Cole Schaffer, beverage director at Neta (61 West 8th Street; 212-505-2610), isn’t just a fan of classic drinks. When Schaffer was looking for a way to pay homage to the classic whiskey sour and old-fashioned by adding Japanese elements, he turned to a master musical improviser: Jimi Hendrix. The guitarist, whose former studio sits across the street from the restaurant, wrote the song “If 6 Was 9,” a fact that moved Schaffer to think about creating a drink that begs the question: What if we look at our perception of cocktail reality a little differently?
However, unlike castles made of sand (as Hendrix might say), Schaffer needed ingredients with substance, specifically a sweet syrup that could hold its own. Enter oleo saccharum, an ancient citrus preservation technique that extracts oil from the rinds. Although it may seem like just sugar and citrus, the mixture really shines when stirred into drinks, achieving a balanced sweetness. Schaffer is a big believer in the powers of oleo saccharum, but it’s only one of the components that define his modified classic, which he dubbed What If 6 Was 8th, just in case customers lose track of where they are.
“You get this spiced flavor from the bitters and it goes into a potent sour and finishes with booze. Usually, you’re getting booze, citrus, sweet, then bitter; this drink is the opposite,” Schaffer explains.
When off his shift, Schaffer enjoys visiting Attaboy (134 Eldridge Street; no phone) for classic whiskey sours, and opts for a gimlet with egg whites. He enjoys making them for guests who want something with citrus but not necessarily a sweet drink. “When a customer really wants something that’s citrusy and bright but hates sweet, they want a gimlet, ” say Schaffer. One of his drink creations is a whiskey gimlet with yuzu, egg white, and Peychaud bitters.
What If 6 Was 8th by Cole Schaffer
1.75 oz Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey
.75 oz grapefruit-lemon oleo saccharum* (recipe below)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1/4 sleeve of Bittermens Mole bitters
Stir all ingredients in a glass and serve over ice with a lemon peel garnish.
Peel citrus that you want to use (lemon and grapefruit are recommended)
Massage peels with sugar of choice. A mixture of dark brown and white sugar goes best with a brown spirit. For gin or vodka, using only white sugar is recommended.
Massage peels and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Squeeze the peeled citrus the next day over the oils. Stir and let sit for another 24 hours. On the third day, strain into a container. According to Schaffer: “You can keep this in the refrigerator for weeks — months — and have a go-to syrup that can make a cocktail really expressive.”