If you have a basic knowledge of mixed drinks, you probably know all about the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Negroni, Mojito, Margarita, and a bunch of other classic cocktails. If you visit any cocktail bar in the world, you can order these and hundreds of other mixed drinks and any decent bartender will have no problem making them for you. But, a really good bartender, on top of learning (and making) the classics, should also know the drinks on his or her seasonal cocktail menu better than any course they ever studied in school and should have even invented a handful of drinks themselves.
This week’s bartender is Cameron Holck from Urban Farmer in Portland, Oregon with his cocktail “Mayan Bulldog” — made with gin, Huana Guanabana Liqueur, lemon juice, fig-cinnamon syrup, and house-made bitters. When it comes to creating new and interesting cocktails, Holck tends to find inspiration and ideas from food, chefs, and seasonal ingredients.
“I love bringing fresh and regional flavors – such as figs in early fall – into a cocktail-ready syrup or shrub,” says Holck.
From there, he builds a flavor profile around what he wants to highlight, using a methodical step-by-step approach (often using the Flavor Bible as a reference). That helps him tie the drink into both a dynamic and focused occasion.
“I use my knowledge of classics to balance new builds, but rely on my palate to tune each cocktail based on the ingredients I’m using.”
Besides product knowledge and riffing on previous builds, Holck thinks of bartending and cocktail creation as a family event.
“I’ve never made a great cocktail all by myself,” he says. “I probably could, but where’s the fun in that?”
He enjoys seeking opinions and help when putting a drink together. Because he believes that it’s through a shared experience that the best drinks are made.
“Everyone gets to taste whatever influence they had in it, and that’s what the bar world is all about.”
“This drink encompasses my style of bartending,” says Holck. To go back to his idea of cocktails being a team effort: The fig syrup was made by a fellow bartender and the executive chef.
“I beefed up the syrup with some demerara sugar, cinnamon sticks, a little bit of salt, and a nice shot of high proof rum.”
He then made some house bitters by blending a few tinctures he had on hand (rhubarb, cinnamon, and cardamom.). He says the current build balanced the drink into a fresh-but-rich cocktail that beautifully showcases the gin.
“The spices from the cinnamon and cardamom remind you it’s time for fall, but the citrus and rhubarb keep you reminiscing of summer.”
Bringing in the guanabana liqueur adds a helpful base level of flavor, and is an impressive showing of how well the gin works in different settings.
“It’s delicious and a beautiful color to boot. Several minds influenced this final version, which in my opinion makes it even better.”