The Cocktail College Podcast: How to Make the Perfect Corn ‘n’ Oil
On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy sits down with Kevin Beary, a rum enthusiast and beverage director of Chicago’s award-winning Three Dots and a Dash and The Bamboo Room at Three Dots and a Dash. The two break down a beloved Barbados original — the Corn ‘n’ Oil. Tune in for more.
Kevin Beary’s Corn ‘n’ Oil Recipe
- 2 ounces rum, such as Foursquare 2010
- ½ ounce Falernum
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lime coin
- Add all ingredients to a double Old Fashioned glass with a large, 2×2-inch ice cube.
- Stir thoroughly to dilute and chill.
- Express 10–15 drops of a lime coin.
- Add lime coin to the glass, give one last stir, and serve.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Welcome to the podcast, Kevin Beary. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Kevin Beary: Oh, no. Thank you for having me.
T: It’s a real pleasure to have you in the virtual studio today. You’re hitting us there from Chicago, am I right?
K: That’s right — sitting in the bar as we speak.
T: Fantastic. In the natural habitat. It is a shame, speaking of that bar, because we weren’t able to have you join us for the Three Dots and a Dash cocktail. We hadn’t been connected before then, but I’m happy that we’re going to be covering instead — I’m going to say a similarly interestingly named drink. It’s the Corn ‘n’ Oil, today.
K: Yes, it’s a great one. Really special and interesting — circa 1700s Barbados specialty.
T: One of those that immediately falls into the camp, at least in my mind here, of visually very interesting drinks, and perhaps, too, that’s where the name arrives today, because — spoiler alert: As with probably every single one of the drinks that we’ve covered on this show, this does not specifically contain neither corn nor oil, though I guess you could make some kind of concession, there, for bourbon and whiskey-based drinks, but no corn and no oil in this drink. Where does that name come from?
K: Yes, that’s a good question. I don’t know for sure. Some things I’ve heard, or at least read on the internet, is that there’s a line from the Bible in the Book of Deuteronomy that mentions corn and oil. Then, potentially also that it could be a shortened version of something called corning oil. Of either of those, I’m not 100 percent that that’s actually the cocktail name’s origins.
T: We know what’s not in it, but I guess for those who aren’t familiar with what is in this drink, can you highlight that briefly now for us?
The Ingredients Used in Kevin Beary’s Corn ‘n’ Oil
K: Yes, for sure. There’s a little bit of a debate on that depending on who you talk to. I think with the resurgence of the classic cocktail movement in the States we saw a version of a Corn ’n’ Oil become very popular that contained rum, lime juice, falernum and then this big, thick float of black strap rum over the top. That did give, as you were mentioning, this oil-slick appearance of there being this layer of dark rum floating at the top of this cocktail. When you speak to some folks that are a little more familiar with how the cocktail is drank on the island of Barbados, the notion of black strap rum doesn’t really fall into their traditional idea of how a Corn ‘n’ Oil is made. On the island, Corn ‘n’ Oil just being nice Barbados aged rum with some falernum to a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters and a squeeze of lime coin.
T: Interesting. Maybe it’s just one of those happy accidents, then, like the Martini, which some folks think might be an evolution of the Martinez and that’s where its name comes from, or you talk about a ubiquitous vermouth brand, there, Martini & Rossi. Maybe neither of those things are true, but it just so happens that it also works for the recognized modern-day iteration as we see here with that, like you said, that that black strap rum that does look like an oil slick floating on top of the drink.
K: Yes, for sure.
T: This is very, very much tied to Barbados, as you mentioned there. Seems like it’s one of those drinks that comes into the category two of one where it doesn’t seem to have one singular inventor or origin story, but an origin place. Falernum being another very important ingredient in this drink — can you talk about that ingredient’s ties to Barbados in the island there?
K: Yes, so also it’s a traditional cocktail component there in Barbados. On the island, at least in my experience, there’s plenty of these really spiced and interesting cordials and tonics that are incorporated into the rum-drinking culture. I think falernum is definitely one of those. There’s also been some debate as to what the ingredients of falernum actually should be. From our understanding, falernum has a base of rum to which lime zest, clove, ginger and almonds are macerated. Then that whole mixture is sweetened to that of a similar sweetness level to a one-to-one simple syrup.
