with with fresh yellow peaches, floral sweet black tea, and 1886 Buffalo Trace bourbon.  It is fun to open up a bottle and smell the sweet scent of peaches as they bring old fashioned soda pop into the 21st century in a playful way.  As Weise has developed expertise in beer cocktails, Gertmenian may be the premiere bottled cocktail mixologist in town.

The Strawberry Paleta created by McKechnie is my favorite cocktail on the menu.  Despite its appearance, this is no kiddie treat, but an adult popsicle that is nothing short of extraordinary.  Garrett has taken a traditional Latin summer dessert and innovated it by putting  fresh strawberries, cream and "a healthy dose of rum" in -300 degree Farenheit liquid nitrogen, creating something very special.  Served in a glass with a fresh strawberry, the creamy popsicle is boozy and refreshing at the same time.  As this is the first of their rotating summer paleta "pop shop", I can't wait to see what they have in store next.

Peter Lloyd Jones and McKechnie worked together to create the Summer Shrub Fizz.  Fizzes seem to be everywhere this year; they are alcoholic beverages with a vinegar base. With the egg white froth, the texture of this cocktail is key as is the contrast between the strawberry shrub and the meyer lemon essence.  The kick comes from both demerara rum and London Dry Gin.  It is a smooth and attractive addition to the menu.

For those looking for a classic stirred cocktail, look no further than the Dutch Kills, created by Eveleigh head barman Dave Kupchinsky.  This cocktail is especially apropos for 1886 as it includes Bols Genever, which Tello has evangelized.  Barrel Aged Bols Genever, Italian vermouth, bitters and a dash of apricot liqueur are all stirred together with ice in a shaker before being poured into a cocktail glass.  The barrel aging of the Genever gives this cocktail extra depth.

BBC aka Bols Genever Basil Collins is a simple drink of Bols Genever with lemon juice, basil, sugar and carbonated water.  Light and easy sipping, this Marcos Tello cocktail is just right for sitting on the 1886 patio and enjoying the sun go down on a warm Pasadena day.

The perfect snack to munch on while sipping on the summer cockails are the house-made potato chips, which are crunchy and unlike some chips, not oily at all.  The signature 1886 spicy ketchup is served with it to keep things interesting.

If you are hungrier for a more substantial meal, the best choice is the Roasted Lamb Necks & Afghan Bread.  The lamb is spiced with vadouvan and roasted til tender.  No knife is necessary to cut through the meat.  The afghan bread is similar to a lavash and with three dips, you can season the dish to your liking.

My favorites on the list are the Strawberry Paleta and the Tranquilizer but you can't go wrong with this menu.  Get to 1886 while you can.  Fall is rapidly approaching, and with it more exciting cocktails.

1886 at the Raymond
1250 S. Fair Oaks Avenue, Pasadena | 626.441.3136 |

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