On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy breaks down the Long Island Iced Tea with Nicholas Bennett, beverage director at Porchlight in New York City. Since its inception in the 1970s, the Long Island Iced has broken every cocktail rule out there, and has gained a bad rap. But that doesn’t mean the “LIIT” can’t be well balanced and delicious. Bennett shares his breakdown of the classic eight-ingredient cocktail, and how he upgrades it to fit modern standards. Tune in to learn more.
Nicholas Bennett’s Classic Long Island Iced Tea Recipe
- ½ ounce vodka
- ½ ounce London Dry gin
- ½ ounce white rum
- ½ ounce blanco tequila
- ½ ounce Cointreau
- ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
- ½ ounce simple syrup
- Coca-Cola, to top
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- Add vodka, gin, rum, tequila, Cointreau, simple syrup, and fresh lemon juice to a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake until chilled.
- Strain into an ice-filled highball glass.
- Top with Coca-Cola.
- Finish with 4 dashes of Angostura bitters and garnish with an optional orange or lemon wedge.
CHECK OUT THE CONVERSATION HERE
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy. Welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” Nicholas Bennett is here in the studio. Nicholas, thank you so much for joining us.
Nicholas Bennett: Thanks for inviting me.
T: I’m very excited to talk about today’s drink, which is the Long Island Iced Tea. I think this is going to be a really fun one. Starter question here for you, quasi-related to the drink, but not really. As a British transplant here, I’ve never understood why we say “on” Long Island.
N: Oh, great question. I don’t think I have an answer for you on that one.
T: Is that a cliché thing? I just don’t get it. It was that, and “waiting on line.” I came across that the first time I visited a CVS and it came on the announcement or something. I’m like, “Why is it not waiting in line?” Is that not what the rest of the English-speaking world says?
N: I don’t know, because of my freedom, that’s why.
T: So we are on the “Cocktail College” podcast here talking about the Long Island Iced Tea.
N: Talking “on” the Long Island Iced Tea.
T: Where do we begin? Do you want to jump into the history of the drink? Or maybe more importantly, just the cultural significance of this drink?
N: Well, the history we can kind of go through a little bit. There’s not a whole lot of hard-boiled history to it. There was one that’s in the Betty Crocker book, I think, that kind of fits into the Long Island Iced Tea history. Some bartender, I can’t remember his first name, claims to have invented it for a triple sec competition in the 1970s.
T: Which, as a quick aside, is weird. As we’ll get into, this drink has eight ingredients. Way to bury the lead right there. I’m getting a triple sec drink with seven other things.
N: Exactly, and the competition was all about triple sec. This is what’s going to win your competition, is triple sec. So let’s put everything else in there. Having done a few competitions, I can kind of get that. What else can we put in there? I’ll put that in there. Oh my God, “What else do we have?” That was the most interesting part about it, is the fact that it wasn’t necessarily an ingredient that was difficult to make. It was so re-creatable globally. And that’s why, in the ’70s, maybe it was just a one-off place and popular in a couple of bars. But by the ’80s, it was known the world over. I think that’s absolutely fascinating about a cocktail that literally uses triple sec, cola, sour mix, and then vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. It uses everything. So the fact that it’s so world-renowned and known — loved or hated — it’s re-creatable, and everyone knows it. And that’s an important thing for bars and bartenders to appreciate something that everybody knows and everybody wants and everybody can make.
T: Do you remember the first Long Island Iced Tea that you had yourself?
N: No, I don’t think I do. I definitely had a few. I definitely don’t really remember the scenarios around them. I started bartending in early 2000 at a local sports bar out in the Hamptons. I’ve been bartending for about 20 years. And those are one of the first things that I learned how to make.
T: Would you sell a lot of them then?
N: Oh my God, yes, so many. I grew up out in the Hamptons, way out on eastern Long Island.
T: That’s on Long Island.
N: On Long Island, for sure. The bar was a sports bar, and it became a summer hotspot in Sag Harbor. Everybody comes out there during the summer, and we would just get crushed with people coming, just going to the beaches and hanging out. I just learned the four-bottle pickup, turn all four of them and then pour right into the glass.
