Who says you need hard alcohol to make a great cocktail? Leif Huckman, the beverage director at the newly opened Goat Town in the East Village, spills the beans on the hardest-tasting soft drinks in town.
Tell us about the beverage program at Goat Town?
We have a beer and wine license, but we wanted to put forth an actual cocktail list that would stand up to regular cocktail lists. So, the initial challenge was how to create cocktails using only beer and wine products, including wine-based digestifs and aperitifs, which have been the backbone of a lot of these cocktails. Some were obvious than others — like the Shandy is a no-brainer.
More on those hard booze-free cocktails …
There’s a few that are a little more experimental, for lack of a better word. Like the Stout ‘n’ Stormy. It was a way to create a Dark ‘n’ Stormy without using dark rum. It’s a pretty good-looking drink, too, because it’s layered. It has a mix of ginger syrup and lime juice, and then a pull of Keegan’s Mother’s Milk stout.
Goat Town is primarily a restaurant. What are some of your favorite food and drink pairings?
As far as the cocktail list, I’m more old-fashioned. Although I think things like a Shandy is great as a first-course item — a salad that might have a citrus vinaigrette or something like that — [I prefer to pair food with wine or beer]. I’ve been creating a beer and wine list that is very much aware of the food that we’re serving, and it’s all stuff that’s going to be able to complement the cuisine that’s coming out of the kitchen. A pretty traditional English pairing that you don’t see very often over here is serving oysters with porter.
What are some of the drinking trends that you’re excited about these days?
You see the proliferation of the speakeasy-style bar on every corner nowadays. I don’t really get into the suspenders and mustache-twirling bartender rhetoric anymore. But what I do appreciate about it is how much in line that pre-Prohibition style is with this farm-to-table ethos that’s coming through in cuisine that you see at places like ourselves, like at Marlow & Sons, like at Prune.
Go on …
There is more care given to the ingredients in the actual cocktails, to the sourcing of them and the seasonality of them. Once we have our garden going — we’ll start growing stuff this spring — the idea is to create the most local dining experience you can have. It’s going to be really fun to be able to walk into the restaurant at the beginning of the day and see what’s just bloomed and then decide, “What kind of cocktail am I going to make today?”
Are there any trends you wish would go away?
It’s nothing that needs explicit criticism. Some of the pre-Prohibition bartending brought with it a certain amount of pretense and a return of useless flair bartending that never was cool. I don’t think anyone was ever fooled by it. It’s something that will go by the wayside.
If you were on death row and allowed one last drink, what would it be?
A Ramos Gin Fizz. Twelve minutes of shaking. Not a second less.
Do you have any advice for the home bartender?
You should always have Plymouth gin. I think Plymouth is just a great mixing gin to have at home. You should always have ice. There’s a million different flavoring additives, including vermouths, but have one or two of your favorites on hand. For me, I can have a bottle of gin, a bottle of vermouth — dry and sweet — and some bitters and some ice. That’s kind of all I need to come up with good stuff.
Is there anything coming up and the restaurant that you’d like to mention?
We are going to be a part of what’s called Good Spirits and that’s on January 25 at (le) poisson rouge. We will be showing off some of the cocktails that we’re doing over here and some of the food, as well. It’s open to the public, so if anyone’s around they should come by. It’s a way to check us out if they haven’t stopped by our restaurant yet.