Tonic Lab 2017

It’s been a busy few months for Bittercube! Thanks to support from Bombay Sapphire, Nick and Ira have been traveling across the country and Canada, visiting bars and collaborating with hundreds of bartenders to create unique customized tonics for use behind their bars.

Below is a list of the bars by city that participated in a Tonic Lab (Canadian cities will be added soon). Scroll down the list to find your city. And then go forth and support these talented bartenders by drinking cocktails made with their custom tonics!

Cheers to the First!

While celebrating the upcoming nuptials of Ira and his wife Kara, the Bittercube guys took a stroll down memory lane, talking about their first and most important cocktails.

Nick’s Cocktail: Jackson Pollock

This cocktail is the first that I was proud of and it came to fruition because the chef at Talk Town Diner had been using basil oil as a garnish on his fish plate. We were always focusing on what we could bring to the bar from the kitchen and this was one of those aha moments.

The formula as you see it now is very different than the original as I had pretty poor technical skills and classic cocktail methodology at the age of 26. It wasn’t until meeting Ira that I found out why a jigger was important and that powdered sugar shouldn’t go in drinks all the time. To this day, the Jackson Pollock is a staple in our Bittercube repertoire 9 years later.

I created this cocktail for the 2nd Bombay Sapphire Cocktail Competition in Minneapolis circa 2007. Although the cocktail is a winner, I lost.

The Recipe

Jackson Pollock x250
12 oz Grapefruit juice
14 oz Lime juice
12 oz Simple syrup
1 12 oz Bombay Sapphire Gin
12 oz Sparkling Wine
1 dash (1 eye dropper) Bittercube Jamaican #2 Bitters

Garnish: Paprika & Basil Oil

Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine in cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and short shake. Add sparkling wine to shaker and give it a quick stir. Place Hawthorne strainer on top of shaker tin and strain cocktail through tea strainer into glass. Garnish with a few drops of each oil.

Ira’s Cocktail: Six Corner Sling

The Six Corner Sling was the first cocktail that I was really proud of. I worked on it for quite a while and once I felt it was getting close, I made it for my partners in crime at The Violet Hour in Chicago, Stephen Cole, Kyle Davidson and Michael Rubel. The first guest that tasted it was a regular at the time, and now friend and huge Bittercube supporter, Karl Davis. I could always count on his honest feedback.

This drink was a riff on the Bittered Gin Sling found in Eric Felton’s How’s Your Drink and is still a Bittercube favorite. The spirit is Old Overholt Rye (much to the chagrin of Rubel), with Punt e Mes, lemon and Green Chartreuse.

The Recipe

Six Corner Sling
¾ oz Lemon juice
¾ oz Simple syrup
1 12 oz Old Overholdt Rye
¾ oz Punt e Mes

1 eye dropper Washington Island Bitters
1 eye dropper Bittercube Orange Bitters

 18 oz Green Chartreuse
Top: 1 oz Seltzer

Glass: Collins with ice
Garnish: Orange and Lemon Peels expressed and inserted

Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Fill Collins glass with ice and pour Chartreuse over ice. Add seltzer to cocktail shaker. Place Hawthorne strainer on top of shaker tin and strain cocktail through tea strainer into the glass. Express orange and lemon peels and insert in glass.

Marco’s Cocktail: Daiquiri

I don’t think I’ve mastered any of them but I do remember the first cocktail I butchered was a Daiquiri.

I was making it for Nick & Ira and shaking terribly. I was a ripe nineteen year old, my first time holding a tin set, and the first day of training for the upcoming Eat Street Social in Minneapolis. Those two staring at me from the other side of the bar was the most terrifying thing I had experienced.

After finishing (I wince at using that word, I’m pretty sure they gave me pity and let me go) I went and smoked as many cigarettes as I possibly could, took a nip, then walked back in deciding that I wanted to be better at this. I hadn’t been around individuals that held such conviction & passion in a long time, and at that moment I was hooked. Haven’t looked back since.

The Recipe

¾ oz Lime juice
¾ oz Simple syrup
2 oz Plantation 3-Star Rum
1 dash (1 eye dropper) Bittercube Jamaican #1

These days I drop the 3-star to 1 oz and do a half oz of two more rums –one that has some French hogo and one aged that is more Spanish/English colonial.