T: Nice. Yes, definitely does call to mind other ingredients that we’ve explored before here, as well, like allspice dram, things like that, too, where we’re using a spirit base that’s probably beyond a neutral spirit base, but then building upon that with other complimentary flavors and other ingredients that add extra dimensions to it as an ingredient, and then ultimately the cocktails that it’s yielded. In terms of modern-day, you run a bar that’s really designed towards this style and category of drinks. Corn ‘n’ Oil is probably one that folks who are interested in cocktails are familiar with as a name and maybe that image of what it looks like. On a day-to-day basis, how much is this getting called out at your bar? Is this something you’d ever have on your menu?
K: I would say cold call, not a ton. I think that it’s definitely within the lexicon of more interesting classic rum drinks. I would say it comes up from time to time. As far as putting it on a menu, I currently have one on our Bamboo Room menu, and we have had a couple of iterations of it on menus through the years.
T: Nice. You, personally, when it comes to putting a drink like this on the menu, like you say, that doesn’t get cold called a lot, but it probably has some recognition — do you like to stick to a, quote-unquote, very classical formula and approach there? Or are you thinking maybe, “We’ll take that template, but maybe we’ll add a little bit of our own spin just to give a reason for us having it on the menu?”
K: Sure. A little bit of column A, a little bit of column B. I think that for us, a lot of what we do is adapting these dusty tropical cocktail recipes to the modern standard. That is to say, whether a change in product or a misremembered recipe gets distributed, a lot of these old rum tropical cocktail recipes need a lot of adjustment before they’re a delicious, palatable cocktail. I think it’s a little bit of both for us. We like to be very traditional at times and stick to very classic proportions and stick to the original ingredients, but then at the same time we’ve always explored what we consider modern cocktails or our own creations that are a little bit more loose interpretations on some of these classic recipes.
T: The short answer to the following question is always going to be, I would imagine, balance. For this drink specifically, what are you looking for from a perfected version or the version that you want to serve to your guests? Are there any ingredients or flavor profiles or notes that you want to maybe shine more than others?
K: Yes. I can confidently say that I was making Corn ‘n’ Oils wrong for 10 or 15 years following what I thought was an accurate recipe, which, like I was saying, was what was circulating around during the American classic cocktail movement, which was a Corn ‘n’ Oil that had a ton of lime juice, a ton of falernum. It was served over crushed ice and then had this dark float of black strap over the top. I would say I was enlightened to the fact that was not correct by Richard Seale, who’s the distiller from the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados, who was born and raised on Barbados and his family has a long history in rum production and rum trade on the island. He has explained to me that Corn ‘n’ Oil the way his grandfather drank it was very different from this really juice-heavy concoction that I think is what many people here think of Corn ‘n’ Oil. The way he described it to me was that you take two ounces of a really nicely aged Barbados rum, something like any of the Foursquare rums, the RL Seale, perhaps a Real McCoy 12-year-old, to which you’re adding a half an ounce of falernum, and this would be a falernum that’s at that sweetness level of a one-to-one syrup, then four dashes of Ango and a squeeze of lime. When you look at the composition of that cocktail, that more follows the proportions of something like an Old Fashioned than it does this big, juicy, tropical drink.
K: It’s a fantastic way to drink them. That’s the method ever since having one that he made at a conference, or I should say a presentation on falernum that I believe was at Arizona Cocktail Week, or it might have been at Tales. In any case, that opened my eyes to the way Corn ‘n’ Oil should really be done, that’s more in the style of an Old Fashioned.
T: That would seem to me, also, to make maybe a little bit more sense through a historical lens. When we look at the very definition of what a cocktail is in that very famous definition of spirit, sweetening agent and a bitter component, there, and water — water probably arriving through means of dilution in this case, bitter as you spoke about. Then the sweetening agent, interesting in this front that we’re talking about something that’s also alcoholic, too, versus just a simple syrup or sugar on its own. Through a historical lens, maybe that does seem to make more sense, about the mixed drinks that were being consumed at that time versus, I don’t know, shaken sour variations, for example.
T: That’s the approach that you continue to take today?