T: So that’s how you do it. I wanted to ask about that, because we’re going to get into your version. And I love the fact that this is a drink that you’ve really looked into and you’ve been like, “Well, it’s an iconic drink. Everyone knows it, but we can make a high-quality version of that.” So I can’t wait to get into that. That’s the technique. So if you’re making it in this classic method, you would pick up four bottles at once?
N: We’re talking a classic build in the glass style of the dark ages of bartending. You just pick up everything. No measurements, just count it all out, unnecessary. It would be a waste of time, given how fast you wanted to get this out and how fast someone wanted to drink it. So you do the four bottle pick up, then your splash of triple sec, your splash of sour mix from the gun, and your splash of cola from the gun. Send it on its way in a pint glass, we’re talking as big as humanly possible. People would just crush them. It was fun and people were having a great time. I remember those moments very, very fondly as a bartender. I would walk out with $1,000 in cash in my hand at the end of the night, exhausted. But just riding high and then inevitably going to whatever other bar in town was still open.
T: And crush a couple of Long Island Ice Teas?
N: Throw back a few shots in a beer and then wake up on the beach for some reason. I don’t know.
T: Oh my God, that sounds amazing
N: To be 20 again.
T: I love the fact as well that, like we said, this is a drink that you’ve dialed into and created a high-quality version of. It feels like now, too, we are in this kind of nostalgic moment where we’re looking right at drinks that previously had some time in the sun. Do you feel like that’s the case?
N: Absolutely. One of the best things about being a bartender for as long as I have been, I’ve gotten a chance to really see a lot of this wonderful evolution. At the end of the ’90s, great cocktails were being made around that time, but they were few and far between. And then obviously, the 2000s hit and we get Milk & Honey and Death & Co. Angel Share’s been around for a while longer, but there were some really spectacular cocktail bars. It really helped us all dial in how to make a great cocktail and the right ingredients to use for all of them. But at the same time, we didn’t have a ton of them. There were great spirits. You could always do fresh juice, and we always learn how to make a great simple syrup, and use all the different sugars to make syrups out of them, and all the other sweeteners. We started learning all the techniques ourselves. We all had to really relearn all that, going back through everything. As bartenders, we had to kind of shun all of the stuff that helped us forget all that in the first place. That’s the sour mix and building in the glass and not using jiggers. There are great bars that free pour, and I 100 percent respect them. I need to jigger in order to be able to get my cocktails consistent. I want all my bartenders to do that as well. So we stand by that technique at Porchlight. And it’s just one of those things that you have to re-practice and relearn. Then we came out with great cocktails like the Penicillin. I didn’t come up with that one, obviously, but I wish I had.
T: Absolute banger of a drink, that one.
N: Things like the Long Island Iced Tea got pushed to the wayside. For very good reasons.
T: Sounds like all the things that you’re discussing there that the bartending community re-embraced were all rules that the Long Island Iced Tea broke.
N: I mean, all of them shattered. Just throw everything you possibly can in there.
T: No fresh juice. No one’s measuring. Who cares about the ice?
N: No one cares about any of it. Just get it in front of a guest. But if you stop to really think about the Long Island Iced Tea, you can actually recreate that into something that is delicious. If you measure out your ingredients and start to really hone in and dial in the flavor profiles in all of them; there’s great flavors in gin that pay really well with rum and tequila. I’m not going to lie about that. There are some really great flavors you can do, like the vegetal qualities in tequila with the herbaceous gin. There are some really, really cool things you can do with all that. But if you measure it and you pay attention to those levels, there’s a great cocktail out of that. Use some fresh citrus, and then there you are. That’s not different from your standard sour, honestly. If you do a bit more than just a splash of sour mix, like a full three-quarters of an ounce and just do half an ounce across the board with all the other ones, measure, and then shake the whole thing. That’s a great cocktail, arguably. That’s a great cocktail as long as you get the balance correct in there.
