Dispatch from the Back Bar: Ryan Magarian Guests at Pegu


While the cat’s away, as they say. Audrey Saunders may be sunning herself on some remote beach, but her cocktail lounge, Pegu Club, carries on without her. Last night, Portland, Oregon-based mixologist and Aviation Gin co-creator Ryan Magarian took over the bar, serving up a special menu of Aviation cocktails — including the extra-dry classic, the Jimmy Blanc — to such cocktailing heavyweights as Dale DeGroff, St. Germain founder Rob Cooper, and Raines Law Room drinks slinger Meaghan Dorman.

Fork in the Road caught up with Magarian this morning (read: afternoon) as he recovered from last night’s shift.

What are you doing in New York?

I’m in New York pimping my gin a little bit. And, to be honest, I’m here to see the US Open. I try to get behind bars in other cities as much as I can, and Audrey and I are good friends. She doesn’t usually allow too many bartenders from the outside world jump behind her stick, so it’s a real honor.

Aviation seems to be popping up in bars around the city. Is New York an important market for you?

Extremely important. I think New York is the center of the cocktail world, in terms of both execution and innovation. When you don’t have a ton of money, like us, you have to rely on what I like to call the “tastemaker trickle down.” We’ve been able to get our stuff into places like Death & Co., PDT, and Pegu. We also got into all of Danny Meyer’s places.

We recently talked to Gary Regan about the “new gin” debate. Care to weigh in?

Actually, I’m the one who came up with the idea for “New Western” as a new designation. When we created Aviation, we took a look at the definition of what gin is supposed to be and it looked like there was a whole lot of room for interpretation. Everyone was doing London Dry styles. But ours was something we couldn’t really define as London Dry. And there’s a whole bunch of gins that don’t fall into that category. So, I came up with New Western. I liked it because a lot of new gins come from the West. And these gins are really balanced. The juniper doesn’t overpower the other botanicals. Aviation is what I like to call a botanical democracy.

How does creating a new designation affect people who drink gin?

Designations are important when it comes to educating bartenders, and catering to the consumer. Gin sort of flatlined recently. In the minds of consumers, it has a single flavor profile. You need to do something to help people rethink gin. And it’s important for the people creating gin, like me. Some people take [experimentation] too far, making, like, cucumber-lavender-flavored vodka. Having this new designation protects the London Dry style, too.

What do you have coming up for Aviation?

We’re launching Aviation in Europe next month. We’re going to London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Paris. Actually, our best market is Australia. They aren’t geeky about categories there. They’re very flavor-centric. Delicious-centric.

How about a recipe from last night?

Of course! The Jimmy Blanc was the only real classic cocktail I served last night. I pulled it out of an old book. It’s really simple.

Jimmy Blanc

2 oz Aviation Gin
3/4 oz Lillet Blanc
3/4 oz Dubonnet Rouge
1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters

Combine the ingredients in a shaker or mixing glass with ice, and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a flamed orange disk.

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