K: Yes, absolutely. It starts with using a really good-quality rum. Let’s, just as an example, we’re doing one with the Foursquare 2010, which is a 12-year-aged, ex-bourbon-barrel, just higher-proof, really beautiful and rich rum. You set that off with just a little bit of falernum and that squeeze of lime and a couple of dashes of Ango over a nice big cube of ice. The cocktail is awesome. It starts with good rum. You can’t grab any rum off the shelf and make this cocktail and expect to have great results. Something like this really does have to stand on the quality of the rum.
T: For those listening out there today who are familiar with rum being a cane-based product, maybe it comes from molasses, maybe it’s cane juice, can you remind us, Barbadian rum, what are we typically talking about there in terms of style and profile?
K: Broadly, I would say these are going to be molasses-fermented rums that are a blend of pot- and column-still distillates, generally pretty well-aged. Of course, there’s always going to be younger examples.
T: We have the liberty to get into brands — you’ve just mentioned, you’ve reeled off a couple of my favorites right there. Foursquare Seales, there, with that iconic bottle that to my mind looks like either a seal or a candle that’s been burning for a little too long — a wonderful dinner where perhaps a lot of rum has been consumed.
K: Also interesting to note, the Foursquare Distillery that does RL Seale in the Foursquare and the Real McCoy rums, they also produce Taylor’s Velvet Falernum.
T: Oh, interesting.
K: There’s a really tight connection there. That’s not the only large-scale commercial falernum you see on Barbados. Generally here in the States, that’s pretty much the only imported one from Barbados you see, but there are a few others.
T: You answered a question that I was going to have for you, there, falernum — definitely the ingredient that a lot of people are maybe reaching for less. Is this a one-stop shop or are there variations out there? Knowing the quality of those rums, that gives me some comfort in assuming that the falernum that they’re putting out there, too, is probably of the highest, highest quality, too.
K: Yes, it’s very, very good. For me, personally, I like to house-make falernum. I think there’s just a certain — I don’t know — freshness to the flavor of the product that would be impossible in a shelf-stable product. I think in a bottle that you could buy off the shelf, Velvet is, for sure, one of the best if not the best option, but for me personally, I’d like to craft my own.
T: That stands to reason, too, when looking through the lens of the style of drinks that you would serve and your bar is focused. You’re going to be getting through that, so you have that, I’m going to say luxury, but there’s a lot of effort that goes into it. I’m thinking of that versus your standard, or high-quality cocktail bar, but one that has a broader focus or maybe is more focused on, I don’t know, the “Western classics” — your Martinis, your Manhattan’s, your Old Fashioneds, that kind of thing.
K: Yes, for sure. They’re not likely going to be expending the effort to house make their own falernum for a once-in-a-while call, for sure.
T: I want to stay on the topic of rum, and we’re going to move on to a different rum in a second here. Before we do, Foursquare, we’ve mentioned it a couple of times. Folks might remember reading, I’m going to say within the last 10 years — probably more recently, maybe the last five years, or maybe it’s a little bit longer back than that, since we had this pandemic and all concept of time has gone out the window. I do remember a time where a lot of people were saying Foursquare, it’s the Pappy Van Winkle of rum. There was this general feeling, certainly in media — I don’t know what the case was in the industry — that this might help super-premium rum as a category and a segment. Have we seen that come to light, in a way, where Foursquare is this product that remains very hard to get hold of, or generally speaking, are prices quite stable and not the point where it’s like, “I can’t use this anymore as a product, or I can’t even find it?”
K: Yes, it’s definitely in smaller supply. I can’t speak for what it’s like for a consumer in every market, but I would say, at least now, if you can’t get yourself a bottle of Foursquare you can still get a very good rum that comes from the Foursquare Distillery in the form of Real McCoy or RL Seale. I think the real benefit to the scenario, and I think you alluded to it, is the coming of age or the change of the guard in what’s considered a premium or a super premium rum. Five or 10 years ago what was considered the premium rum, if you stand that next to a bottle of Foursquare, they’re worlds apart. Foursquare actually is a legitimate, bonafide premium rum, whereas there are other things that I think have been broadly marketed, maybe Ron Zacapa or such that were in that category, but certainly from a product quality perspective aren’t anywhere even close.