T: It’s so interesting that you mention that. Typically, when we’re starting out an exploration of a cocktail on this show, I like to ask guests, “What are you looking for from the perfectly executed version of this drink?” It’s weird because we have spoken about the fact that maybe in the classic version of this drink, the answer might just be booze. You touched upon it, but then where do you think this cocktail can go in terms of its highest-quality version? Why is this deserving of a place on your menu?
N: One of the things that I love being able to do with the amount of training and background in bartending that I’ve had is, I can take these cocktails that I have — full disclosure — shunned a number of times in my career: Oh, I don’t make those cocktails. I even worked at bars that don’t carry vodka because of the fact that, at a point, bartenders didn’t like vodka because it didn’t have flavor or it didn’t really do anything for the cocktail. It does great things for the cocktail, and guests want it. That’s what I really started to re-center, is finding things that I know that guests actually want. Guests want Long Island Iced Teas, and they would ask us for them. So what we had to do is really figure out how we can make that in the best possible way at Porchlight. The first iteration of it was just the classic style, but we would measure everything out, and we would use a really nice cola made with cane syrup. We would make it with fresh lemon juice, a great simple syrup that we make, it’s a one-to-one simple syrup. It’s not greater than anybody else’s, but we make it better than everybody else. Not really. We use the spirits that we have in our well, and all of the spirits that we put in our well, we stand behind 100 percent. That’s why they’re in our well, instead of it just being some low-cost gin or tequila that we would just get because that’s $10 a bottle or something like that. So we would spend as much time figuring out what spirit goes into the well as we will to decide what goes into our cocktails.
T: When it comes to the well, we’re thinking about what works best across the board, right?
N: Exactly. On our menu, we have a blend of ryes that we use for our Manhattans, because I think that’s the best option for us. It’s not just one specific rye; it’s two that I think are delicious. We do the same with our vermouth. We do a blend for a vermouth. But we want to make sure that it makes sense for every single cocktail we’re going to use it in.
Breaking Down The Long Island Iced Tea
T: That’s amazing. Looking at those ingredients then, and I don’t typically have to do this, but I have written them down here because there’s a ton. Just to reiterate, we have vodka, gin, tequila, rum, triple sec, simple syrup, lemon juice, and Coke.
N: Yes, there’s a lot.
T: Let’s look at spirits first.
N: Sure. I do want to just dial back on that one. The current version of the Long Island Iced Tea that we serve at Porchlight is actually on draft. But we’re going to go with the first version, where we do a simple syrup and the fresh lemon juice.
T: Yes, so we will chat about that. We can chat about that version after. But when it comes to that template with four base spirits, and then on top of that triple sec, where do you go first? Is there an anchor to this drink? Where are you looking first, or are you trying to think of four components that will work together?
N: It’s triple sec, actually, if we’re going to go back to that competition there. I’m not a huge fan of straight triple sec. I think they come off a little bit sweeter; there are a little bit less fresh citrus flavors on them. So what we actually use is Cointreau, instead of it just being a sweetening orange liqueur. I think Cointreau brings a drier quality to the cocktail and a lot more of that bitter orange, and it makes the cocktail that much better. So we do about three-quarters of an ounce when we’re building the cocktail of actual straight Cointreau. And then that with three-quarters of an ounce of lemon juice, and half of an ounce of simple syrup. I feel like that sets the groundwork for this to be a really balanced cocktail, because then on top of that, it still makes it pretty boozy. Cointreau is not 12 percent ABV; it is 40 percent. On top of those, we basically build out another 2 ounces of spirit. Then you have, more or less, your basic sour spec. You’re not adding any aged ingredients to the cocktail. It’s really all clean, not neutral spirits, but baseline flavors. Your vodka doesn’t necessarily add a ton of flavor, but it definitely adds body to it, because you have your base alcohol in there. Gin brings a little bit of a vegetal quality. You build on that with the tequila, with that grassy jalapeño flavor with the tequila we use. On top of that, you have the agave and the rum. They pair really well together. So all of that kind of has a straight through line and a story that works well in a basic sour spec. And it tastes good. I argue with anybody who tells me that that doesn’t taste good. That’s a well-balanced, easy to make cocktail that hundreds and hundreds of people enjoy. Who am I to tell them that it doesn’t taste good? I’m a bartender. I’m making cocktails for guests. I’m not telling them what they should be drinking.
