How'd you first end up getting behind the bar?
The challenge with low alcohol spirits like fortified wines and vermouths is that you have to get creative with them
Well, I love making cocktails for the same reason that I love to cook. You just end up mixing a bunch of different ingredients in order to find a balance between something that's sweet, something salty, bitter, savory, spicy. It's the same thing I do with cocktails. I know how to do cocktails with spirits and I know how to do them with low alcohol spirits. The challenge with low alcohol spirits like fortified wines and vermouths is that you have to get creative with them more than you would with the full range of a full liquor license. So, I just kind of find my way around it. I love to do it. I think it's fun. You're able to express yourself creatively as well, which from a front of the house capacity is far more limiting than it is from a back of the house capacity and it's not quite as direct. When you look at a menu, at a restaurant concept, it's kind of obvious what the chef is going for whereas with a beverage program it's a little bit more nuanced.
What are some of the ways you go about using low alcohol spirits?
What you have to do to be creative is you have to find a way to integrate syrups and purees and cooking ingredients beforehand so that you can get whatever flavor you are looking for in certain spirits. Basically, what you're not getting is the boozy punch, but you can always get the flavor. Our blueberry mint julep, which originally is a classic bourbon cocktail, rather than use it as the mixing ingredient we actually make a syrup for it. We cook down blueberries, sugar and bourbon - although not a lot of bourbon, you have to cook the alcohol out- and then you blend it and then you strain it. And so that's the base for the julep along with the mint syrup as well as prosecco. You blend it all together with the correct proportions and it ends up tasting like a blueberry mint julep. You're able to integrate the flavors of something that you know and you're familiar with into these cocktails. Our mojito is made with beer. We do a mint syrup, fresh lime juice, fresh muddled mint and we shake it up with beer. Is it the classic rum mojito? No, it's not, but it's refreshing, it's minty, it's limey and it's got a very strong reference point to it.
Why don't you guys have a liquor license?
If someone wants to give me $200,000, I'm down, fork it over, I'll serve you martinis all day long.
They're just so expensive. In the state of Florida you have certain laws that don't allow small restaurants to have full liquor licenses and they cost upwards of $150,000 depending on what city or county you're in. And in the city of Miami and in Miami Dade County there's a quota for them and in an area like this you reach a limit very quickly. In a small restaurant like ours that only has 55 seats, you can't justify the cost of investing $200,000 after all the fees into a liquor license without really guaranteeing a return on investment. I mean, we put $100,000 to build out this restaurant from start to finish, so the thought of having and additional $200,000 investment not knowing whether or not you'll get it back is a very risky proposition. For other restaurants with like 200 seats, it's a different kind of liquor license and it's far less expensive - that's why all the big restaurants have them and all the little ones don't.
you can't have your cake and eat it too is because they make it very difficult for you
We've had so many situations where guests are like, "well why don't you have a liquor license, what do you mean I can't get a martini?" And it's like, "well, I don't have $200,000 to pay for your martini." If someone wants to give me $200,000, I'm down, fork it over, I'll serve you martinis all day long. That would be amazing if someone was just like, you know what I really love your restaurant, but I'd love it more if I could have my Manhattan here so here's 200 grand ... consider it on me. Because this is still a growing city, I don't think people realize that the reason you can't have your cake and eat it too is because they make it very difficult for you.
Are there any particular ingredients that you're excited about using?
I'm doing a dry vermouth that's infused with the same flavorings of gin, so that it has like that flowery fennel, lemon zest, cucumber sort of note to it.
Oh my god, yeah. We're actually going to roll out our new cocktail menu in about two weeks and I'm super excited about it. It's the first change I've done in about eight months and it's very in tune with the season. I'm going to do a pumpkin spice old fashioned, a liquid pumpkin pie. I have something called a Southern Belle, which is with hibiscus and rose and then I'm doing a dry vermouth that's infused with the same flavorings of gin, so that it has like that flowery, fennel, lemon zest, cucumber sort of note to it. Kind of like a riff on a Cosmo like if a Cosmo grew up. For the original I actually used Hendrick's and it was just glorious, but sadly I can't do it here. The other thing I've been using lately is something called Agave wine, it's basically pre-distilled tequila. So liquor laws are based on distillates. Tequila comes from the Agave plant and they make Agave wine from this plant before it begins the distillation process to become tequila. That allows us to get the tequila flavor and it still has 24% alcohol.
Are there any drinks you hate making?
Anything that requires muddling is just an atrocious pain in the tush.
I hate making mojitos. You have to muddle. Anything that requires muddling is just an atrocious pain in the tush. You just want to pour it, strain it and garnish it, that's all you want to do. Anything muddled is horrible. When you ask for a mojito, you're not making friends.
How do you cut someone off when they've had too much to drink?
The reality is, I don't know if you're driving, you're not driving and it's my responsibility to gauge whether or not you've had too much to drink — ultimately I'm personally responsible for you if something happens to you.
I'm of the opinion that honest is the best policy. This happens to us a lot at brunch actually. People don't realize that when you're being over served, the establishment is responsible for you, the owners of the establishment are personally responsible and the person who served you is responsible. I say, "look guys I'm really sorry, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to cut you all off." And they're like, "why are you doing that, we're fine." The reality is, I don't know if you're driving, you're not driving and it's my responsibility to gauge whether or not you've had too much to drink — ultimately I'm personally responsible for you if something happens to you. And some people will like come at your face and be like, "I'm uber-ing it" and I'm like, "umm, I don't know that." Last Sunday, I was sitting next to a couple. The guy literally was like waving his glass in the air, snapping at the servers saying, "I want another mimosa," with like half a glass of mimosa left in his glass. The server was like, "I'll be happy to serve you another, just go ahead and finish your drink and I'll come right back." And he did it again. Being pushy about the mimosas is not cool. She's trying to do her job, she's trying to do the best she can to accommodate everyone's needs, but if he's drinking too quickly she's the one that's going to be responsible and she explained that to him. Upon doing so he went to the bathroom, puked in the sink, paid his bill and then his girl friend proceeded to puke in the shrubbery on the way out. Like, maybe you got up too quickly in the sun and luckily there's some shrubbery on the side of the restaurant and you just decide to vomit in it. The same couple that was being belligerent and aggressive about not being served fast enough. That's the kind of stuff that you have to deal with, so you need to stand your ground and say, "I'm sorry, but I have to cut you off." If you're puking in a sink as opposed to a toilet and on top of shrubbery, what faith do I have that you're doing to get home safely in a car? Crazy things happen in a restaurant when you serve alcohol.
When you're bartending what's your favorite bartender tool?
I have to say the tin, I love shaking cocktails and straining them. There's something about shaking it, knowing that you just shook it enough and there's enough water in it and all the ingredients are in balance and then you strain it into a glass and garnish it. The whole process of it, nothing like crazy ... I don't need a double strainer or something like that, just something to build your cocktail and properly strain it.
If it's my first time at The Federal and I'm going to order a drink what should I order?
Originally, I would have said the Ani Palmer, but I'm so excited about the Southern Belle that I'm going to suggest that. It'll be out in two weeks.
Where do you like to go out for drinks in Miami?
I have to say The Gale. I like going there. More so than Broken Shaker. Broken Shaker has too many people. I don't like crowded places at all. Julio [Cabrera of Regent Cocktail Club], I've known Julio for so many years at this point and it's always nice to see a familiar face.