T: Yes, especially when you’re looking at things through a data perspective. Those category or those segment names there — premium, super premium — especially in rum they tend to be misnomers, because anything above, it’s around $20. That might not be wrong but it’s certainly something that doesn’t feel premium but is considered premium and, again, tells maybe a slightly different tale over what’s going on in the category than actually what is true. I don’t know, that’s something that’s always struck me as a journalist, at least.
K: It’s a tricky category in that there’s so many countries that produce rum. There’s so many styles, and there’s no unified set of rules that applies to the production. I think at least the nice part is that while premium rum is getting more recognition, it’s encouraging to see that the bottom of the market, those really low-end products, have started to drop off and definitely lost some share in popularity.
T: Yes, I think that’s so true. It calls to mind, for me, at least, something that friend of the show, rum evangelist Brian Miller has said to me before on occasion, which is that rum as an overall category in some instances needs to be less ashamed to be itself. These days we have products marketed as this is the rum for the bourbon drinker, or this is a spiced rum or this is a rum that contains this or does that. Rum has nothing to be ashamed of as a spirit. It’s phenomenal. It’s wonderful. Again, I keep coming back to Foursquare and people like Richard Seale here. They’re not alone, but those are people that really are showcasing how good this spirit can be.
K: Yes. When you talk about the phrase like “the Pappy of rum,” the nice part here, and at least the time period we’re in, is that these rums are still very accessible at a reasonable price — $80 gets you an incredible bottle of rum.
T: Oh yes, for sure. Also, again, I don’t want to be reductive in terms of numbers and age statements, but $80 will get you something that’s almost certainly aged longer than anything on the American whiskey market, just in terms of years, but then you want to talk about the aging conditions and the countries, so then it takes it onto a whole new level.
K: Yes. I think for the educated consumer, it is a great time to be enjoying rum. The availability of quality rum has just increased so much and there’s so many great things out there and they’re all still at a reasonably good value.
T: Yes. I guess if we can just squeeze one last drop out of this Pappy analogy, and this producer, too — this is not a sponsored episode, folks, this is just, I guess, two people here who are very passionate about these products. If you can’t find Foursquare, you mentioned RL Seales, but also Real McCoy, which I think continues to be one of the biggest bargains in rum. That’s like your Weller, back in the day, versus Pappy, similar kind of products, same producer, maybe a little bit more accessible price-wise and availability-wise — all of them amazing. I guess one final shout-out I would like to make here goes to my friends, at least, over there Altamar Brands who, I believe, import all of those products. They have always kept the wheels nicely greased here at VinePair when it comes to getting quality rums our ways and allowing us to keep on top of the exceptional products that are out there. Those guys are doing fantastic work. Now onto the other side of the rum equation for this drink, black strap rum. Where do you want to start with that?
K: That’s a tricky one. Let’s just get right into it, the most commonly available black strap in the U.S. is Cruzan’s Black Strap. I think you could have the idea that we should take some pride in an American-made product, but the unfortunate part, it’s just not a very good rum and it’s not a very well-made rum in that it has very little, if any, aging, artificial color and a flavoring component. I don’t really recommend the use of black strap rum for anything, at least not the black strap that you would buy off the shelf for $15.
T: Right. The whole style of that, or sub-category, I guess, of this spirit, black strap, is linked to this idea of blackstrap molasses, which as a real product would be the most reduced version of molasses that’s left after the sugar refining process?
K: Yes. Just a lot of ash content, really dark, almost a burnt flavor profile to it. Even so, you’ll see blackstrap molasses on the shelf at the grocery store. That is not what you would consider a distiller’s blackstrap molasses, that’s still a much higher grade of molasses, a much higher sugar content than that really low-grade molasses you would use to distill rum.
T: I don’t know whether this analogy is going to work here, at all. I braised off a Boston butt over the weekend and kept topping that up with some nice demerara sugar, and it did develop this real thick, dark crust on it that, when you eat it on its own was, let’s be honest, it was completely burned, but with the rest of that meat and maybe a sauce, it tasted pretty good. Where am I going with that analogy? When it comes to using blackstrap molasses, black strap rums in cocktails, if there are some out there that maybe you might consider to be good quality, is it something that you see as a seasoning ingredient versus something that can stand alone as a two-ounce base of a cocktail?