T: I think that’s amazing. With the base spirits as well, are you looking for brands or iterations that are true to their category, and not too left field? Or maybe that don’t stand out too much, in a way?
N: Exactly. I want to use Appleton Rum because it tastes great in a Daiquiri and it tastes good in a Long Island Iced Tea. I’m looking for brands that work really well across the board. Gins get to be a little difficult, only because some are better with a little bit more citrus in a Gin & Tonic than they are in a Martini. I know we use Spring 44 in our well, and it’s a delightful gin and it has a great amount of juniper to fortify it. But it doesn’t taste worse in a Martini than it does in a Gin & Tonic. I actually like that one in both.
T: I imagine with this, too, obviously all gin has to have the character of juniper, but you don’t want it to be too juniper-forward. Something like that Sipsmith release that they did or even Junipero. Great gins, but maybe that stands out too much. I don’t know. It reminds me of being younger and not quite of a drinking age and having it at someone’s house when their parents weren’t there, where we’re raiding the cabinet and finding some gin and we’re like, “OK, gin and cola.” It’s disgusting. I would never go back there.
N: Also, you’re probably free-pouring, so you’re adding too much gin. You probably had three too many. So your memory of it is worse than the actual experience of it, probably. That’s everyone’s problem with Gin & Tonics. I can’t drink those. They just had poorly clean lines of tonic more than often, and way too many of them. And then the next morning, they’re like, “I’m never having gin again.” Come back, join us again. Gin’s delicious!
T: It’s so good, isn’t it? But I definitely feel like that juniper can be very tricky. And when it works, it’s amazing. But maybe for this cocktail and some others, you just don’t want it too juniper-forward.
N: And that’s why measuring it is so important, because you don’t want one to pour higher than the other and suddenly it’s out of balance. Especially when you’re using this many ingredients, it needs to have that balance straight through. It’s that much more important in the Long Island Iced Tea.
T: I love that you have mentioned that this is essentially a sour. I had never made that connection.
T: So talk us through that first iteration at Porchlight and how to make it. We’ve spoken about the ingredients, but maybe you can tell us about the build of that and also the technique, like the ice and the glassware. What does that look like?
N: We took it out of the pint glass and now we put it into a regular highball glass. So we’re dialing back that overall volume of the whole thing. We are also measuring everything to the half-ounce, to the quarter-ounce, to the three-quarters of an ounce. We want to make sure that everything is balanced. It builds in the amount of time. We’re a volume bar, so that much touching of the well does grate on us during a busy service, unfortunately. But that being said, we always want to have the best cocktail in front of everybody. So we’ll build it all into a shaker tin, shake it over cold draft ice, and then strain it into your Collins glass, and then top it with a little bit of the cola.
T: Tell us about the cola that you would have been using. Are we talking Coca-Cola or Pepsi?
N: Coca-Cola coming out of the glass bottles; the ones made with cane syrup. That’s absolutely delicious. I think it’s much better than just coming out of a can.
N: I love more body and better bubbles. It’s really, really nice.
T: That’s wonderful. How much of a factor is carbonation in this drink, and what does it bring to it?
