Meet the Bartender: Christian Siglin
Bracero’s bar director wants to broaden your understanding of Baja-inspired cocktails
Bracero's Christian Siglin
Ask San Diego bartenders for a short list of their favorite cocktail makers and Christian Siglin’s name will come up an awful lot. He’s helmed some of the best cocktail spots in San Diego, created some of the city’s most memorable drinks and, last year, helped open Bracero Cocina de Raiz, Javier Plascencia’s much-lauded Little Italy restaurant that was recently announced as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.
For this month’s bartender Q&A, I chatted with Siglin about how he approached creating Bracero’s fantastic cocktail menu, his brief stint in real estate, and why folks visiting Bracero need to stop ordering margaritas.
Tell me a little about your bartending career. How'd you get started? Where have you worked?
I started at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla when I was 21 and was there for quite awhile. After a five-year hiatus, I came back to the bar scene and started working at the Pearl Hotel, then helped open Noble Experiment and after that, helped open Craft & Commerce. I worked there for three years as bar manager. I helped open Sycamore Den and then went to Bankers Hill. I was the bar manager there for two years and now I’m at Bracero.
Why’d you take a five-year hiatus?
I thought I needed a real job, then realized it wasn’t for me. I worked in commercial real estate and moved to Arizona for three years, working for a developer. I learned a ton, but I hated my job. I’d started bartending just for fun and realized I really enjoyed it.
Dishes at Bracero have very complex, intricate flavors. How do you create a cocktail program that complements what's on the plate?
[The kitchen] uses as fresh ingredients as possible and we take the same approach with cocktails. We make a lot of our own stuff in-house. [Javier Plascencia] is blending a lot of Mexican ingredients with Mediterranean influences, so I’ve done a lot of the same thing, like taking lighter Italian aperitifs and mixing them with big, bold Mexican flavors. I wanted the drinks to be super light and easy to drink. Having flavors on the plate that are really bold, but also light and delicate—we wanted to the same with the cocktails.
Any great entrée and cocktail pairings you'd recommend from the Bracero menu? Or, a dish that inspired one of your cocktails?
The Ready Lane. It’s made with jalapeño-infused tequila, Saler’s aperitif, lime, celery syrup, a little salt, and soda. I think it goes great with a lot of our fish dishes. It’s really light and you get a little spice from the jalapeño.
So, the Czech Yourself (mezcal, Becherovka, falernum, lime, pineapple juice, orgeat, cinnamon syrup, absinthe) was the first cocktail I tried at Bracero. There's a lot going on there. But it all works perfectly. Can you describe the thought-process behind building a cocktail like that?
That cocktail was really funny. I was guest bartending at Sycamore Den and had a guy come in and ask for a tiki mezcal cocktail. So, I pulled together classic tiki ingredients, plus Becherovka, a Czech liqueur, and used mezcal as the base. It came up really quick and on the fly. I wrote the recipe down and put that in my back pocket. There was no real thought process. It was an on-the-spot, on-the-fly deal. It’s like magic in a bottle—you can’t do it all the time, but once in awhile it works.
What's the most interesting spirit or liqueur you've come across recently?
Part of my job is to seek out all of those things. I’m using Genever in one of our cocktails with mezcal. I’m trying to find obscure, funky Mexican spirits that most people have never heard of. Getting them to try these other agave spirits, like sotol, that’s kind of the goal.
What have been your most successful cocktails?
At Craft & Commerce, it was the Eastern Prospector (bourbon infused with an orange-spice tea, lemon, and honey). At Bankers Hill, The Stalker (jalapeño-infused tequila, lime, celery syrup, and smoked salt), which is similar to [Bracero’s] Ready Lane. At Bracero, it’s the Agua Chile, a seasonal cocktail.
Fill in the blanks: I wish people would stop ordering _____ and instead try _____.
A margarita—not that that’s a bad cocktail—and try something different and broaden their horizons. I’d love for them to order something off the menu, like the Ready Lane, or the Javier Wallbanger (blanco tequila, Galliano, lemon, orange, vanilla, allspice dram).
When you're not working, where are you most likely to be and what are you drinking?
Either at Hamilton’s having beer or at Live Wire or Turf Club having a beer and a shot of Tequila Ocho.
When can we find you behind the bar at Bracero?
Wednesday through Saturday night.