K: Oof. Maybe I’m being too hard on black strap rum, but a black strap base cocktail, just not for me. I think in moderation it certainly could be used. Part of that leads to the other misnomer about black strap rum in that it’s made from blackstrap molasses. Rums are either made from fresh cane juice or from molasses, and the molasses that’s used to make the majority of rums is what you would consider blackstrap, low-grade molasses. That doesn’t negatively impact the flavor of the rum. In the case it’s a black strap rum, that’s rum that gets distilled from molasses, and then theoretically something like blackstrap molasses being added back in with coloring after the distillation process. I would say that if you do want that flavor, if you’re going for that flavor, the use of a little molasses in cocktails does somewhat of the same thing, but gives you the option of really subbing in a much more quality product.
T: No, I’ll say I don’t think you are being overly harsh there, too, because it does call to this greater question surrounding rum, and maybe I touched upon that earlier, too, which is fairly loose regulations, all of these things are allowed — it’s not the regulations. Maybe it’s more the lack of transparency from many producers, or maybe — have held this category back in the past. This is not an original thought of my own, I know this is a fairly common thinking point there, but yes, products like that, that purport to be one thing but actually really aren’t, that’s not moving the rum category forward in any way, is it?
K: No, I would say it hurts it. That’s, I think, what held rum back for so long was that you walked in a liquor store and there was an entire aisle full of every flavor of rum that you could possibly imagine. That was a lot of people’s first experience with rum, was these heavily flavored, unaged, column-still rums, and that it’s taken a while for the category to overcome.
T: I very much like, therefore, the iteration of this cocktail — the thinking that you’re bringing to today’s episode, therefore is trying to approach the original version or an authentic version and one too that doesn’t incorporate too many of these ingredients that are maybe hiding something or not being completely truthful. We can move on to lime, therefore. You said in the standard version of this drink, this maybe gets a lot more juice, but what you’re looking for here is just a coin maybe in the Ti’ Punch way. Is that what you’re thinking?
K: Oh, yes, exactly. You’re putting like 10, maybe 15 drops of lime juice into this cocktail that has the balance of an Old Fashioned. It’s still drinks as this booze-forward cocktail with the nice hint of the lime oils that then get expressed over the top, just a touch of acidity and just this beautiful rich spice out of falernum and just a backbone of a nice, strong rum.
T: Oh, nice. That sounds wonderful, there. Then final ingredient for this, we’re talking bitters.
K: Little Angostura bitters, which I think does play. I would say it’s not as pronounced as you see — it’s not as pronounced as you would maybe appreciate in something like an Old Fashioned, because you have all that spice flavor from the falernum, but I still think that bringing in a little extra bitter is helping to balance out the sugar and that touch of acidity.
T: From a tropical rum-based drinks perspective, are there maybe any lesser-known bitters brands or flavors of bitters, for want of a better word there, that you look to yourself as a go-to ingredient? Maybe something like, “I’ve got this cocktail, it’s 99 percent of the way there, but it needs something else. What about a dash of this?” Is there anything you can enlighten us to today?
K: Yes, I think there’s plenty of good bitters options. I think not to necessarily pigeonhole yourself into only using cocktail bitters when you’re in that situation where a cocktail where you think it needs just this extra layer of complexity or balance. There’s plenty of other things you could put in your dasher bottle that could be cool additions. I don’t think you have to laser-focus in on bitters. Absinthe is obviously a good example there. There are some really funky cane juice rums that we like to use in a dasher bottle in that same concept, to add just that one extra layer, but in a really finite proportion. I think there’s a lot of products that are really delicious to use, whether you’re using a little Suze or something along those lines. Then also, even just a little green or yellow Chartreuse is always an awesome dashing agent for some tropical rum drinks as well.
T: I love that. I love to hear that. That really calls to mind something, too, that we had on a recent episode. I think it was William Elliot, we were talking about the À La Louisiane, and he was talking about doing something very similar with absinthe, but putting it in a dasher bottle. I don’t want to get too far ahead. This might come up later in the show, it might not, but I think that is a tool in your bar and filled with some of those different ingredients that you just spoke about there, I’m sure that probably unlocks a whole load of possibilities when it comes to creating cocktails.