N: The reason why I wanted to put it on draft is because it starts off as that kind of cocktail that wants carbonation. Everyone’s like, “Oh, you add the cola to it for carbonation.” You don’t really add the cola to it to carbonate it, but everyone assumes that it’s a carbonated cocktail. So one of the things that we’re able to do, and why I went to this “Long Island Iced Tea 2.0” (we don’t call it that on our menu; I just like the idea of calling it a 2.0 right now. First time I’ve done that.) is to actually carbonate the entire cocktail through the entire thing. Instead of it being this flat sour over ice, we’re able to use the techniques that we’ve learned over the years of bartending and have developed over the course of the past 20 years to carbonate cocktails very well and then serve them on draft. Like I said, it’s a lot of touches in the well, so let’s speed that up. People wanted these cocktails really bad. So what we do is, we take the entire thing, batch it in a full keg, and carbonate the entire cocktail. It makes it that much more “Porchlight,” which feels really good for me. It’s a volume cocktail, now we’re pulling it faster. It gives us the opportunity to be a little bit more dialed in with the ingredients and we get to play around with those proportions even more. We get to play around with our syrups, too. Our former executive chef Anton actually wrote a book on sodas, so he had a bunch of syrups that we ended up improving on for these cocktails. We have a cola syrup that we use for it that actually doesn’t use cola, which I always think is a really fascinating thing. And we use a citrus syrup. So we kind of make our own lemon-lime cordial. I add a touch of ginger to it as well, just because it actually builds on that entire flavor. So there we have it. I have all of those ingredients in there: the vodka, gin, rum, tequila, the cordial, cola, syrup, the Cointreau, and all the dilution. Now, the entire thing from top to bottom is carbonated. So when we pull it off of the draft, it comes out with beautiful bubbles and is really delightful, and we can get it out and into our guests’ hands that much faster.
T: That’s incredible. So I have two questions for you about that. You use fresh citrus, obviously. I’m imagining that wouldn’t be a possibility when you’re putting things into kegs, so what does that look like and how hard is that to maintain freshness and acidity?
N: Instead of it just being peels, we’re actually zesting the lemon, lime, and orange. So we’re doing everything under the sun — except for a grapefruit, actually. We add a little bit of ginger. That really does preserve that fresh citrus flavor. We’re not boiling it with the citrus on there, which kind of ruins it a little bit for me. And then we’re adding a touch of citric and malic acid to it as well. So instead of it just being that citric acid balm, a little bit of that malic hits your palate a little differently, and it balances it out. So it actually tastes a little bit more like fresh citrus. It also helps with the carbonation, too. Carbonation has a touch of acidity to it.
T: It does, right?
N: All of that combined in the right amount actually comes off as very nicely fresh citrus. It really does make it that much better.
T: And stable, and not something you need to worry about.
N: Exactly. It’s good for, I would say, two weeks. But it definitely doesn’t last two weeks.
T: Off the cuff, you just mentioned some facts about cola there. Despite being a big fan of Coca-Cola, I know nothing about what goes into cola. So what is the essence of a cola syrup?
N: The cola syrup that we make has a lot of spices. There are a lot of ingredients; it’s one of our barbacks’ least favorite things to make, unfortunately. That’s because it’s got several steps to it. We’re talking citrus, allspice, nutmeg, orange and lemon zest, brown sugar, regular granulated sugar, a little bit of lavender in there as well, and a couple of other ingredients I just can’t remember off the top of my head. We keep it all written down, obviously. All of that is steeped and then boiled and simmered for a little while. It kind of reduces it a little bit. So it brings the Brix up just a hair. It’s not a full one-to-one Brix syrup. It’s closer to 55 or 58, something along those lines. Then it has to sit for 20 minutes to cool down, because then they have to strain all that out. If you’re going to carbonate it, you need all the little particles to be removed. So that’s a big issue. That takes a long time as well. It’s a very laborious syrup to make, but it’s always, always worth it.
T: That’s incredible, sounds amazing. In the previous iteration, when you would be kind of building this drink in the glass, you use bottled Coca-Cola. In recent years, there has been something of a proliferation of mixer brands heading into that territory. Do you think that Coke is one of those things like ketchup? It is so distinct and iconic, that when you try other labels, it stands out. Was that your thinking there when you’re going for that versus one of these bartender-focused brands?
N: More or less. Fever-Tree makes a really good cola. But then you get Tab or whatever else still exists out there. I mean, you do this side-by-side with Coke and Pepsi, and you know which one’s Coke immediately. It is kind of the king brand. If it calls for Coke, you have to use it. There’s no way around that, I think.
T: Or you go in the complete opposite direction, like you’re doing yourself, which is making it yourself and really dialing in? Because you know all of the other constituents of the drink.
