Behind the Bar at Cork and Kerry

Welcome to Behind the Bar(tender), a series in which Long Island Pulse, thirsty for great conversation and even better cocktails, meets with Long Island’s most talented bartenders.

Doug Brickel
Beverage director, Cork and Kerry

If you weren’t a bartender, you’d be: 
Hosting some sort of Action Bronson-style travel show where I get to bring my friends around the world to eat and drink. Get at me, Vice.

Favorite thing about working behind a bar: 
I’ve gained people’s trust through cocktails, making occasional customers into regular customers and then into lifelong friends. At the same time, the community of craft bartenders is strong and tight-knit, and I love being a part of it.

Least favorite thing about working behind a bar:
Getting texts on my nights off from other bartenders at, or after, three in the morning. Our sleep schedules can be really bizarre.

Define the perfect cocktail:
Anything balanced. Whether using delicate flavors or strong ones, harmony amongst all parts of a cocktail is paramount.

Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Cognac and Yoo-hoo. I mean, I would have still made it if I had had Yoo-hoo behind the bar.

Your inspiration:
The idea of getting to help shape palates and groom true cocktail lovers on Long Island.

Describe your cocktail list:
It’s basically a comprehensive list of drinks that we really like. A lot of other places go for seasonal or constantly changing menus, which I think is counterproductive. Sure, we’ll do drinks with seasonal ingredients and flavors when inspiration strikes, but they don’t hit the menu. All the drinks on our list are good year-round.

In addition to the big list of house drinks, we also have a section entitled “Bespoke Cocktails,” where we guide guests to offer us their preferences so that we can make them something that we know will please them. It’s a framework we use to get our customers talking about cocktails using a common language that we can then translate into ideal orders.

Favorite drink to mix:
I’m a big proponent of there not being drinks that are inherently “better” or “worse” than one another. Rather I think the most important service a bartender can provide is to find the right drink for that person. My favorite drink to mix is the one I make someone after asking them a few questions about their likes and dislikes…When I get it right the first time and when someone takes their first sip and looks at me like I’m a magician, it’s a cool feeling. People really think we’re reading their minds, but really we’re just asking thoughtful questions and actually listening to their answers.

One thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Cocktails with muddled ingredients that aren’t fine strained. Fruits and herbs are naturally inconsistent, and if considered thoughtfully ahead of time there is always a better way to extract flavor than just mashing. Also, floating bits of fruit in a drink looks terrible, and even when strained out they leave sinks a mess and clog the drains. Just say no.

The best piece of bartending advice you’ve ever received:
Less is more! I feel like I can look at a cocktail menu and tell how long someone has been bartending because of how many ingredients they’re trying to add to their drinks to make themselves look knowledgeable or fancy. The best drinks in history have three or four ingredients. Negroni. Daiquiri. Manhattan. You can’t deny it.

If you could mix a drink for one person, dead or alive:
I’ve been lucky enough to have already had the opportunity to make drinks for some of the most influential bar figures in the world: Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan, Lindsey Johnson. But if I could make a drink for anyone else, it would have to be Jerry Seinfeld. I know he grew up on Long Island, so maybe someone will see this and let him know. I don’t even know if he drinks!

Favorite thing to do when you’re not drinking or drink making:
Traveling the world in search of spirits knowledge and the coolest bars in the world. Over the last two years alone, I’ve been able to go to bourbon camp in Kentucky, rum camp in Puerto Rico and two trips down to learn about tequila in Guadalajara. I’ve been able to learn from top bartenders and drink in cities like San Diego, New Orleans, Buffalo, Las Vegas and San Juan. But if I’m out of a bar, I’m a die-hard New York Rangers fan and the thrill of seeing a game at Madison Square Garden will always be my first great love.

Your favorite bar and why:
It was Booker and Dax, in the back half of Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village up until about a year ago. Dave Arnold’s program was so creative and always evolving. He had the coolest toys—rotovap, centrifuges, red-hot pokers, liquid nitrogen. It was a very prep-heavy program, but it was seamless on the service end. Booker & Dax drinks taught me how to do the work on the front end, making sure to consider speed, accuracy and the importance of details in front of customers. Also, even with all of the technology employed in their cocktails, they rarely garnished their drinks, preferring to wow guests with the flavor of the drink rather than the appearance. I’ve left that bar so many times with literal pages of notes and ideas for how I could improve my program. I definitely owe a lot of my philosophy on drink-making to Dave Arnold and the team. I can’t wait for their new venture.

Best thing you ever drank:
The Turbo Monsooner at Booker and Dax. It was a daiquiri riff with nitro-muddled Thai basil and fish sauce. We use salt a lot for balance, but the idea of using fish sauce to bring the flavor of the drink closer to a bowl of pho was so clever. Another notable one was a Don Q cocktail I had in Puerto Rico that was funneled into a coconut, closed with wax and buried for three months before served. That thing was off the charts.

Worst thing you ever drank:
Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda. I don’t know who told Dr. Brown that celery needed to be carbonated, but my vote is a hard NO.

First time you got drunk:
A few of our friends slept over a buddy’s house. I think we were 14 or 15. We ended up finding an old, dusty bottle of Seagram’s gin that we swore tasted like mango. Awful. Now, shots of warm gin are punishment for rolling the dice off the table.

If your bar shifts had a theme song:
“Hurting and Shoving” by Glassjaw. I’m half kidding, but I’m definitely clumsy. Dropping a jigger or strainer behind our bar is called “Doug-ing.”

After a shift, you drink:
Water. Hydration is everything.

Signature Drink | Artichoke Negroni

Continuing with the theme that the best cocktails are made up of three components, one of the simplest drinks I’ve written is also one of my favorites. A classic Negroni is a tight, bitter cocktail consisting of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, stirred and garnished with aromatics of orange. I, and all the bartenders I know, have learned to love the unforgiving bitterness of Campari. Thinking of our clientele, however, I thought it worthwhile to build another drink on the same skeleton with slightly different bone structure to make it a bit less astringent.

In place of the ruby-red Campari, I went with Cynar, which lends a vegetal note and a lot of depth, along with a more user-friendly bitter bite. Cynar is interesting because it is made with artichokes, and the chemical compound cynarin contained within messes around with your sense of taste, making things seem sweeter than they actually are. Similarly, utilizing Cardamaro in the place of sweet vermouth makes for an earthier drink. Gin fortifies the cocktail while adding the necessary botanicals to keep it interesting. Just as a squeeze of lemon juice will accentuate a roasted artichoke, the lemon oils from an expressed peel brighten the drink off in the most beautiful way.

Ingredients: (1 serving)
1oz gin, preferably Aviation American
1oz Cynar
1oz Cardamaro
Garnish: lemon peel

1) Add all ingredients to a mixing glass.
2) Add ice and stir gently for 10 to 15 seconds, tasting for appropriate dilution. (Brickel says stirring is complete “when the burn of the gin starts to fade and the chocolatey notes are noticeable from the Cynar.”)
3) Strain over one large ice cube into a rocks glass.
4) Garnish with a lemon peel.

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.