Sick of your usual call drink? Try something new. In this series, we’re asking the city’s bartenders to name their current drinks of choice.
Today’s call comes by way of Dustin Olson, beverage director at Forrest Point (970 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn; 718-366-2742).
For Forrest Point bartender Dustin Olson, coming face to face with a drink called the Jungle Bird wasn’t just about finding a tipple that epitomized balance (though that was an “A-ha” moment for him). The discovery also showed Olson that he was on the right path.
Olson supported his passion for the performing arts by working in the restaurant industry, slinging drinks and food in all sorts of establishments, from the type Pete Wells would review to sports bars. “Looking back at a career in the business that had been 20 years long, I decided to take things a little more seriously,” he says.
He had minimal experience with cocktails, though, and he wasn’t in tune with New York’s emerging cocktail scene until a chance encounter with Ward III’s Michael Neff landed him a spot trailing at one of the city’s best rum houses. That kickstarted a career shift to mixology. “Mikey Diehl. Michael Neff. Ken McCoy. Vincent Favela…I had a lot of people who were willing to teach me,” Olson says. He seized the opportunity and was immediately thrown into the thick of things due to the bar’s renowned bespoke cocktail menu.
“The bespoke program is trial by fire,” he says. “You need to get your templates and your classics down very quickly. A lot of what you are doing is snake-charming. At the end of the day, you’re using one of 10 templates.”
It was at Ward III that Olson learned about the Jungle Bird. “I rose through the ranks at Ward III with Mikey Diehl, whose knowledge of all things tiki made the slow Sunday shifts we shared a whole lot more interesting,” he says. “One night, he introduced me to the Jungle Bird as a rare example of a classic tiki cocktail that prominently featured a bitter element. I was hooked, and started making it for anyone who deferred to me for their choice of drink. Even those who didn’t necessarily enjoy it (which did not happen often) couldn’t deny that, at the very least, it had a whole lot to say. To me, it was a lesson in the glass…I’m not sure there’s a cocktail that provides a better lesson in using a bitter component to achieve balance. If I said I was making you a drink that had Black Strap rum, pineapple juice, and simple syrup in it, you’d likely book a dentist appointment before taking a sip. Yet with the addition of Campari, you have a drink that’s complex, delicious, and, yes, wonderfully balanced…I tasted it and I was like, ‘That’s a cocktail.’ ”
Olson also marveled at how seemingly disparate components worked together. “Black Strap rum is quite difficult to work with,” he says. “It’s got a very heavy maple component. It’s very rich. The maple overwhelmed everything. We had it in an atomizer….Pineapple juice and orange juice are a bit tricky. You’re dealing with a lot of elements here that can overwhelm a cocktail.”
Check out Olson’s recipe:
The Jungle Bird
A note from Olson: “The original recipe calls for 4 ounces of pineapple juice and Jamaican rum. From what I understand, it was Giuseppe Gonzalez who introduced the Black Strap, and recent versions call for 1.5 ounces of pineapple juice. Mr. Diehl prefers even less pineapple, and I concur. Here’s the one I make.”
1.5 ounces Cruzan Black Strap Rum
1 ounce Pineapple Juice (fresh if possible)
0.75 ounce Campari
0.5 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
0.5 ounce Simple Syrup
Build all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice, shake (with conviction), and strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with any tiki accoutrements you deem appropriate.
In addition to Ward III, Olson enjoys grabbing a Jungle Bird at Featherweight and notes that most competent bartenders should know how to make one, though “extra consideration should be paid to bars that employ fresh pineapple juice.”
Olson often follows that with a Haitian Divorce. “Tom Richter did a series of Old Fashioned variations using Pedro Ximenez sherry as a sweetener while running the program at The Beagle (RIP),” he says. “Thankfully, he’s brought them over to Dear Irving and Raine’s Law Room. You’d also be able to order them at Milk & Honey or Attaboy. My personal favorite is the Haitian Divorce.”
1.5 ounces Aged Rum (Barbancourt 8yr, ideally)
0.75 ounce Mezcal (Tom uses VIDA, from Del Maguey)
0.5 ounce Pedro Ximenez Sherry (Lustau)
2-4 dashes (depending on your dasher) Angostura Bitters
Build all ingredients in an Old Fashioned glass. Add ice (one large cube, if possible) and stir. Garnish with an expressed lime and orange peel.