TIS THE SEASON FOR WINTER COCKTAILS!
While the rest of the country is buried in snow and freezing their asses off, I wholeheartedly welcome winter because that means it’s the start of a new season and more importantly, an entirely new menu of cocktails from the brilliant yet mad scientists at 1886 Bar in Pasadena is upon us.
Known for creating original and complex cocktail concoctions, this season’s offerings come in three categories: Hot, Shaken, and Stirred. According to the official story, the winter libations were inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, a popular 1963 novel about a brat who wreaks havoc in his household and is punished by being sent to his room where he escapes to a jungle inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wild Things.”
“We’ve covered a lot of ground, and given a lot of attention to the basics over the years,” says Head Barman Brady Weise. “We started with shaken and stirred, expanded into elixirs and refreshers, and our last menu was based on dubstep. So we’ve reached the point of maturity in our program where we can riff on an idea. Our drink making has evolved. Some are wacky and push boundaries, but all of them are creative, so we started thinking about what represents that. As the team was discussing how the list came together, I thought of the line from the book that goes, ‘In the night, a forest grew.’ And someone said, ‘That’s it – Where The Wild Things Are!’ Not only do we use a lot of non-traditional techniques in handcrafting out cocktails, but we are all kind of wild in our own way.”
Whether that’s true or not, or if it’s just a good story is debatable, but the truth is that we go to 1886 Bar to drink and drink you will do, and love ‘em is par for the course when these mix-masters are behind the bar.
During our recent visit for wintery drinks, we started with two Stirred cocktails. The Bull’s Eye, a potent mix of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Nocino (walnut liqueur), and Crème de Cassis is a creation of Gillian Georges, formerly of The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel. This drink packs a punch; think of it as a mighty Manhattan.
Likewise, the Memphis Bound, concocted by Peter Lloyd-Jones mixes Fighting Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a touch of brown sugar and Memphis barbeque bitters served with a bacon and jalapeño garnish. This one, if you had to describe it, comes across as a very strong OId Fashioned. And I just love that bacon and jalapeño garnish, so tasty! Both of these drinks will get any party started right. These two bad boys are for drinkers who like their drinks on the stiff side.
Next we jumped over the Shaken side of menu and went with bartender Adam McLean’s The Wild Inside, a refreshing Collins with London Dry Gin, barrel-aged Genever, lemon, mint and pomegranate. Adam was my MVP when it came to the fall cocktails with this lively Gin n’ Roots, which paired to perfection with the tasty Pork Belly. Refreshing seems to be the best word to describe The Wild Inside, it’s like drinking summer in winter, which is just the way we like it in SoCal.
I claim Gillian Georges as this season’s MVP. Her stiff Bull’s Eye is a winner and her Moroccan Exchange, a tantalizing blend of Dos MaderasPX Rum, Nicaraguan 5-year Rum, fresh lime and harissa spices, served down on a rock of ice and finished with Smith & Cross, is simply delicious with an adventurous hint of spice.
In need of some sustenance, we split some savory menu items, including the Cheeseburger with tater tots, and the phenomenal Pork Belly. Satisfied and recharged, it was back to the business of drinking and let me tell you business was good.
From Brady Weise, a multiple MVP at 1886 Bar, comes From Prussia with Love from the Stirred selection. A potent pairing of blood orange infused vodka, Lillet Rouge, Benedictine and orange bitters—this drink is deceiving as a vodka drink, it tastes like a stiff sangria. And it goes down very easy
Unfortunately, not all of the winter creations are winners, at least not to my palette, as I wasn’t the biggest fan of Lloyd-Jones’ shaken Sao Paolo Fix, a unique hybrid cocktail using muddled lime, Cachaca and a heaping spoonful of St. Dalfour French blackberry jam, served with cracked ice and a mist of Navy-strength Smith & Cross. Sounds great but I found it too sour, almost with a guava taste, which I don’t want in my drinks. If it’s work to drink, I’d rather pass. The Hot Sangria, a blend of wine, cognac, and other botanicals, was on the Winter Menu for a hot second before being removed because of its complexity. But I managed to get a hot glass and didn’t care for it at all. I think the menu is stronger without it.
Beer lovers, especially fans of Hef, must try the Rico Suave created by Jesus Gomez and Saul Soto. “What I love about this cocktail is that it’s a riff on what’s considered to be classic Central and South American ingredients,” Brady explains. “So it calls upon an ancient Mexican recipe that uses fermented corn, pineapple and spices, then we compliment it with German Hefeweizen to make it a beer cocktail. When I was doing research on the history of the recipe I discovered it was an old Aztec way of making their own beer and spicing it up, so we just added to it to give it a full dimensional experience of flavor. It’s kind of like a Manhattan in that there are only three ingredients, but it’s incredibly profound in its construction.”
Because Rico Suave takes time to prepare, with a name like Rico Suave don’t expect it to be a flash in the pan, it is actually limited to two per customer to ensure everyone gets a taste. “We want everyone to have a chance to try it out, and we have learned from experience with drinks like the Coffee and Cigarettes that sometimes limiting them is the best way to ensure everyone has the opportunity to sample it,” Brady points out. “Plus, it is a traditional family recipe, and we want to honor that recipe by not taking shortcuts.”
My favorite drink of the night really surprised me. Again, it’s a Gillian Georges’ crafted cocktail but considering it makes use of mint, which I hate, it won me over easily. The Patty O’Green, from the Hot section, features house made hot cocoa, Fernet Menta, Marshmellow Espuma and a mini-candy cane, is so damn good. It’s probably my love of chocolate that beat out my hatred of mint.
I find the Hot drinks funny, sure it’s winter, but it is winter in Los Angeles, well Pasadena to be exact where it does get somewhat chilly. But do I really need a hot cocktail? It’s only cold if you’re sitting outside, and they do have heat lamps and I do have sweaters and jackets to keep me warm, but funny enough, I found most of the hot drinks to be spot on.
Another Hot winner is The Snowbird by Saul Soto, made with a creamy, pumpkin-spice Chai latte pepped up with some 12-year El Dorado Demerara rum, Lemonhart and a little cinnamon. I consider this one medicinal. I previously had this drink under the weather and I swear I felt better afterwards. Maybe it’s the Chai, I’m sure the alcohol doesn’t hurt, but this one will cure whatever ails you.
And finally, there’s Brady’s Czech Mate, a toddy featuring Becherovka (an herbal liqueur), tamarind reduction, and orange bitters served in an ornate ceramic mug that’s gilded in gold. This one is more of regular hot tea lovers
And kudos for the presentation of the hot drinks, which are served in very cool glassware. “When you look at cocktail culture, there are so many ways to serve a drink and so many different kinds of glassware to serve it in,” Brady says. “But when it comes to Toddy’s, the glasses all look the same and the drinks look the same because they are basically hot water, a spirit and a sweetener. There’s nothing wrong with that, but at 1886 we want to get interesting and create an exciting presentation for our guests to enjoy.”
1886 Bar is located at The Raymond in Pasadena at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave. Hours: Sun-Wed 5pm to 10pm; Thur-Sat 5pm to 2am. Call (626) 441-3136.
Photos of: San Paolo Fix, Patty O'Green, The Snowbird, Hot Sangria (top photo) and The Bull's Eye
Photo Credit: Acuna-Hansen