N: Exactly. We also finished the cocktail off with a couple of dashes of Angostura on top. The way that your old-school Long Island Iced Tea has that float of cola on top, now there’s that brown layer of Ango on there. Which also has a touch of those baking spice notes that really give you that right-in-the-face aroma of the Long Island Iced Tea. I think it’s absolutely delicious.
T: Amazing. So you would be adding a couple of dashes?
N: Four dashes.
T: And that just sits on top there?
N: It floats right on top. The bubbles keep it all right up on top there. After that first sip, it really does integrate through the rest of the cocktail. It’s not an Ango bomb right in the face.
T: Amazing. Do you use the longer ice cubes, or would you if that were an option? I know that there are cost considerations there.
N: Always cost-considerate. I actually don’t think I would. We use cold draft across the board. For this cocktail itself, it’s cold draft. I don’t know what they’re actually called, we call them disco cocktails, but they’re the kind of old-school little Italian water glass-style glasses. They have a little stem, about 12 ounces of volume on there. It can fit three cubes in there, and then just pour the whole thing on top of it.
N: I love calling them disco glasses. I don’t remember why we started calling them that, but that’s stuck, and that’s always what we’re going to call them.
T: Perfect, seek those ones out. What about a garnish beyond Angostura? Are you going for a lemon or anything?
N: We do an orange kind of little half moon. Full disclosure on that one: We use the orange pretty much only because of the time. We had two other draft cocktails on there that had a lemon and a lime. We had a whiskey cola, which used lemon, and we had a 7 and 7, which used lime. Rather than confuse everybody, it was just like, put an orange on it. And it’s great, it tastes great. It plays off of the Cointreau and that orange quality that’s in there. We’re not just willy-nilly throwing an orange in there; there’s purpose to it. But that was also a major consideration for it.
T: Again, those are things that folks might not consider as bar guests. But as a bar running it, if you’re using the disco glass for those three drinks, how does the person running the drinks know which is which if they all have the same garnish? So that makes a ton of sense. Are there any other thoughts or considerations for the more classical style that people will be able to recreate at home or in their bars? Anything else that you’d like to share about the Long Island Iced Tea?
N: I would say, drink what you like, honestly. If you don’t like gin, maybe take the gin out of it. Keep the balance at the forefront of your mind when you’re trying to make these things at home. But don’t be afraid to play around with them at home as well. If you’re not a fan of tequila, take the tequila out and and replace it with vodka to start off, because it’s not going to throw the balance of all the other flavors out of whack. Or if you want to get super fancy with it, throw a little Grand Marnier in there, so you have some Cognac and some more orange in there. It’s not completely throwing the recipe out of whack, but it’s also building on it. Or through elements in there that do have some age on them, like an aged rum or an añejo tequila.
T: But essentially get to that point of 2 ounces of total base spirit.
N: I would start with that as your template. Start with 2 ounces of your base blend spirit, and keep the rest of it pretty straightforward with sour specs. You can’t really go wrong, honestly.
T: When shaking it, is that more temperature, dilution, or both?
N: All of the above. You want to shake it all together to really incorporate all the flavors together. You want to shake it so you can get the syrup and the citrus to mix. You want to dilute it a little bit, because if you’re going to pour it over ice, you don’t want to just have the ice that you’re pouring in over immediately start diluting the cocktail. Then you have to keep stirring it, and it doesn’t really work out that well. Sure, there’s a lot of alcohol in there. It’s not any more than a Manhattan, so I don’t think you have to really worry about that. But it’s easier to drink than your Manhattan, obviously. So you want to kind of dilute it a little bit, just to kind of soften the blow.
T: Yeah, and bring it down to temperature, like you said.
N: It’s a sour, so you want to make it cold. You want it to be a refreshing cocktail.
T: You want it to be cold. And I think that’s probably where so many of them have gone wrong in the past.
N: Room temperature over bad ice thrown back? No one wants that.
T: The booze just stands out so much.
N: Much more, for sure.
