Aaron Von Rock works as wine director of Lincoln Ristorante (142 West 56th Street), where he has also unveiled popular Negroni and prosecco bars. Von Rock took the time to chat about the challenges of running single-beverage establishments — and how a childhood of labor prepped him for a career in spirits.
How did you become interested in beers, wines, and liquors?
When I was a kid in Maryland, my mother used to make wine for the family. It was really horrible stuff, but it was a good way to see the whole process from beginning to the final product. So we were free child labor when we were growing up: We started stomping grapes at age three.
Did you live on a vineyard?
No. There was just an old vineyard on the hill near the house, and we thought we’d make some wine. In some years, when the grapes didn’t come along, they would make something like dandelion wine or blackberry wine. Apparently, there is a history in the Mid-Atlantic states of doing dandelion wine.
How did this affect your career?
You always have an advantage over your peers and colleagues when you have this kind of background experience. Then, I started meeting winemakers and producers. I thought they were really great people. They had a kind of generosity to their spirit and a real sense of community and history as well.
How did you come up with the idea of a Negroni bar?
Whenever you go to a big wine tasting with retail-store buyers, sommeliers, and the winemakers themselves, everyone is ready to drink anything but wine afterward. Some of these tastings are pretty big — you’re tasting 300 to 400 wines, so you really need something else to drink. Beer and Negronis were popular picks.
Sometimes you’d walk into a bar, and they wouldn’t have a lot of the ingredients for Negronis, and so they would use some similar ingredients and they’d taste like the classic ones. So we thought that we’d give guests the chance to make their own Negronis with a variety of ingredients.
How do you appeal to a wide range of customers with such distinct drinks?
Well, the prosecco bar is easy — it’s a little easier to have fun with. But I make sure that the recipes at the Negroni bar are something that can translate to a broad audience. Negroni isn’t for everyone — you have to have an appreciation for a bitter element. We like to make sure that there’s at least one selection among the Negronis that really negates the bitterness. We also rank the bitterness on the menu, so that you can get a Negroni with training wheels on it.