T: Just having those on hand. Yes, wonderful.
K: Also just one other note on the Corn ‘n’ Oil, it’s a recipe and it’s a proportion that opens the door for some great variations. We do one that brings in a little Boston Bual Madeira and a nice blend of dark teas into that original proportion. It obviously changes the profile of the drink, but it’s just such a good canvas for some small variations.
T: You know what, Kevin, I love the fact that we come on today, full disclosure here for the listeners, I didn’t know which approach you were going to take when it came to talking about this drink. I thought our conversation might take us through the realms of what floats in drinks or the opposite of that — I forget the name of it — a sink or a drop or whatever, but inversing those things. I thought we might get into that, but I’m really startled and loving the fact that what we’re talking about here is essentially that rum Old Fashioned. Will you give me the license? If people ask me in future or about a Corn ‘n’ Oil, can I say to them, “Forget any way you’ve been making rum Old Fashioneds before. This is the rum Old Fashioned you should be having.” Do I have license to do that?
K: I would say to an extent, yes. Corn ‘n’ Oil does bring in all those spice flavors, so it doesn’t quite drink like an Old Fashioned. It drinks in that style. The only reason I’m hesitant on that is because I also like a more traditional rum Old Fashioned, as well, also a great cocktail. You take an awesome bottle of rum off the back bar, 2 ounces of rum and quarter-ounce of a three-to-one honey syrup and you’ve got an incredible rum Old Fashioned.
T: Nice. All right. It’s a runner in the race, at least.
K: For sure. It’s in the same category. You know what I mean? If you’re into that style of drinks, these are all roads you should be going down.
T: It’s in the conversation right there. If you’re a bartender and looking to maybe sell more rum and someone says, “What do you usually drink?” “I’m an Old Fashioned drinker.” Whip out the properly made Corn ‘n’ Oil, right there.
K: Yes, for sure. Would be a great one.
How to Make Kevin Beary’s Corn ‘n’ Oil
T: That’s a nice little segue here into your own preparation. You mentioned some of the specs there up top, but I’d love if we can revisit that now and if you can talk us through the preparation of this drink as you’re making it now, these days in your bar on the menu, there.
K: Sure. I would say if you come in and you call it a Corn ‘n’ Oil and you’re sitting down in the Bamboo Room, I would take a double Old Fashioned glass and then build right into the glass 2 ounces of — let’s just go with what we like doing it with — Foursquare’s 2010 and a half an ounce of our house-made falernum, probably four dashes of Angostura bitters. I would put in a large two-by-two ice cube, give that a really thorough stir in the glass to really dilute and get down to temperature, cut a lime coin, express 10 to 15 drops of lime, insert the lime coin, give it one last stir and serve it.
T: Fantastic. I love it. I can picture that in my mind as you do that there, and that finishing lime coin. I don’t know, the coin is one of the discoveries that I’ve made since starting this show that I am fascinated by and always enjoy pulling that one out when folks aren’t familiar with it.
T: Any final thoughts here today, Kevin, on the Corn ‘n’ Oil before we move into the final questions, recurring weekly questions on the show?
K: I don’t think so. I think the last thought on that is drink more rum. Order more Corn ‘n’ Oils. Spread the word.
Getting to Know Kevin Beary
T: Hopefully we’re helping do that today. You’ve certainly whet my appetite there with that one, so immediately wondering when cocktail hour is going to come around here. Before it does, though, about those questions, let’s begin as we do with question number one. If you could tell me please, what style or category of spirits typically enjoy the most real estate on your back bar?
K: I would say our back bar is, for obvious reasons, going to be mainly rum, but I do have a very soft spot for brandies — really big Cognac and Armagnac fans over here. We certainly love some agave spirits and have a pretty deep selection of amaros as well.
T: No one’s going to do this to you, obviously, but if you were only able to sip one style of rum, can you maybe narrow that down just for us here, and maybe tell us why or what the thinking behind that might be?
K: Sure. Since we’ve been talking about Barbados rums, I think that if I had to only pick one bottle to sip off — a certain style — I would probably go with a blended rum that’s a well-balanced blend of aged column-still rum with a proportion of pot-still rum. I find that that is the most pleasant for sipping on. 100 percent pot-still rums are great and they’re really funky and interesting, but I think for a more enjoyable, balanced experience, that blend of pot- and column-still aged rums is where I’d be.
