Holding a bottle of St. Germain, Nesha Korak, the head bartender at Louie and Chan (303 Broome Street; 212-837-2816), recalls, “I have a special connection with this. I’m from Serbia — grew up over there, moved to the U.S. six or seven years ago. Elderflower juice is what our grandmas used to make. Every house had that, everybody’s familiar with that.” Korak adds with a smile, “It always brings me back to early childhood.”
Although Korak’s personal familiarity with elderflower can be chalked up to his experience living in the right climate, his development as a bartender — and the ability to stir up classic cocktails like the yellow jacket —came about through vigorous training and a deep appreciation for his mentors.
Korak started his career in New York as a barback at Macao Trading Co., a bar that offered him the chance to work alongside mixology veterans Dushan Zaric and Igor Hadzismajlovic of Employees Only, along with Mark Rancourt of Extra Fancy. Each of them taught Korak different elements of bartending that stayed with him throughout his career. One important piece Korak took away from his experiences was the art of making slight adjustments to classic cocktails.
Tequila is at the heart of the yellow jacket, a drink Korak describes as an adult cocktail “for real bar people. You don’t think about stirred tequila drinks,” Korak says. “I visited Mexico and I just fell in love with that stuff. It’s such a noble spirit, it’s soft, it’s sweet. Usually people think tequila is going to burn you, hurt you; you need a chaser, a lime, salt. But actually, it’s not like that.” The yellow jacket is a great drink to try as an introduction to tequila: powerful, but still gentle and citrusy.
The scent of smoke and slight taste of honey (from the highland tequila Korak uses) give the drink plenty of punch. Yellow chartreuse and elderflower (which has notes of passionfruit, grapefruit, lemon, peach, and pear) provide sweetness and give the yellow jacket its namesake hue. Korak also uses oil from lemon rind to coat the glass and for scent — which is likely the first thing you’ll experience with one sip of the drink.
Korak’s advice for those who want to chart their own course and mix the drink at home? “Don’t kill it with bitters. We don’t want to reinvent. We want to reimagine.”
Yellow Jacket by Nesha Korak
2 ounces reposado tequila (Nesha opts for Ocho tequila)
1 ounce St. Germain (elderflower liqueur)
3/4 ounce yellow chartreuse
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters
Pour tequila, St. Germain, and yellow chartreuse in a mixing glass. Add fresh ice. Stir for 10 to 15 revolutions. Take the lemon peel and twist it to release the oils on top of the drink. Coat the rim of the glass with the peel and place it in the glass, to carry the lemon scent throughout the course of the cocktail.