“GAME ON” THIS SPRING!
I have to admit, there’s something really special about the start of a new season in Los Angeles, and it has nothing to do with the weather or plant life blooming, instead it means that a whole new batch of creative cocktails will be at our disposal courtesy of the mad scientist kids at 1886 Bar at The Raymond in Pasadena.
Although these handcraft cocktail experts, sure you can call them mixologists, always outdo themselves, and really put just about any other local (and I dare say national) cocktail program to shame, this new lineup, which they’re calling their Spring drinks, really impresses. While every season always has a theme (in theory anyways, I’ve been skeptical about a few in the past), the story goes that the Spring libations were inspired by classic video games and these new dozen drinks feature house-made Meyer lemon, rosemary, chamomile, butterscotch cookie, and banana infusions.
“This is a brand new idea for us and we really wanted to come up with something old-school and visually pleasing,” says 1886’s Head Barman Brady Weise. “Everyone knows Mario and Luigi; they’re part of pop culture. I remember when I was a kid and my neighbor got a Nintendo, I was so excited. I ran over there every day and watched them play Super Mario Brothers. So we thought it would be cool to have a tie in that everyone knows visually, and also have a childlike play on something that is adult. It is part of the continuing evolution of what we do at 1886: Insane, but fun.”
Even this season’s physical menu impresses; think Pac Man. Just right off the bat they’ve scored big time. And from there, it only gets better. This season’s liquid offerings are presented as Shaken, With Citrus; Stirred, Aromatic; and Tall, Refreshing. Taking in all the drinks at my disposal, I just started with the first on the list—Bowser’s Brew by Peter Lloyd Jones. And go figure, it was probably my favorite of the new drinks. Served in a Maplewood-smoked jar, this cocktail combines honey, lemon and bourbon. Once you have the drink in hand, you shake it vigorously for eight seconds then uncap and enjoy. As soon as we popped the top, we were reminded on the lovely scent of the 1886’s legendary Smoking Jacket—a drink no other bar in town can match. I’m sure that had a little something to do with me flipping for this drink the way I did.
I think the drink of the summer is Brady Weise’s Princess Toadstool’s Tonic, a malt cocktail with Pisco, Aperol, Dopplebock and lemon, and leave it to Brady to craft a delicate, pink lace around the glass. It has been awhile since Brady, arguably the best beer cocktail man in town, has made a brew drink, but he has now and he really upped the ante. While I’m not a big beer fan, I did sip the Dobblebock by itself and it’s nothing I would want to drink, but together as a cocktail, everything just came to life in bright, video screen Technicolor.
There’s a little something for every drinker on this spring menu, all of which weren’t up my drinking alley. The Punsch-Out! made with fresh squeezed lemon and lime juices, Kronan’s Swedish Punsch and house-made chamomile-infused rye was too sour for me. While Yoshi’s Island, a Manhattan/Martini style cocktail with Meyer lemon and rosemary-infused Benedictine, dry vermouth, house-blended orange bitters and Fifty Pound Gin, finished with a rosemary island, was too flowery for me. While I loved the Benedictine on it’s own (it’s so worth tasting) the drink itself was rosemary overload. And Luigi’s Mansion, made with Puya-chili-infused blanco tequila, fresh cilantro, cucumber, lime and a hint of agave syrup, came across like a sour, yet spicy green monster. No thanks!
Brady got crafty with the Rush’n Attack, which features house-made, locally produced olive oil vodka, a tomato-water ice cube, and a secret blend of spices. My first reaction was simply “wow,” he really managed to take the Old Fashioned to new levels. But, as Brady explained, let the drink sit for a bit and watch it morph, unfortunately it changed into a tomato mess for me. I really didn’t like the new taste. I say drink this one fast and enjoy its amazing flavor.
Gillian Georges, who was my MVP last season, has just one drink this time around but it’s a doozey. Her La Calavera is a spin-off on a favorite of mine, the Sazerac, but she uses reposado mezcal, reposado tequila, and aged Venezuelan rum with Creole and cardamom bitters. It’s super strong and because it’s so well balanced, comes across as tequila heavy. You should really think; do you want one drink or two, maybe three, during your visit? Because this bad boy just may do you in. Nice job, Gillian!
According to Brady, this was the most difficult cocktail to create. “La Calavera was the most challenging because it involves three different types of spirits, and we were trying to evoke a similarity to a cocktail that was already extremely popular,” he says. “We all had a hand in putting that one to the board, and trying to balance the mescal, tequila and rum was an intense process. There was a lot of work put behind it to create the effect we wanted.”
Another welcome presence on the new menu is Marcos Tello, a fixture at 1886 Bar since its opening. One of the most noted barmen in the business, Marcos made his Scotch Scout a family affair by creating it with his new bride Michelle Tello. This spin on a Manhattan uses shortbread cookie-infused 12-year scotch, Carpano Antica and a few drops of Benedictine. This is a stiff Manhattan and the cookie does help diffuse some of the bitterness; very clever.
“It’s a really cute drink because it’s kind of simple and straightforward in the style, but the garnishment is what really sells the drink,” Brady enthuses about the Scotch Scout. “It was created with a dessert in mind, but not the sweetness of the dessert, necessarily. So you get the honey and heather notes from the Scotch, and attach it to the buttery, chewy mouth feel of the cookie. Putting them together, the drink and the cookie, let our guests taste all of the drink’s notes in an entirely new way, which is pretty cool.”
Another Marcos and wife creation is the DK Daiquiri with banana-infused Selvarey Rum, fresh lime, and a touch of natural sugar. Marcos’ third drink on the menu keeps in line an 1886 Bar tradition, a variation of Pimm’s. This Pimm’s #13 is mezcal based and is muddled with fresh citrus, cucumber and mint, and topped with a hearty slug of Jarritos Tamarindo. This one is refreshing, goes down easy, and is just perfect for day drinking.
Rounding out this season’s drinks are the Angel of Darkness by Jesus Gomez, a combination of rye, sherry, lime, pineapple and maple syrup—think smooth, rich and lavish. And don’t forget Gregory Germenian’s Bucky O’Hare, a play on a classic buck (a ginger gale or ginger beer drink ala the Mule), this one features El Silencio mezcal, CioCiaro (a digestif amaro), lime, ginger and grapefruit soda. While this one is mezcal heavy, it’s very refreshing and tasty—a great combination.
While even Brady calls 1886 Bar a destination, the first rate drinks they crew continually craft make this little bar in Pasadena worth the sojurn.
“Moving into this menu, we wanted to do something interesting, but playful, fun and different all at the same time,” Weise offers. “It has to be, because we are a destination. Our guests come from Orange County and Santa Barbara just to have a drink with us, and it is because of the experience. They tell us all the time that we may not be on the beaten path, but they’re always going to beat a path back to our door to see what we do next.”
1886 Bar at The Raymondis located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave in Pasadena. Call 626-441-3136.
Photo Credit: Acuna-Hansen