Toasting the best moments of the local craft-cocktail scene in 2015

%{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%

You know what I love best about drinking in this city? All of the opportunities to do it well. Take it from the woman who has happily — in the name of cultural significance and hard-nosed journalism — swirled, sipped and shot her way through nearly every drink menu in the metro. It’s a good time to be thirsty in Kansas City.

Your Other Best Friend 

A few talented bartenders have made ripples beyond the local waters. In March, Evan McConnell’s showcase cocktail at the Patrón Aficionado exhibition — a Patrón and United States Bartenders’ Guild partnership event — earned him a spot on a “continuing education” trip to the Patrón Hacienda in Jalisco, Mexico. In June, McConnell — and a host of other bartenders from around the country — took a tequila sabbatical with one of the spirit’s top producers.

In August, Andrew Olsen won the Beefeater MIXLDN Regional Heat Bartending Competition that was held at Affäre. (Yours truly was a judge at that one.) Olsen beat six of his local compatriots as part of the Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival in September, going on to compete against regional winners from Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Seattle in the Beefeater MIXLDN National Final. Though Olsen didn’t win, his elaborate cocktail, the Refrain, still lives in memory. (It features Beefeater, clarified lime juice and citrus-blossom syrup, stirred and poured over Pernod ice cubes, topped with foamed Suze, and served with a toasted-almond white-chocolate truffle.) %{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%
Brock Schulte, the bar manager at the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange and founding partner at consulting company Liquid Minded Concepts, was one of three area winners in the regional qualifying round of the Bacardi Legacy Bartending Competition, held in October at the Jacobson. Schulte won for a cocktail called Birds of a Feather — a rum flip featuring Bacardi Ocho Años (the company’s 8-year rum), Pineau des Charentes (a French fortified wine with pear notes) and Schulte’s own wine-poached pear butter.

In November, Schulte went on to compete in the Regional Bacardi Legacy Finals at the Bacardi Distillery in La Galarza, Mexico. He didn’t win that round, but we’re still proud of him for spreading the KC gospel.

Notebook Notes

When Andrew Olsen wasn’t making headlines winning bartending competitions, he was busy building his résumé in other ways. In February, he left the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange to take over the bar program at Cleaver & Cork in the Power & Light District. A few weeks later, he poured us sample after sample of homegrown whiskey as we prepared for The Pitch’s Bacon and Bourbon Festival in April. And in June, Olsen announced that he was migrating once more — to Colby and Megan Garrelts’ lauded Westport restaurant, Bluestem, where he assumed the position of bar manager. When I see him there, he looks happy. (I’m usually happy there, too, but that’s because I’m drinking.)

Il Lazzarone opened in March, but Laura %{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}% agner and Andrew Iwersen — the River Market restaurant’s respective bar manager and beer director — have been on board just since mid-autumn. In November, I stopped in to get their takes on Il Lazzarone’s impressive amaro program, with more than 30 bottles jammed on the shelves. Wagner, Iwersen and I tasted through some of the oddest ones before the two riffed on amaro-inspired cocktails.

I first wrote about Erik Mariscal in January, when he was holding down the bar at Local Pig in Westport. I wasn’t the only one who was enchanted by Mariscal’s cheflike approach to building a cocktail. I still dream about his Skips a Beet, with fresh-squeezed beet juice and gin — but, alas, nothing is forever. Local Pig in Westport closed in September. Following a brief stint at the Jacobson, Mariscal landed at the Homesteader Café, which opened in October. This month, he moves into the bar-management role at 801 Fish in Leawood — a significant change of pace for which Mariscal says he’s ready.

In June, the 38-seat W bar in downtown Lee’s Summit opened, with longtime barman Mike Strohm at the helm. His drinks are visually stunning, but what is most impressive is the depth of his creations. Strohm makes almost all his menu ingredients, including syrups, bitters, vermouths and tonics. He wants to build a greenhouse so that he can source all his bar produce, and he eventually plans beehives on the roof of the W’s building. If that’s not ambition, then the dictionary will need to revise the meaning.

Distillery Dreams 

%{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%In November, J. Rieger & Co. Distillery in the East Bottoms celebrated its first anniversary, although it’s likely that co-founders and managing partners Andy Rieger and Ryan Maybee didn’t even bother to take a victory shot.

The young company has had plenty of other milestones over the last year, including the release of two new products. In July, we delighted in J. Rieger & Co.’s Midwestern Premium Vodka, a blended-grain liquor. Then, in October, the company announced its Midwestern Dry Gin, from a recipe taught to head distiller Nathan Perry by Tanqueray’s former master distiller Tom Nichol. I’m not one to turn down a craft cocktail, but the Rieger gin is so balanced and so packed with fragrant botanicals that I prefer to enjoy this spirit with just a few cubes of ice and a fresh squeeze of lime.

In 2016, we can look forward to a a few more products from J. Rieger & Co., including a Caffe Amaro — a coffee liqueur produced in partnership with Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters — and a limited-run Black Label whiskey, aged in 100-year-old, 130-gallon sherry botas (barrels) pulled from the Williams & Humbert solera in Spain.

Also coming in the new year: Tom’s Town Distilling Co., located at 1701 Main (The Pitch’s former offices) and opening to the public in January; Restless Spirits Distilling, opening in North Kansas City in February; and Lifted Spirits, which opens in the Crossroads in April.

Drink Up 
%{[ data-embed-type=”image” data-embed-id=”” data-embed-element=”aside” ]}%
In bars across the city, baseball season meant one thing for certain: Blue drinks were back. I followed the #BlueOctober hashtag to keep track of where I could toast my proud fellow Royals fans. A few favorites: Ça Va’s Revive ’85, a blue curaçao twist on the classic Corpse Reviver; Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar’s Blue October margarita; and Thou Mayest’s rotating blue creation, which paired well with every game that the coffeehouse and bar screened.

Speaking of Jax, let’s take a moment to discuss Kenny Cohrs’ 3975 — perhaps my favorite drink of 2015. I   njoy just about anything this man sets in front of me — call it a mix of his Disney-prince-like charm and redoubtable bar knowledge — but this particular drink, which made its debut on Cohrs’ November cocktail list, will carry me through the cold months. A winter warmer like no other, this adult hot chocolate features a house-made habanero cordial, pineapple syrup, coconut milk, Aztec chocolate (a proprietary blend that Cohrs has concocted) and Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal. The 3975 is garnished with a brûléed, house-made marshmallow. On any given day, I might choose this drink over the company of friends and family.

Thanks for the round, Kansas City. Here’s to all the libations ahead in 2016.

Categories: Food & Drink