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10.20.10 by  

A Cocktail Menu WTF

Read mixologist David Shenaut’s drink recipes and you have to ask yourself: Is this guy just screwing with us? Turns out, Portland’s mad mixer is not just serious, he’s damn good. Check out his secret for churning out the inconceivable in every glass.

If you’re looking to shake up (or stir, if you will) your next cocktail experience, hunt down David Shenaut in Portland. You’ll might find him at Beaker & Flask, Teardrop Cockail Lounge — a bar he co-founded, with one of the most unique menus we’ve come across in months — or hanging with the Oregon Bartenders Guild crew. We suggest you include a local farmer, a food encyclopedia or your most ingredient-savvy friend on your guest list if you want a clue about what’s in your drink. The upside, it’s guaranteed to be mindblowingly delicious.

Tom Cruise who?

served raw: your cocktail menus have got some of the most creative ingredients we’ve seen in a long time. what’s your process for ID-ing new ingredients and flavors?
David Shenaut: I definitely use books like the Flavor Bible, it’s a great resource. I also go into the culinary world a lot, for example, if a chef mentions a word like gastrique, I research what it is and how it can be brought to the bar.

Also I look at what’s seasonal. At Beaker & Flask the chef has relationships with local farmers, so when an ingredient like quince comes in, we can use it for the bar program. Recently, the farmer dropped off some quince and we went right to work making a warm, winter, baking spice-type syrup with it. We also made a quince purée. Quince is such a fibrous fruit, you reduce it down with water and spices, add sugar and salt, then purée. We made that into a riff on a classic Dizzy Sour, but used two rums instead of Benedictine. Same goes for berries or any other fruits that are in peak season.

syrups and purées … what other techniques are you working on behind the bar?
We make chutneys, one that was inspired by a marmalade recipe found in The French Laundry Cookbook.

Once I wanted to use kombucha in a cocktail and spent 6 to 8 months making it at home … it smells bad, it’s tough to get right, the learning curve on it was tough. Then one day I found some commercial kombucha that was really good and made a cocktail out of it.

wow, a pro-biotic cocktail?
Exactly! Classic cocktails were made to get everything in the body moving the way it should, aperitif cocktails, digestifs … the old saying, just a spoonful of sugar makes the bitters go down.

so it’s about incorporating small twists on the originals ….
I love picking up classic cocktail books, like those written by Charles Baker. You look at the history of citrus and sugar and how those developed over time, it’s tough to re-create the drinks because ingredients change over time. For example, the Astor Hotel Cocktail with absinthe, maraschino and lemon … it was really over on the absinthe, but add some sparkling wine and rich sugar, you can turn it into a pretty neat cocktail. Variations on classics are always a good way to go. One hundred years ago the bartenders took their profession very seriously, and the flavors that they came up with stand the test of time.

The Chauncey’s Cocktail from the Old Waldorf-Astoria Barbook — made with rye, gin, sweet vermouth, brandy and orange bitters — sounds awful, but you put those flavors together and it’s really an enjoyable cocktail.

what’s the most off-the-radar ingredient you’ve put into a mixing glass?
Kombucha. I also made a hibiscus-grapefruit bitters that had some black and white peppercorns in it. I liked it so much that I ended up making a huge batch of it and used it for all different cocktails, in all different ways. Basically it was made as potable bitters, so I could use 1/2 to 1 ounce in a cocktail. At Beaker & Flask, we made it into a grapefruit soda by putting 2 ounces of the hibiscus-grapefruit bitters, 1 ounce sugar, a pint of fresh grapefruit juice and some water into a soda siphon — that was a pretty neat way to use the bitters.

We’ve worked with ingredients like tepache, a fermented pineapple water. At Teardrop, we hand-ferment our own tonic water by making a flavorful water with cardamom, peppercorn, yuzu — it’s herbaceous in itself — and then add champagne yeast and agave nectar, just enough to get it fizzy. At Beaker & Flask, we make a tonic syrup, that’s basically citrus, quinine and sugar, added to soda … it’s beautiful when made into a gin & tonic because the aromatics in the gin will shine. It’s neat to see those different approaches on a single ingredient like tonic. The same goes for grenadine. With Rose’s you’ll never get a wonderful cocktail, but a pink lady or jack rose can be something amazing when made with controlled homemade grenadine.

Your drinks seem to tell a story, where do you find your inspiration?
Whenever I name cocktails, I try to bring a story into it. The story romanticizes the cocktail and brings a uniqueness to the drink. The name is just as important as the flavor and the color.

A great example is a drink I made at Teardrop called Learning To Tie — my daughter is 7 now, but when she was 5 years old, I was working on making a cocktail with flavors that I knew would work, but everyone else thought would not. I worked on it every day, with variations on ingredients and measurements during the same time I was teaching my daughter to tie her own shoes. The day she tied her shoes for the first time, I went to work and picked a recipe and said that it would be the Learning To Tie cocktail. I always told that story whenever I sold the drink. A lot of times with names, it’s the hardest thing in the world.

There’s another drink called the Sauracher, it’s rye, Campari and a squeeze of lime. I didn’t think that drink would work, but a regular customer of mine always asked for it, so I ended up naming it after him.

what’s our experience going to be like if we sit down at your bar? do you have a signature cocktail flight or go-to drink?
I want to figure out what people want to start with: stirred, shaken, citrus, no citrus. I always start with a classic cocktail before I create one for someone. If someone likes citrus, my go-to is a Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum daiquiri. If they want a spirituous cocktail, I’ll go with a Vieux Carré. Then I’ll move to my signature cocktails, like the Sauracher or the Ephimeral that’s made with Ransom Old Tom gin, Dolin Bianco Vermouth, a barspoon of St. Germain and celery bitters. It’s built around the Old Tom gin because of its heavy cardamom notes.

Dave suggests pairing the Main Course cocktail with braised lamb shank. We suggest cutting straight to the point with a lamb shank garnish.

The Main Course

Raise your glass for a Portland-style toast with this David Shenaut signature cocktail. Stigibeu!

  • 3/4 ounce Rittenhouse Rye 100
  • 3/4 ounce Amaro CioCiaro Liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce Pechuga Mezcal
  • 1/2 ounce Pedro Ximénez
  • 8 drops Jade Absinthe Edouard
  • Lemon and orange zest
  1. Press the zest into the bottom of a mixing glass with a muddler to release the oils.
  2. Combine all ingredients with with ice and stir until chilled.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.