The newly opened Rye House specializes in all-American spirits, such as, well, rye. But it also stocks premium applejack, which dates from the American colonial period. Lynnette Marrero (formerly of Freemans, Elettaria, and now the president of LUPEC), who created the cocktail menu with Jim Kearns (also of Freemans), talks brown liquor, fat washing, and drinking the strong stuff straight.
Would you say rye is the most classically American spirit?
Rye is one of the first American spirits. People were making it before bourbon. The owners [of Rye House] wanted to do this concept of an all-American menu. One of them is from Pennsylvania, which is big rye country. The other owner lives next to Flatiron. He’s been living next to a cocktail bar for five years, so now he’s really into good drinks.
What was your vision for an all-American drinks menu?
I’ve been traveling so much and getting to taste different things all over the country. We wanted to pull together some of the local, small-batch stuff we’ve come across, like the Laird’s [applejack]. Not many people are carrying the 7 1/2 and the 12-year.
I’ve heard people argue that applejack is the first true American spirit.
Sure. George Washington was making it. The Laird family has the oldest (family-run) distillery in the country. They’ve been distilling for, like, 300 years.
How did you come up with some of the cocktails?
When we were coming up with ideas at my house upstate in Beacon, Jim really wanted to do a “fat wash” (the process used to make, for example, bacon-infused bourbon) with chorizo. We chatted with Don Lee [of PDT and Momofuku Ssam Bar] about how to get the right balance, but we didn’t want to do an Old Fashioned [like Lee’s Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned at PDT]. Jim is obsessed with New Orleans, and we’ve had such great rum drinks there. So, he came up with the Creole Daiquiri (Old New Orleans 3-year Rum, chorizo-infused Sombre Mezcal, lime, pomegranate molasses, and cane syrup, $13).
When you started bartending, there still weren’t that many women doing serious cocktails. Are you glad this has changed?
Of course. We have two women working behind the bar [at Rye House]: Eryn Reece and Jane Elkins. When I got involved with LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), I started seeing all this talent emerging. Now, every bar has women bartending. [At Rye House], the plan was always to have a guy and a girl working together. Like me with Jim. It’s a good balance. Plus, men and women have different palates. And it’s good to see women shaking and cracking ice, just like the boys.
What sort of drinking trends have you noticed lately?
People are ordering a lot more spirits lately. Places like Mayahuel have gotten people so interested in tasting different things. Even though we developed a really nice [cocktail] menu, a lot of people are drinking the spirits neat. Part of the job is to find really great stuff to stock the bar with.
What about a trend you wish would go away?
All the restaurants have realized they should have a proper cocktail list. Everyone is elevating their bar program. But now [all the bartenders] are wearing the same uniform. Wearing a vest and tie doesn’t make you a good bartender. A lot of people wear the uniform without have the execution. It would be nice to see people making good drinks, but wearing regular clothes.
You don’t need a vest, suspenders, or handlebar mustache to shake up the drink recipe below: a seasonally appropriate Golden Delicious, from the cocktail list at Rye House.
(created by Jim Kearns and Lynnette Marrero)
2 oz Laird’s Applejack 7 1/2 Year
.75 oz honey syrup (2:1 honey to water)
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
In a shaker or mixing glass, combine all the ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously, and pour over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with an apple slice.