One of the best choices I’ve made in life was walking into El Patio and asking for a job. Working at a bar made the most sense for me as a student at NMSU. The hours were right, the pay was fine, and the people were cut from the same cloth as myself. Of course it took me a while to understand the culture of the bar, so my first job was watching the door, followed by barbacking, and eventually bartending my own shifts.
I’ve always loved the idea of parties; celebrating with the people you care about most is one of the greatest things about being human. This happens in every bar all over the world every night, and I for one, find it to be a pretty special thing. Bartending has given me opportunities to create moments that will never be forgotten, ones that should be forgotten, and everything in between. I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada soon after graduation, planning to be there for a year or so, and stayed for nearly seven. I worked for a major casino, nightclubs, many small “local bars,” and eventually wound up at a local Italian restaurant named Nora’s (look it up next time you’re there). I took the job at Nora’s to supplement my income, knowing that my oldest son was arriving to this planet in a short nine months.
I had been a bartender at that point for nearly five years, but at Nora’s I would again become an apprentice under two of the world’s most renowned barmen. Gaston Martinez eventually became a national ambassador for a leading tequila company, and the other, Bobby “G” Gleason, is currently the Global Ambassador of Beam Suntory, the company behind Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Pinnacle Vodka amongst other fine spirits.
These mentors instilled in me the practice and professionalism that I would use to craft my creativity. It was the first time I had ever heard the term “mixology” and, to be honest, I thought it was a pretty silly word. I was a bartender from Las Cruces, from El Patio, and I was damn proud of it!
Eventually I grew an understanding of what mixology is and what it represents. The term has been thrown around, revered, and made fun of, depending on what circle you are running in. Mixology is simply an extended knowledge of the tools a bartender uses behind a bar; it’s a deeper look at the science of everything from yeasts and sugars to efficiency and proportions in preparation of a cocktail. Mixology is taking pride in every appearance and ownership of your actions behind a bar, as well as the development of the environment surrounding you.
Mixology, as far as I am concerned, means one thing: balance. Everything successful in life is dependent on balance. Making drinks is no different. As a matter of fact, it’s imperative for a bartender to acknowledge the existence of balance in a bar and it is his or her choice, whether at a house party, dive bar, or a five star restaurant, to control their room accordingly.
So what does all this have to do with making a freaking Cuba Libre? For me, every drink, whether a shot of cheap tequila or the award-winning Pink’s Hawk, tells a story. It has a journey, and while some may laugh at the idea of the romance of alcohol, I find it all to be artistic and often inspiring. Some art is bad, some is good, and some is remarkable, but it all serves a purpose. When I create a cocktail that somebody enjoys, I take it as an honor to be a part of that person’s celebration.
Here are a few cocktails for you to try yourself. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed creating them, and always enjoy them responsibly. Cheers!
The Bow’s Bulleit is a staple cocktail of the VIP lounge at Vernon’s Speakeasy in Albuquerque. Wallace Bow, for whom this cocktail was tailor made, came in one day requesting “something different.” Wallace’s preferred poison is whiskey, and more often than not, bourbon is the whiskey of choice, so for his drink I would use Bulleit 10yr. bourbon as the base spirit. Knowing that Wallace did not like overly sweet drinks, I then chose Aperol as the modifier.
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
.75 oz. simple syrup
4-5 fresh raspberries
.5 oz. fresh orange juice
1.5 oz. Bulliet 10 yr. Small Batch Bourbon
.75 oz. Aperol
Pour lemon juice and then simple syrup into a cocktail shaker. Next, muddle the raspberries. (Always do this before you add the rest of the liquid, otherwise it will be too difficult to muddle.) Add in the orange juice, Bulleit, and Aperol. Shake vigorously. Pour into a rock’s glass over ice and garnish with a few raspberries and a lemon twist. This is the perfect apertivo cocktail to serve while grilling out by the pool.
Sidebar tip: Balance is always the basis of a successful cocktail. In this case, balance comes in the form of sweet and sour. While there are plenty of different sour mixers out there, there is no substitute for fresh lemon or lime juice. Sweet can come in different forms as well: sugar, honey, and agave nectar, to name a few. Always start by adding the sour in your mixing vessel first, then add the sweet. The reason you do this is because your sweet ingredient will be heavier than your sour, and you can see the two separate.
This particular cocktail is one of my favorite drinks I’ve ever made. You can find this cocktail still being shaken up at the Secreto Lounge inside the St. Francis Hotel in Santa Fe. At the 2010 Shake It Up competition, hoping to win my second national championship, I named this drink specifically for the Secreto Lounge. I had recently moved back from Las Vegas and wanted to bring some notoriety to the bar. (Luckily I won!)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
.5 oz. simple syrup
2 slice cucumber (peel on)
1 slice jalapeno (remove seeds)
1.5 oz. Leblon Cachaca or Hornitos Plata Tequila
.75 oz. St. Germain Liqueur
Zeke’s Secret Red Chile Salt
Start with lime juice and simple syrup. Add cucumber and jalapeno and muddle. Add the base spirit (Cachaca or Tequila) and St. Germain and shake over ice vigorously. Rim a Collins glass with Zeke’s Secret Red Chile Salt and fill with ice. Pour over the ice and serve with a cucumber slice and NO STRAW! Zeke’s Red has four different types of red chile and other secret ingredients that you want your guests to taste to really make this drink special.