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Lime Wheel

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Fill with ice and shake. Place Hawthorne strainer on top of shaker tin and strain cocktail through tea strainer into glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Brandon’s Cocktail: 5th Ward Gimlet

I don’t remember my first cocktail but my favorite cocktail when I first started with Bittercube at the age of 26 was the 5th Ward Gimlet at Blue Jacket in Milwaukee. I made this drink for Nick, Ira, Marco and the entire front of house staff.

Our training involved timed trials where we made multiple cocktails at a time from the menu. This was one of the most nerve wracking experiences in my initial bartending training. We were all given a set of different cocktails to make for the training. I remember my hands not shaking as much as during the Seven Pillars training, which gave me the tiniest bit of relief, but then I was asked to make two stirred cocktails and two shaken simultaneously. When the clock starts, I begin building my drinks and sweating as all my coworkers stared into my soul. I clearly remember Marco telling me to look up. When he showed me how to stir and shake he said “Look up at your guest, smile and wink”. I thought to myself, I will never be as sexy as him.

The Recipe

5th Ward Gimlet
¾ oz Lime juice
1 oz Lavender syrup
2 oz North Shore Mighty Gin
1 dropper Bittercube Door County Hops Bitters

Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Lime Wheel

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake. Place Hawthorne strainer on top of shaker tin and strain cocktail through tea strainer into glass. Garnish with lime wheel.


Featured Bartender: Shannon McSwain

Shannon_McSwainWhen did you begin your bartending career?

I began bartending shortly after moving to New Orleans. I had been working in bars for years in every other front of the house position, but had been patiently awaiting an opportunity to jump behind the stick. Finally I had my chance at a bar in the French Quarter where staff worked as both bartenders, servers, hosts, and food runners simultaneously. It was a challenge I was excited to face and I took to it quickly.

What is your favorite bar right now? And why?

My favorite bar at the moment–and possibly forever–is Maison Artemesia in Roma Norte, Mexico City. I had the opportunity to visit Mexico City when I won a trip to Tales on Tour 2016, and ever since I’ve wanted to return just to visit this bar. It’s a dark and candlelit gem with an intricate menu featuring something for every palate. The atmosphere had me entranced when I entered the bar, but the service was what truly won my heart. They welcomed us as though we were old friends and we belonged there. It was an unforgettable experience.

Where can we find your drinks?

I just opened a cocktail catering company called Pour Toi in New Orleans with Bar Tonique bartender Jesi Goodwin. We provide cocktail bar services for parties, weddings, events of any kind, really. You can find my drinks on our custom menus! 

What album are you listening to at the moment?

Lately I’ve really been back and forth between listening to Kendrick Lamar’s “untitled unmastered” album and “Black Messiah” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard, which is quite possibly my favorite vinyl record I’ve ever heard.

What is one piece of advice you have for home cocktail enthusiasts?

My advice to home cocktail enthusiasts is always a two parter. First, watch your bartender and ask them questions. It’s our duty as hosts to share our knowledge with you as our bar guest, whether that means recommending literature or sharing a recipe or technique. Second, get weird with it! Be fearless when experimenting with the information you’ve gained from asking those questions.

What drink do you want on your bed stand when you wake up?
I’m a big fan of ice cold club soda on a summer morning. It’s both hydrating and refreshing! And in the cold weather I’m always a big fan of a piping hot toddy, nice and stiff, with plenty of bitters.

If you didn’t bar tend, what other career path might you have chosen?

I would’ve been a dancer. I danced for years until I was injured and had to make a career change, which is how I made my way into bartending. No regrets, I’m happy as a clam working in this industry, but dancing was my first love and will always be dear to my heart!TheBoliwood

Here’s a tasty recipe to try!
The Boliwood
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
3/4 oz Garam Masala Syrup*
2 oz Sazerac Rye
1/4 oz Dry Orange Curaçao
8 drops Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
Top: 2 oz Club Soda
Glass: Collins
Garnish: Lemon twist
Shake ingredients and pour into a Collins glass, top with Club Soda and fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.
*Garam Masala Syrup
    3 oz sugar
    3 oz water
    1 tbsp Garam Masala seasoning
    Heat to combine ingredients, and strain. Makes enough syrup for about 5 cocktails.