Ask a Bartender: 2 Questions for Anthony Schmidt
Consortium Holdings’ beverage director talks ice, eau de vie, and the magic of rhum agricole
Cocktails can be intimidating, and sometimes it’s easier to order beer or wine rather than end up with something that’s too sweet, too bitter, or too boozy for your taste. In an attempt to demystify drinks, I’m launching a monthly feature called “Ask a Bartender,” in which I’ll throw a couple of questions at one of San Diego’s talented cocktail creators. To kick things off, I hit up Anthony Schmidt, Consortium Holdings’ beverage director and one of the creative guys behind False Idol, Rare Form, and Noble Experiment.
Is the ice you use in a cocktail really that important?
Ice is essential. It mellows the blow of a fire-y spirit with a touch of dilution and softens a beverage. But, it also morphs into a mechanics and equipment issue depending on the type of ice you use. A general rule of thumb is that bigger, crystal-clear, purified ice cubes allow for the greatest margin of error when making drinks. However, this isn’t always true. While visiting a friend in NYC, he described using smaller bits of ice and rapidly stirring or shaking the cocktail in a pre-frozen vessel as the ideal method (his name is Giuseppe Gonzalez. He’s a great guy and the consummate student of his craft). Ultimately, technique is essential and Giuseppe’s techniques are advanced—and likely not pragmatic for the home bar enthusiast. For the casual cocktail crafter, consider digging into an outstanding book by Dave Arnold called Liquid Intelligence. Within is Arnold’s brilliant homage to cocktail techniques, both new and old, including how to produce crystal-clear, large-format ice. This is your new bible.
What are some underrated spirits or liqueurs you think deserve more attention?
Too many to count, but here are some highlights: Eau de vie (basically, fruit brandy) of all kinds are rare, delicious, and vastly underused. They’re widely assorted, contributing various flavors (fruits and vegetables of all kinds—anything from carrots to strawberries) to cocktails. Some eau de vies are certainly better than others. And they’re generally pricey. But, you don’t need a lot to make your recipe pop. I’ve added the stuff to all kinds of recipes: Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, sours, daiquiris, etc. Pro tip: if you are traveling through Austria, keep an eye open for fruit brandies like these. Farmers will commonly have their own hooch, preserving the bounty of last season’s dope fruits and veggies. And, unlike the trend of poorly crafted moonshine (although great moonshine exists), this tradition is very old and often the farmer’s distillation process is relatively refined. Be daring. And bring me some, too.
The rum category gets a ton of love from us and the general public (maybe I’m biased, I bartend at a tiki bar). But not all rums are desirable on first impression. Generally speaking, rhum agricole doesn’t get a ton of love. In essence, it’s the eau de vie of the rum world, made with fresh sugarcane juice instead of molasses. The flavor profile is green, fresh, and tropical. But, the yeastiness of fermentation carries over into the distilled spirit, which can be off-putting to some. As an ingredient in cocktails, agricole is magic. It adds tropical fruitiness as well as lending to tall fizzy drinks, emulating beer or champagne. At False Idol, we feature a spin on a Singapore Sling with high-proof agricole and a sour ale. It tastes like a bizarre tropical and fortified sour.
For the ultimate in decadence, try agricole in your next piña colada. The sugar fields in Martinique (where agricoles are distilled) are often rotated with banana crops for biodiversity (France subsidizes bananas from Martinique). The fermentation of agricole often has little yeasties from the banana crops, yielding a beautiful, bright green banana flavor. Now, imagine that piña colada with a touch of banana and a little tiny splash of lemon juice for brightness—it’s a banger. And this is the un-aged agricole I’m referring to. The older it gets, the more it tastes like a fine cognac/brandy. The stuff ranges incredibly.
Got suggestions (or questions) for a future post? Write to email@example.com or comment below.