T: Amazing. Well, that’s been a real fun discussion there about the Long Island Iced Tea.
N: It’s great to see them all again. I like that people are making them well again.
T: And making them with respect.
N: If you are making Long Island Iced Teas at home, everyone’s talking about these infinity bottles right now. Just build one there. Then you have 2 ounces of easy pour. Don’t worry about it.
T: Yeah, because people have their mix of rums for their Daiquiri or for their Mai Tai. Have your Long Island Iced Tea base spirit, right?
N: Exactly. What one rum can’t do, three can. What one spirit can’t do, four can.
T: There we go, with some triple sec for good measure.
N: For sure.
Getting To Know Nicholas Bennett
T: Amazing. So now we’re into the segment of the show where us and our listeners get to know you a little bit more through our recurring weekly questions. How are you feeling?
N: Feeling good. Bring them on.
T: I’m going to start with the first question here for you: What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
N: At Porchlight, it’s definitely whiskey. American whiskey, specifically. We are the sister bar of Blue Smoke, and a lot of our inspiration came from the creators of Blue Smoke. We have a very strong American whiskey backbone to our spirits list. On top of that, I would say rums, because we’re a bunch of bartenders. Bartenders love our rums.
T: Geeking out on that. That’s an amazing category as well in terms of the breadth and depth of it. There’s so much on offer. Amazing. Question No. 2: Which ingredient or two do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
N: Oh, God. That’s a good question. All of our tools are pretty well-valued. Everyone talks about the jigger, everyone talks about the mixers and the shaker tins and how important they all are. Honestly, the most overvalued ingredient or tool would be the mixing glass. You can still make your cocktails in a cold pint glass or in a tin as well. I don’t see the necessity for an $80 mixing glass at a bar when you’re going to probably break it and have to buy a new one immediately after that. So I would say that’s probably the most overvalued.
T: I like it. That’s the first time we’ve had someone flip the question there. All right, question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
N: Stay at a job longer than a few months. I would say it takes about six months to really start to feel comfortable and confident in whatever role you’re working in. I’ve worked with a lot of bartenders over the past 20 years who — I’m not saying there’s any shame to it, because it gives you the opportunity to learn from a lot of different styles and learn from a lot of bars and see how a lot of wells operate. I know that there’s a benefit to doing this. But seeing a bartender come in, work for three months, and then move on to the next new bar has always kind of irked me a little bit. And I would always say, stay for at least six months because then you can really learn from the bar that you’re in and then you can see if there’s much more growth for you in that job. As a beverage director, it gives me the opportunity to see what strengths you have and we can start to educate a new employee and help to promote them from within. I would always say, stick it out for at least six months, because then you can really get a better sense of your worth within the business.
T: I think that’s a wonderful piece of advice. It’s a different industry to, say, working in an office job or whatever. But potential employers start to see those things on your resume. You only did three months here, two months there. Are they going to want to pick up this person if they’re only going to be there for two months? Wonderful. Question No. 4: If you could only visit one last bar in your life, which one would it be?
N: If I was going to visit one last bar, it would be the Corner Bar, the bar I started bartending at. It used to belong to my uncle and was the first place I started tending bar at. It has a very, very warm spot in my heart.
T: Amazing. Final question here: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
N: This is taking a dark turn. Am I going to die at the end of this interview?
T: Quite morbid, these last two questions.
N: Last cocktail? Honestly, a pretty simple highball. I would probably have a bourbon with ginger beer or a Gin & Tonic. Or a Daiquiri, but I would need to be in a warmer climate. A Martini would be nice, of course, but I don’t think I want those to be my last one. I want my last one to be simple and straightforward, with good bubbles and a good spirit. I don’t even know which spirit I would want it to be at this point.
T: But a fuss-free highball.
N: Exactly, fuss-free. I like that term, fuss-free. And delightful.
T: Sounds amazing. Well, Nicholas, thank you so much for joining us on the show today and imparting some wonderful advice.
N: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
T: Let’s go chug some Long Island Iced Teas.
N: Let’s do it.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
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