Bartender’s Notebook: Grünauer’s Scott Beskow gives traditional eggnog the “flip”

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Scott Beskow is a little old-fashioned. Grünauer’s bar manager has been at the restaurant since it opened, in 2010. It’s a position he took following a two-decade career in the corporate world (as a bartender at O’Dowd’s and M&S Grill and, later, as the national corporate trainer for McCormick & Schmick’s). It’s not that he’s stuck in his ways, exactly. It’s just that, after so long in the industry, he has gotten comfortable.

“I was really jazzed on the history of cocktails [when I first started bartending], and by virtue of just some luck with my job at McCormick’s, I got to work with some of the early guys [Ryan Maybee, Ryan Magarian] in the classic-cocktail revival,” Beskow says. “I got excited about it early on, and as that trend has evolved to being kind of over the top, I sort of started to sour on that a little bit. My philosophy has sort of settled down.”

These days, he tells me, he’s less interested in peacocking his cocktail program than he is in ensuring that his guests are at ease. His days of flair are over.

“I like cultivating regulars, growing a good bar atmosphere,” he says. “For me, these days, it’s about getting people what they want. It’s being respectful of their choices by helping them find things that they like. I try to steer away from the pedantic ‘I know better than you do’ thing with cocktails. It’s not my job to tell people what they want. It’s my job to listen and give it to them.”

Today, what I want is eggnog. Specifically, the spiked kind.

Eggnog is generally prepared in large batches, but Beskow has a plan. His new winter cocktail menu includes a drink called Starry Night, and it’s a twist on the time-tested flip — essentially, he tells me, a nog.

All the basic ingredients are accounted for: a whole egg, sugar, milk, booze — but Beskow has some alterations. He has created a brown-sugar syrup; in lieu of the milk and heavy cream, he’s using Shatto half-and-half. The egg is from Ad Astra Farms, where Grünauer’s chef de cuisine, Matthias Seyfrid, raises free-range chickens. Instead of rum or brandy, Starry Night features Rainwater Madeira, a fortified Spanish wine that Beskow has just gotten in stock.

“It was my desire to use Matthias’ eggs, just because they’re the best eggs I’ve ever tasted,” Beskow says of the recipe. “Raw eggs in drinks are kind of weird to some people, but the more I read about it, a fully free-range, truly organic egg is about as safe as it gets. So I really wanted to use those eggs, and a flip is classic.”

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While he talks, Beskow prepares the Starry Night, combining all the ingredients and shaking twice — once dry, and then again with ice (to avoid overly diluting the mixture, he says). He double strains the thick liquid, pale as a crescent moon, into a squat vintage glass. (Beskow confesses an addiction to thrift-store glassware.) While my photographer holds this cocktail hostage and as Beskow makes a nonalcoholic version, I ask him to give me some background on the origins of the flip.

“As far as I know, it was a totally different drink at first [in the 1600s],” Beskow says. “It was like a rum-and-beer thing, and it was served hot or warm. It was a sailor’s drink, and it evolved over time. By the time it got to the Jerry Thomas book [How to Mix Drinks: Or the Bon-Vivant’s Companion, 1862], it’s what it is now, which is what it’s been for over a hundred years — egg and milk and usually any base spirit, but usually all the ones you’d expect.”

“Flipping” was another term for “frothing,” Beskow says, referring to the fluffy layer of foam resting atop the drink. He serves the virgin flip in a martini glass — it’s all about perception, he tells me — and begins a third variation. For this last cocktail, he presents a bottle of Becherovka.

“This is a Czech digestif herbal liqueur,” he says. “I’m not sure what’s in it because it’s one of those proprietary, closely guarded secrets, but I get cloves and cinnamon. It almost tastes like chai tea. I’ve never put it in a nog, but I’m almost positive it’ll be delicious.”

As I sample the Becherovka, I find a few more notes — cardamom, white pepper, cassis. Beskow serves this Czech flip in a petite beer mug, shaving fresh nutmeg over the top as a garnish.

We line the three versions up to taste. Beskow’s Starry Night is a reverie: The orange-zest garnish hits first, and the citrus lightens up what is usually a heavy drink. The Rainwater Madeira has a warm, raisin-fruit profile that helps balance out the cream. The Becherovka makes for a markedly different profile in the second cocktail: The spices bang around and linger, almost bitter, in the aftertaste — it’s as though chai tea and custard had a three-way with a spice rack. The nonalcoholic flip is the thickest. Though delicious, I find it no match for its boozy siblings.

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As Beskow greets his first proper bar guest of the day (I’ve appeared just as a weekday lunch is beginning), I consider his efforts. I know that the flip is a labor-intensive cocktail, and yet, as I glance at my watch, I realize that it has taken Beskow less than a half-hour to provide me with three versions. There is no mess behind his bar; all his tools have been washed along the way. We chatted easily as he measured liquid ounces, polished glassware, selected garnishes.

There is a subtle grace to the process. As much as I’ve enjoyed Beskow’s cocktails, I find myself more impressed with how my mood has changed for the better since I entered Grünauer. I could blame the alcohol, sure — but I’m more likely to give the bartender credit.

1 whole Ad Astra egg
1/2 ounce rich brown-sugar syrup
1-1/2 ounces Rainwater Madeira (or Becherovka liqueur)
2 ounces Shatto half-and-half
Grated nutmeg and orange zest to taste

Beskow: Combine all, dry shake, then wet shake. Double strain. Garnish with nutmeg and orange zest.

See also:
Bartender’s Notebook: Il Lazzarone’s Laura Wagner and Andrew Iwersen are in love — with amari

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