Meet the Bartenders: Andy Luymes and Chris Burkett
The guys from JSix just want you to give gin a chance
Chris Burkett and Andy Luymes | Photo by Kelly Davis
Whenever folks ask me to list the best places to get a cocktail in San Diego, JSix always makes the cut. Over the last several years, there’s been a string of talented folks running the restaurant’s bar program: Lauren Lathrop, Nate Howell, Chris Burkett, and, now, Andy Luymes.
I sat down for a Q&A with Luymes and Burkett, who was recently promoted to JSix’s manager. I’m a big fan of Chris Burkett. His cocktail menus at JSix and La Jolla’s Cusp (Howell, Burkett, and Luymes are all Cusp alums) were smart and inventive—each drink told a story (and, thanks to Burkett, I’m now a fan of sherry cocktails).
Not to say JSix isn’t in good hands with Luymes, who’s currently working on his second menu for the restaurant. His first menu—check it out while you can—includes a range of accessible cocktails and nuanced drinks that exhibit the same creative thought as his predecessors. As Burkett said of Luymes, “We’re on the same page when it comes to cocktail creation.”
Anything about Andy in particular that made you confident he was the right guy for the job?
Chris Burkett: Knowledge. Andy—not to fluff his pillow right in front of him or anything—is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to spirits, beer, and wine. He’s very passionate about what he does and you can see that in the cocktails he makes. His customer interaction is really good, always spot-on.
Andy, since you’ve been here, what have you learned from Chris?
Andy Luymes: Chris definitely commanded everyone’s respect at Cusp when I started there, and everyone I talk to in the [bartending] community knows Chris and knows his reputation, so coming down here and getting to work with Chris… I definitely get a lot of mentoring. What I’ve learned is there’s nothing under the sun I can come up with that Chris doesn’t have a version of. If I have a creative spark, I can run it by Chris and he’s got practical experience and advice. Like, for a cocktail on [the current menu], I made a vanilla Coke reduction. I thought, Oh wow, this is really creative, and he’s like, “Oh, I did that before.”
Chris: We’re on the same page when it comes to cocktail creation.
What’s your favorite cocktail on the current menu?
Andy: I’m actually kind of partial to the Jorge Romero (Vida mezcal, Cocchi Americano, orange curaçao, fresh lime). It’s basically a mezcal Corpse Reviver.
Chris: And it’s a great name.
Andy: It’s an interesting twist on one of my favorite cocktails. It’s one of those that’s on there for me to kind of boost my cocktail bona fides, I guess. Some of these are a little bit more approachable and sort of crowd-pleasers, but that one’s one for the cocktail nerds, I guess. The most popular one, I think, has been the Liz Lemon (Belvedere vodka, Aperol, honey, fresh lemon, and orange), which is basically just a fancy version of an Aperol Spritz. It’s a good cocktail, but it’s a vodka cocktail. It’s one for people who aren’t necessarily as adventurous—which there’s nothing wrong with—but that’s one that’s more approachable.
Do you have a favorite?
Chris: The Jorge Romero is definitely up there for me. That and the Mexican Air Force (Espolon tequila, Cynar, Averna, fresh lime) I dig a lot. Both are very similar in the way that they’re built. The Cynar and Averna work really well and they’re balanced out nicely with the tequila. The agave still shines through, the amaros aren’t overpowering.
Any spirits or liqueurs you’re currently excited about? Any new discoveries?
Andy: I like the Chareau Aloe Liqueur. We’ve got that in Kiss It Make It Better (Aviation gin, Chareau, yellow chartreuse, agave, fresh lime). It’s aloe-flavored. It’s an L.A. spirit, so it’s relatively local. It’s got some refreshing, sort of floral things going on, similar to a St. Germain but not quite as perfume-y and overpowering. It’s more subtle.
Chris: I love [the Chareau] myself. It’s a lot of spearmint flavors, a lot of honeydew melon. As far as flavored spirits, there’s a lot of crap out there, especially with coffee liqueurs and all that. St. George makes a wonderful coffee liqueur [he pulls out a bottle of St. George’s NOLA Coffee Liqueur]. Old Harbor started making a coffee liqueur as well and it’s phenomenal. Michael [Skubic, Old Harbor’s founder] does a great job. Well-made cordials are kind of my thing right now—cordials that take the time to get away from something like this [he holds up a bottle of Bailey’s] and do something like this [holds up bottle of St. George’s NOLA]. There’s no ethanol flavoring, there’s no medicinal qualities, there’s no added sugar—it’s just nice, great coffee soaked in booze.
Fill in the blanks: I wish people would stop ordering ___________ and instead try_____________.
Andy: Stop ordering vodka and try gin instead. Anytime you put a gin cocktail on the menu, you’re guaranteed to get somebody who wants to sub it with vodka.
Chris: Stop ordering Moscow Mules and instead trying a Last Word. Southern California in general seems to be obsessed with Moscow Mules. But a Last Word or a daiquiri are very similar to the flavor profile of a Moscow Mule and much more interesting, and it would get their palate used to rum and gin and chartreuse—more fun, interesting spirits.
But people tend to think of a daiquiri as something you’re going to whip up in the blender.
Andy: And with a Mai Tai, they think they’re getting some nutty….
Chris: …multicolored thing
Andy: One of the first things I learned bartending out here, if you even look at a vermouth bottle when you’re making a martini, Californians freak out. A real, gentlemanly martini has a significant amount of vermouth in it.
Chris: When I was bartending, I had to ask: “Do you want vodka or gin?” If they wanted vodka, it meant they didn’t want vermouth at all.
Though, some people have had bad experiences with vermouth.
Chris: Back in the ’80s and ’90s, when that bottle of vermouth was sitting out, unrefrigerated for months.
What’s the cheap one?
Andy: Martini & Rossi?
Chris: Which actually is a good vermouth if it’s stored and kept properly. Last night I had Martini & Rossi just neat by itself. I love it. If it’s fresh, it’s great.
When you’re not at JSix, where are you hanging out and what are you drinking?
Andy: I live in PB, so the place I can get to that has a really good cocktail program is The Patio on Lamont. I’ll order either a Sazerac or a Negroni, or something like that. A Sazerac is one of my go-tos. If I’m trying to figure out if a bartender knows what he’s doing, I’ll order a Side Car, because I think that’s a good test. Equal parts is the general recipe, but a little bit of bartender-y flair will get you a long way with that drink.
Chris: I bounce around. It depends on what I’m doing. I’m a big pool player, so if I’m playing pool, I’ll hit up Hamilton’s and grab a beer and play pool. I had a buddy visiting last night and we started out at Crack Shack for lunch, went to Juniper & Ivy for a glass of wine, went to Bracero for cocktails and dinner. Went to Pop’s—which is a lovely little bar—for a cocktail. Then we went up to Neighborhood for a beer and finished the night at Noble Experiment for a cocktail. It was a long night.
When can folks find you behind the bar?
Andy: Every weekend—usually I’m here Friday through Monday.
Chris: If they request me behind the bar, I can definitely get behind the bar.
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