The Dutch's Naren Young Talks Barrel-Aging Cocktails, Stealing Pickled Ramp Juice
Naren Young ramps it up.
After months -- or was it years? -- the Dutch has finally arrived. Foodies are duly losing their minds, but drinkies (you know who you are) are also flocking to the place. Head barman Naren Young enlightens us about what they're so excited about, including that barrel-aged cocktail you've heard tales of.
You're still at Locanda, but also getting the Dutch cocktail program off the ground. How are you splitting your time?
I'm stationed at the Dutch at least four to five nights a week, but still manage the seasonal cocktail menus at Locanda Verde.
What's good to drink at the Dutch?
Our focus, where possible, is on craft American spirits. Not exclusively, of course, but where we could find some really interesting, unique, artisanal spirits, we've certainly gone after these. American whiskey is a big focus for us also, whether it be white whiskey from Wisconsin, moonshine from Virginia, to corn whiskies, loads of bourbon, Tennessee whiskies, Canadian. As for the cocktails, we have a mix of classics and some originals of my own. We have a small list of 10 drinks that is well-balanced and hopefully has something for everybody.
We hear you're barrel-aging cocktails. What's up with that?
The first drink I've experimented with is the classic Brooklyn Cocktail (rye, maraschino, dry vermouth, Amer Picon), which we laid down in a five-gallon barrel for about five weeks. After that time, it emerged intensely dark and rich with a much deeper complexity than when it went in. People literally lapped it up. We sold the entire barrel in one week. Now I have three barrels laying down, which will rotate so we never run out again. It's essentially the Manhattan lover's Manhattan.
You also worked on the Teqa program. Is tequila something of a darling of the moment?
I'm not involved in that program anymore. But to answer your question, tequila has been on a slow and steady climb upwards because people are finally starting to realize what quality tequila actually means. For too long, people didn't know any better and were happy to drink nasty tequila just to get messed up. Now you can buy tequila for $300 a shot! Who would've thought?
Do you have a favorite spirit or ingredient these days?
I really like using fresh herbs in the spring because they add such beautiful yet delicate nuances to light spring spirits, such as blanco tequila, pisco, white rum, and, of course, gin. I am particularly proud of my Pickled Ramp Gibson right now, which is essentially a Dirty Martini -- which I hate! -- with the local Breuckelen Gin, Dolin dry vermouth, lemon bitters, and some pickled ramp juice that I "borrowed" from our chefs. It's selling much better than I expected and is an amazing partner to a plate of fresh oysters.
You also write about cocktails for magazines. What's your favorite booze book?
I really like Imbibe by David Wondrich and have read over that several times. He has an amazing way of telling the history of alcohol through the lens of what was happening socially during a certain period. And his style is very witty and humorous, which is refreshing. What do you think you would do for a living if you weren't a bartender?
Something in the booze industry. I love it too much. Perhaps I would focus more on my career as a journalist.
Any ideas on what the future of bartending holds? Exotic ingredients? Cocktail dens on the moon?
There's always going to be people pushing the boundaries of what's possible in terms of flavor manipulation and techniques. And that's great. But I would like to see things go back to basics, where being a bartender meant providing a simple, wonderful drink without all the pomp and ceremony that often accompanies that experience nowadays. I would like to see more old-style saloons that serve wonderful cocktails, interesting beers, excellent pub-style comfort food, perhaps a jukebox or live music, bartenders that can hold a conversation, and where the only rules are "there are no rules."
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