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A Generation Gap, Shaken and Stirred
Sara Deseran | Photo: Maren Caruso | May 1, 2014
What happens when a panel of judges blind-tastes three drinks made by two experienced barmen hailing from two eras?
Nothing inspires generational conflict like a cocktail. Were things really better back when Don Draper swallowed Old Fashioneds like jello shots, or have today's mixologists gilded the proverbial lily? To find out, we convened a judging panel of esteemed experts (94-year-old restaurant doyenne Ceclila Chiang; Jon Gasparini, 45, owner of Rye, Rosewood, and 15 Romolo; and wine and spirits writer Jordan Mackay, 43) and had them weigh in on concoctions made by old-school bartender Michael Frasier and new kid on the block Morgan Schick.
From the Old School: Michael Fraser, a resident of Cow Hollow but a fixture in North Beach. Currently at the bar of the new Original Joe’s, he worked at Washington Square Bar and Grill off and on over the course of six years, bringing with him a cast of regulars. Age: 68 Bartending since: 1968 Shake Style: A gentle one-handed move. Signature Cocktail: Ramos gin fizz Drink of Choice: Old-fashioned Tattoos: “None yet.”
From the New School: Morgan Schick, creative director of the Bon Vivants (the group behind Trick Dog), and former bartender at Nopa and Clock Bar. Age: 36 Bartending since: 1999 Shake Style: Two-handed, with a crumping-like vigor. Signature Cocktail: “None.” Drink of Choice: A shot of whiskey and a beer—“Something American.” Tattoos: “Too many to count,” including an olive “that was for my wedding but became my bartending tattoo when I got divorced.”
Ingredients: Templeton rye whiskey, Antica vermouth, Angostura bitters, Maraska cherry Judging notes: The froth from the cocktail being shaken is noted. The resulting color is compared to beer. However, Chiang reminds everyone that shaking used to be the way to go with a Manhattan. “If you heard shaking, you knew it was a good bar.”
Ingredients: Old Fitzgerald Kentucky whiskey, Cocchi vermouth, Angostura bitters, Maraska cherry Judging notes: Deemed nicely “sweet but dry” by Gasparini; the panel collectively prefers the stirred method used by Schick because it results in a less diluted drink. This one is given a unanimous thumbs-up.
Ingredients: Aviation gin, crème de violette, lemon juice, simple syrup, lemon twist Judging notes: Chiang finds Fraser’s lemon twist “overpowering and a little bitter.” Mackay loses focus and geeks out about the history of the drink’s name, pondering, “Is it about the color of the sky?”
Ingredients: Broker’s gin, Luxardo maraschino, crème de violette, lemon juice, cherry Judging notes: Schick throws a curve by making good use of vintage glassware. Mackay and Gasparini debate the presence of maraschino. (“There’s some,” says Mackay. “You taste the tackiness.”) Still, “you can really taste the ingredients in this cocktail,” Chiang says approvingly.
Fraser's Rum Drink of Choice
Ingredients: Bacardi cocktail—Flor de Caña rum, fresh lime juice, dash of Small Hands Foods grenadine Judging notes: This ’20s classic is deemed too sweet by Chiang. “Mai tais were the most popular rum drink at the Mandarin,” she says, also recalling a rum cocktail called the Dragon Lady. “it was named after me.”
Schick's Rum Drink of Choice
Ingredients: “No name” cocktail—Appleton Reserve rum, Flor de Caña rum, Laphroaig single malt scotch, crème de cacao, lime juice, bitters, graham cracker tincture, lime flower, flaming marshmallow Judging notes: “What is this?” says Gasparini, pointing to the marshmallow. “I thought it was feta cheese,” says Mackay, who doesn’t like the scotch in the mix.
Schick’s cocktails win hands down, though his flaming marshmallow drink doesn’t quite come together for the judges. Progress is good, but in this blind tasting, one key element is missing: the ability to shoot the breeze with a cadre of loyal customers—a skill that Fraser excels in, but one that Schick’s mixology shtick leaves little time for.
Originally published in the May Issue of San Francisco magazine.