In preparation for the release of Marisol’s winter cocktail menu, we sat down with Marisol Lead Bartender Brian Case to discuss his drink-making philosophy and to find out what type of cocktails are in store next.
Shauna Skalitzky: I’m curious how one creates a cocktail. What do you start with?
Brian Case: I always start by thinking about what I like to drink, or just experimenting, like when you have two things behind the bar and you’re just curious what they would taste like together. It always helps me to start with a classic recipe or a recipe that I’ve read about and from there start to change ingredients and proportions. I usually try to pull things away. It’s more about a combination of two or three things instead of a concoction of a bunch of flavors. In some instances, like vermouth, people have spent centuries getting this right so I want to honor that. Somebody took so much time to work on this thing and has been developing it; I don’t want to dump all this stuff all over it and take away what’s special about it. That’s where the idea with the combinations comes in, where it’s like let’s find some things that naturally go together instead of forcing a bunch of stuff to make it taste right.
SS: What is the reasoning behind the drink titles?
BC: All the titles are inspired by the research I did about Marisol. So some of them relate to her work, like the Six Women, which is the first piece gifted to the MCA, and the first drink that I came up with. Some of the others, like #13, is a reference to the Andy Warhol movie she was in called 13 Women. Your Silent Face is a reference to the vow of silence that she took after her mother committed suicide. Sidney J. was a gallery owner who gave her one of her first shows and also turned into her business manager. Marisol was notorious for traveling, for going off and getting lost, and he was the one who was, I think, charged with answering for her whereabouts. So he kind of helped take care of her and helped her navigate her personal life and her art career. Found in Photo is a reference to an article that was about women in pop art—it was not really Marisol specific, but fit the drink so we went with it.
SS: How do the flavor profiles draw from your research on Marisol?
BC: The drinks are all based on a style of drink called suppressor, which is where the spirit is lower in quantity than some of the other ingredients in the drink. It’s the way that cocktails were first made when they were becoming fashionable in the early 1900s. Vermouth was usually the main ingredient and the spirit was just the kick underneath it. So I was more interested in doing combinations of things as opposed to building some crazy cocktail. Marisol was really straightforward and direct and we wanted the cocktails to reflect that attitude, so a lot of them are just a combination of one or two things as opposed to a crazy build where we spent months infusing a gin or something like that.
SS: How did you choose what goes into each of the cocktails?
BC: All the drinks are based on—they’re sort of variations on classic cocktails, so the Six Women is basically a perfect Manhattan, which is a Manhattan that has equal parts dry and sweet vermouth. Maybe a more modern version of that would be two parts whiskey or rye and then one part vermouth. With this one we put everything at equal parts so that the vermouths work together against the whiskey instead of the whiskey being the top note and just taking over that.
The Sidney J. is similar. It’s a tequila and sherry drink with equal parts of each matched together. I think I was messing around with something else and just stumbled up that, and it was something I really hadn’t tried before. So taking that idea where you let chance happen. If it’s strange, it’s ok.
With the menu, we tried to make some things that keep in mind the people who are in this building, inside a contemporary art museum. So they will maybe be more interested in taking a chance or opening up to something they hadn’t thought of before, which is what you want people to do when they come into this building. Maybe they’ll drink something weird.
SS: So, what’s to come? What cocktails will be on the next menu?
BC: The next cocktails are a similar style, and have a similar philosophy behind them– they’re not intended to be super boozy or traditional. They’re more wintery so the flavors are a little deeper, they’re a little bolder; they warm you up.
There’s some interesting ingredients. We’re using something called tepache, which is made with fermented pineapples. There’s going to be some interesting left turns but nothing’s finalized.