TWO HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE THIS SUMMER
The crazy mixology kids at 1886 Bar at The Raymond in Pasadena don’t like convention. Never satisfied with a simple cocktail menu that grows dusty as drinkers’ tastes evolve, their libation menu changes every season—always filled with a dozen brand new daring and dynamic drinks. And only at 1886 Bar would the summer menu roll out in August, well into the dog days of the season.
As soon as I heard the new summer drink menu was out, I was giddy all week long until I’d be able to sample the bar’s latest concoctions for myself. It was like a boozy Christmas and I just couldn’t wait to unwrap my presents. With anticipation comes expectation, and the staff at 1886 Bar, just off its impressive videogame themed spring menu, always manages to up the ante each season. Last summer was Tiki themed and featured probably one of the bar’s boldest and most adventurous cocktail menus. Since then, they’ve scaled their drinks back some—not going for so many ingredients per drink and focused less on deconstruction and molecular mixology.
Where to begin with my summer roundup? It should be noted that this summer drinks are all collaborations. Each drink is made by an 1886 bartender and someone from either the kitchen; a former bartender; or respected bartending peer.
“We have a really dedicated team that’s super-creative, and when I let them go to town, they really go to town,” 1886 head barman Brady Wiese explains. “This menu wasn’t my idea—it was all of the 1886 crew. They wanted to work with some of the bars that have popped up around town, and they wanted to work with the kitchen as well.”
And in keeping with this season’s theme it’s only fair to give out a co-MVP award and that goes to Jesus Gomez—a 23-year-old bartender employed at the bar since he was in his teens working first in the kitchen, then as a bar-back to finally as a resident bartender, and Peter Lloyd Jones, both of whom are credited with creating three solid cocktails separately.
Jesus, also known as Chuy, helped create three drinks on the new menu. His Calypso, which he crafted with Kelly O’Hare from nearby Sonny’s Hideaway in Highland Park, is a damn good mix of fig-infused Hamilton pot-still rum, El Dorado 12-year, Benedictine, Carpano and a blend of Angostura and tobacco bitters—think of this as an icy cold rum Manhattan.
Jesus and Kelly also teamed up on the Nine Pieces of Eight, a drink consisting of nine, count ‘em nine, ingredients, which you might think would be overkill but the proof is in the cocktail. A Tiki gem made with fig-infused black rum, 100-proof rye, bonded apple brandy, Cio Ciaro amaro, velvet falernum, honey, fresh pineapple, fresh lime, and fresh white grapefruit juice, this gets two thumbs up from me and would make Isaac Washington from “The Love Boat” one jealous bartender.
A drink “The Love Boat’s” Isaac may have loved but I didn’t (I never thought of Isaac as much of a bartender) was the Savory Pina Colada. This was even more disappointing considering it’s a Brady Weise creation—and the 1886 Bar honcho rarely ever fails. A bland drink, it didn’t meet the standards set from last summer’s menu, in particular Greg Gertmenian’s Deconstructed Piña Colada, or the Strawberry Colada on Fire.
Likewise Gillian Georges’ French 86, crafted with pastry chef Isaac Carter, tasted like a decent champagne cocktail but, honestly, I expect more from Gillian (a former MVP of mine).
But Gillian and Brady scored big with their Pousse Café, a layered cocktail that’s a perfect blend of amaro, apple brandy, Campari, cognac and topped with homemade espresso cream. This is a damn killer coffee cocktail that’s also great as a digestif. Fun fact: for a real adventure, try the “professional version” of the Pousse Café, which adds a whole egg yolk to the mix.
“This was a product of Gillian and I really geeking out,” Wiese says. “It is one of those really interesting drinks that people don’t understand when they see it on the menu but they get it when they taste it.”
I’d say the Pousse Café is almost the perfect liquid dessert but that prize goes to Greg Gertmenian and The Raymond Sous Chef Chris Hoey for their Frozen Hot Chocolate. Made with whole Mexican chocolate, dark chocolate, and unrefined Mexican cane sugar, all chopped and melted together, combined with hot milk steeped in whole star anise, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, and spiced with reposado tequila, it’s served frozen like an ICEE and topped with homemade whipped cream. Damn good!
The prize for most ingenious drink goes to the team of Selene Martinez and Lacey Murillo (the creator of the famed Smoking Jacket) for their A Tale of Two Cities. This is actually two drinks made with bonded apple brandy and rum—one is shaken and the other stirred. Showcasing different expressions of the Eucalyptus, it’s fascinating to see the difference in taste just by how it’s prepared. I love the complexity and imagination involved.
While two other drinks didn’t wow me, The Age of Piracy, and the Pasteque Juane (too medicinal for me), there are three potent bad boys co-crafted by this season’s co-MVP Peter Lloyd Jones that will make anyone looking for a stiff drink happy. His 36 Chambers is a solid, smoky sensation made with Hakushu (peated) Japanese whiskey, Yellow Chartreuse, Averna amaro, tobacco tincture, and combusted lemon oil served in a frozen, incense wrapped glass. Kudos to its creators Peter Lloyd Jones and Sonny’s Hideway’s Jesse Phillips.
The same duo also created the Abandon Ship, made with cognac, 100-proof rye, 150-proff rum, Cynar, fresh lime juice and fresh passion fruit, served in a goblet of cracked ice with a flaming, seaworthy garnish. Love the presentation! While you might think this would be very boozy and perhaps too potent, it’s all about balance and everything really comes together here.
Last but not least, Peter Lloyd Jones and Isaac Carter really scored with their Blue Sky, a potent punch of mezcal, reposado tequila, fresh watermelon juice, and habañero-infused vanilla syrup. This, along with the Calypso and the 36 Chambers are probably the best boozy cocktails on the summer menu.
I love marking the change of seasons by the new drinks at 1886 Bar—not sure if this means I have a problem. Either way, I’m a happy camper with a whole slew of new drinks to choose from. While it’s sad to see some of our old favorites go (what, no more Bowser’s Brew, or Princess Toadstool’s Tonic?), it’s great that these new gems will be available until fall, which should be just about when winter starts.
1886 Bar at The Raymond is located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave in Pasadena. Call 626-441-3136.
Photography by: Acuna Hansen