Brian Seney Storms the Castle

At Salumi Tapas & Wine Bar, the menu is ever changing, thus the cocktail program needs to do likewise. Brian Seney, a naturally curious drinker, is on the stick at this unique, tiny world in Massapequa.

Related Content: Wind Down at 7 Long Island Wine Bars

How did you start bartending?
I was a barista for almost seven years. I was getting into cocktails at the time, just being an all-around curious drinker, and I noticed there were a lot of similarities between making a cappuccino and say, an Old Fashioned. In that way, bartending was a natural progression. But the vastness of spirits and the different brands, all the cocktail names and recipes, the glassware, it all felt intimidating at first.

How did you overcome that?
I was living in Brooklyn and working at a coffee shop and I found myself getting bored. I started looking for a job where I could, at the very least, progress to bartending. Eventually I found Salumi, a tiny world filled with resources and information that would give me the foundation I needed to start making some special cocktails.

How do you approach building Salumi’s cocktail program?
It all starts with our food. Our menu focuses heavily on seasonal ingredients and we change items frequently. I work closely with our head chef Jon Cano and what he has available and I try to be in synergy with that, whether it’s making a drink that infuses an ingredient in a dish or just that works well alongside it. Jon can have anything from kumquats to lemon balm to house-pickled Thai bird chili peppers…I have a greater opportunity to be creative than a regular cocktail bar might because of the access to a kitchen and the way we rotate through ingredients. Jon is a huge influence and source of motivation. At all times, I have to be on my toes and ready to roll with him. That’s exciting.

Although your cocktail list rotates, are there any particular spirits or drinks you always include?
Yes, there are categories and styles of drinks that will always be featured. I’m drawn to the smokiness of mezcal and to the potent liquorish of absinthe, those two spirits are often present in some form. They’re both particularly tricky spirits, so it’s a fun challenge to find new ways to use them.

As a tapas restaurant, do you think that style of dining influences how guests drink?
I would say any menu shapes how guests drink, just like a person probably drinks differently if there’s no food at all. Being tapas, our menu is very different from dish to dish. But I think it comes down to personal preference. Some guests are interested in pairing their food with something complementary and others ask for something they’re familiar with or something that’s similar.

What’s your favorite cocktail on the current list?
Castle Black, definitely. I wanted to combine some warm flavors into a drink that could transport a guest out of the wet, slushy New York winters. Rye whiskey is the base, then the support: black-walnut bitters, muddled ginger, simple syrup, a maraschino cherry and a spiced chai-infused ice cube.

How would you describe it?
There’s a lot happening. The rye whiskey gives caramel-like sweetness. The black-walnut bitters balance the spice of the ginger and tartness of the cherry. As the chai cube starts to dissolve, its spicy aroma intensifies and adds even more complexity. Some guests have told me that the next day, they remembered the drink being hot and I think a lot of familiar winter aromas lend themselves to this effect.

How to the Castle Black

Brew according to instructions and freeze your favorite spiced chai into ice (Seney likes to use a 2-inch by 2-inch cube tray).

In a rocks glass, muddle ginger (about 1/2-inch in diameter by 1/8-inch thick), a maraschino cherry and 1/4 oz of simple syrup.

Add spiced chai ice cube or cubes to the glass (one 2-inch by 2-inch cube or four 1-inch by 1-inch cubes).

Add 2 1/2 oz of Templeton rye whiskey. Add two dashes of black walnut bitters. Stir and serve.

niko krommydas

Niko Krommydas has written for Tasting Table, BeerAdvocate, Munchies, and First We Feast. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, an app for the iPhone, and a columnist for Yankee Brew News. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.