Sidebar Tip: Early in my career, I realized, not many markets had an understanding of the beauty of red and green, so when I would compete against the rest of the country, I’d use different spices to make my drinks unique. This is a relatively simple cocktail that uses the complexity of Zeke’s Secret Salt to really make it pop! Originally I used cachaça, which is a Brazilian rum, but have found, for New Mexico, tequila works just as good, or in many cases better. Leave the peel on the cucumber to add bitterness and take the seeds out of the jalapeno to subtract that over heat that some enjoy, but most don’t.
This drink was invented one night at Nora’s. Bobby G had been tasked to create a cocktail for every spirit the company holds under their umbrella (look it up, there’s a lot). As the lowest on the totem pole, my job was keeping track of the recipes. We began experimenting. After the first three cocktails, none of us particularly liked anything. Then we pulled out a bottle of Knob Creek. Gaston muddled some blueberries inside some lemon juice and simple syrup, Bobby added a little ginger liqueur and Knob Creek, and Gaston topped it off with peach bitters. I think we enjoyed a couple of these before moving on to the next one because the next day, we looked at my notes and there wasn’t much of anything that made sense after the Blueberry Creek.
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. blueberry/ginger syrup
1.5 oz.(Buddy’s Barrel) Knob Creek Bourbon
.75 oz. Dekuyper Peachtree Liqueur
In mixing glass, add all ingredients, shake, and pour over ice. Garnish with blueberries and a lemon twist.
Sidebar: Last year, Win Ritter of the Double Eagle hand-selected a barrel of Knob Creek in honor of his father Buddy Ritter and their family asked me to create some cocktails for his dedication. I was humbled to do so and I thought there couldn’t be a more appropriate cocktail than my favorite Knob Creek cocktail ever. The Double Eagle offers this legendary libation everyday at their historic bar if ever you feel the need to try it!
The Neighbor Maker
This cocktail was created out of necessity—to keep a party going. An old roommate of mine was having a birthday party, and his neighbor had made noise complaints. Twice. (We weren’t being that loud, I swear . . . really.) I reluctantly knocked on his door. He wasn’t too happy, until I offered him one of our specialty concoctions. He took a sip and we invited him to our late night cook-out by the pool. Eventually, he was the life of the party and even invited a couple of his family members to come play music. They stayed until the sun came up!
1 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
4-5 chunks of watermelon
3-4 basil leaves
2 oz. Effen Cucumber Vodka
In a mixing glass, add lemon juice, syrup, watermelon and basil, then muddle. Add Effen Cucumber Vodka, and shake. Pour over ice and garnish with some watermelon and basil leaves.
Sidebar: When Las Cruces magazine asked me to share some summer drink recipes, I immediately thought of this one. It’s so light and easy to make, but has so many levels of flavor. When they mentioned their brand new Neighbors home and garden magazine (the first issue is on newsstands now!), I knew we had to include it. It’s the perfect cocktail to share with neighbors you love or to make new friends with those you haven’t met yet.
From 2012 to 2014 I was fortunate enough to bartend a private party in New York City for a fashion company during Fashion Week. I had to make cocktails for 500-600 people, which meant squeezing 500-600 limes before the party started. Every year, I would make very beautiful, very fashionable drinks to match the attire. The first year, Bacardi was my partner, and I made this sensual cocktail that everybody loved.
1.5 oz. Bacardi Tangerine Rum
.5 oz. Cointreau
.25 oz. DeKuyper Strawberry Liqueur
1 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
.5 oz. Agave Nectar
Rimmed with Zeke’s Mango/Habanero Sweet Salt
Mix lime juice, agave nectar, Bacardi Tangerine, and Cointreau. Rim a chilled cocktail glass with Zeke’s Habanero/Mango Sweet Salt. Shake and strain straight into cocktail glass with no ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Sidebar tip: I have used this recipe for spring menus for different bars, but the new addition of Bacardi Tangerine has made it spectacular! The Mango/Habanero Salt adds the perfect blend of fruit and spice, while the citrus and strawberry dance across your palate with the grace of a Valentino model strutting down the catwalk.
Mixology Vocab Lesson
A base spirit is normally 80 proof (i.e. Vodka, Gin, Tequila, Rum) and serves as the engine of your cocktail.
A modifier is the secondary liqueur added to enhance the particular flavors of the base spirit that you would like to accentuate.
To muddle means to smash up ingredients like fruits and herbs using a pestle or muddler. This releases the juices and flavors.
Simple syrup is just sugar and water. To make add equal parts sugar and warm water and stir until sugar is dissolved.
Barbacking is the entry-level position in the bartending world. A barback keeps the bar stocked and assists the bartender while learning the tricks of the trade.