T: Nice. Love it. We’re big proponents here on this show of the idea that blending is not a bad thing. Blending’s a good thing. Blending is taking the best, or it should be, and it can be taking the best available components and bringing them together into something that’s balanced, not leaving anything too much up to nature. Yes, it should be a synonym for quality there, but maybe always isn’t.
K: For sure.
T: All right. Question number two here for you. Which ingredient or tool do you believe to be the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
K: I would say sort of this concept of rail spirits. The bartender needs to change their thinking about that. I think that as an industry we’ve been so motivated by keeping costs of cocktails down and really thinking about the business end of things, but once you expand to realize that there’s incredible-quality spirits in your back bar, and if you use them to make cocktails, you’re going to make incredible drinks. I would say that is maybe one of the most unrealized tools, looking out of your well and looking at your back bar and seeing where you can really improve the quality of your cocktails.
T: Oh, amen. I’m, that’s another thing I’m a big proponent of here, too. Allow those bottles for you to use in cocktails. Don’t think they need to be only sipped neat because of a price point or whatever, or maybe you think they’re precious or fragile. These things should be able to stand up in cocktails and still have their own personality.
K: For sure.
T: All right, question number three. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
K: I think one thing that I always harken back to is when you think about bartenders that work in really popular and well-known bars and navigating through this industry that at the end of the day, the most important skill for you to have is how well you can interact with and entertain your guests. You can make the best cocktails in the world, but if you have a terrible personality and you can’t be entertaining and engaging behind the bar, then honestly, it’s all sort of useless. The same thing, I think, goes along with cultivating your team and working with your co-workers. A piece of it is making great drinks, but there’s so much more to this picture than just the cocktail in the glass.
T: Great point right there. It seems to be a sentiment that echoes through quite a lot of these episodes there — so always a wonderful reminder. Penultimate question now for you. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
K: Oh man, that is a tricky one. I’m going to say I would go and have a Martini at the Connaught Bar in London.
T: Nice. Tell us more about that. Tell us your first one, your most recent one. I believe Ago was in town recently over here and had the pleasure of enjoying a Martini made by himself. Yes, tell us more about that.
K: Yes, I think when I was talking about that hospitality and experience. That’s a place that you go, from start to finish every step of your interaction with the space and the cocktail is very thoughtful. I just very much appreciate that style of service. Of course, the customization of your Martini to your exact specifications, I don’t know, it’s really a special experience.
T: There’s something about that experience when it comes to sitting in a room soaking up the history of the space, right? Something that has seen so many things, that hotel and that city too. I don’t know, it just really adds to the experience.
K: Yes, for sure. You feel like a member of high society with that first sip of your Martini.
T: It’ll cost you $25, $30, right? There’s something very democratic about cocktails in that way that can bring us in with that.
K: Yes. If you said this is my last visit to a bar, I think that’s how I would do it.
T: Yes. Maybe go for a double. Who knows? Well, that is a convenient step into our final question on the show today, which is, of course, if you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
K: That’s a tricky one. I think I would probably, and this is going to sound very elementary probably, but I would drink a Daiquiri. I would drink it in my exact specific way, but I think I would kick off on a nice strong, overproof Daiq’ — a split base between some really well-aged Jamaican and some overproof Martinique agricole blanc.
T: Nice. What’s your thinking when it comes to sweetening agents and citrus, specifically lime there?
K: Yes, obviously fresh lime. I tend to do a heavier proportion of lime. I like a one-ounce lime juice Daiquiri, which is not a popular opinion. For me, the only sugar to make Daiquiris with is Martinique cane syrup.
T: Phenomenal. It’s a great choice. It’s an iconic drink, right there — definitely a good one to finish on. Kevin, don’t call it a rum Old Fashioned, or maybe do, and don’t reach for the old black strap there. This has been the Corn ‘n ‘ Oil. Thank you so much for joining us.
K: It was a pleasure chatting about Corn ‘n’ Oils with you. Thank you.
T: Hope to raise a glass of Foursquare or something similar in the future together.
K: Yes, absolutely.
OK, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s “Cocktail College” is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.
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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.
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