Lorenzo Antorini of Charles H Bar in Seoul continues his chats with friends of Charles H. Baker Jnr. Here he talks to Iain Griffiths, co-founde of Trash Tiki and Mr Lyan.
Illustration: Rick Kim @reecc; photography: @jessicafradonophoto)
You’ve worked in some game changing bars, from Eau de Vie in Melbourne, to Bramble in Edinburgh, with White Lyan in London being the pinnacle of all of them. With this in mind how do you describe your relationship with classic cocktails?
Classics were my thing for a very long while although I won’t pretend that I’ve picked up a cocktail book in the last few years… However, they remain the cornerstone to how I create most of my drinks and are definitely what I love to order when I get the chance to sit down at a bar worth its salt and just shoot the beeze with the bartender. Creative bartenders are great to engage with, talk about ideas with and to stimulate and push boundaries, but give me a workhorse who can quickly drop well-made classics from a Pan American Clipper to a Rome With a View, that’s the person I want to sit in front of on more than one occasion. And to be honest, that’s in no small part because that’s the bartender I push myself to always be first and foremost and will always support.
Whether or not creativity is something you possess, you’ll simply discover pretty quickly once given the chance. Whether or not you’ve got the application to learn the classics, develop speed around that foundation, fix the holes in your palate and still be able to always look up, smile and know none of that matters unless the folk on the other side are having a good time. That shit takes a lifetime to master, and it always starts with your classics.
As well as drinks Charles H Baker Jr. wrote about food, and in his books he elevated the cocktail world to the culinary one. What’s your idea of luxury when it comes to food and drinks?
Luxury has shifted over the last few decades from being something tangible, that you simply had to display and show off, to something hyper-personal, that’s so centred around you and your individual needs that other people only want their own version of that experience. That’s the result of many shifts from industrialisation to how many people we communicate with each day and so on, but in food and drink, that same shift holds true. Luxury is the special experience, it’s now the small grower Champagne house that makes 100 cases a year not the big glitzy packaging that we see on shelves around the world. It’s the bartender or chef that focuses on story and emotion because we can tap into that, not someone who copies from a book because it’s old and should respect that it’s old. Classics are just that, staples. Luxury is the chance to feel part of a personalised experiment, where the food and drink is just what you want and at the same time, the tipping point of flavours, ideas and service you never thought you knew you wanted.
But luxury is also emotionally driven, and that’s why sometimes a pint of Guinness and bag of Monster Munch can feel like the biggest luxury in the world. Ultimately, if you’re in hospitality and trying to offer a luxury experience, it’s first and foremost knowing what is going peak the emotions your guest is in the mood to feel.
How much of what you make or create is an extension of yourself versus an application of creative principles?
Yes, creativity is an art unto itself but any prick who thinks that their Manhattan variation is gonna cause the same societal shift the likes of anyone from Patti Smith to Basquiat created needs to have a long hard look in the mirror. I guess I would say I don’t tend to have any firm creative principles and so by virtue of that, most of what I create is an extension of myself. Real creativity for me is about burning shit down and kicking in doors; principles are just gonna get in the road of that.
Is there a dish and cocktail that you vividly remember as being a “eureka” moment for you? Or simply having thought: “Damn, I would have loved to have created that”
Micah Melton’s Carrot Cake Ramos is the kind of shit I’ll push someone out of the road at the bar to drink, but I’m glad he created it because it’s nice to know that even the grumpy guys like to have a little fun 😉 No seriously, I think I have a moment like that most months, humans are amazing creatures and it’s always eye-opening to see what we can create when we apply ourselves.
But if I have to pick one, Mike Aikman’s Campbeltown Cocktail is the tits and a thing of beauty. I can’t think of a drink I’d care more to be able to say I created.
Charles H Baker Jr, was an adventurer who loved to travel, drawing on the inspiration of the people he met, the recipes he found and the cultures he encountered along the way. What have you learned/been influenced by from your Trash Tiki travels with Kelsey to date?
At the time of writing we’re in our 36th city in the last five months. It’s been hella intense at times but every city has had something for us to take away. Sometimes it’s the inspiration of seeing a city like Detroit and how locals have fought to bring it back up and now has bars of standard deserving international recognition. You hear them talk about the challenges and opportunities faced and realise how much of a risk they took just to open in the first place.
Or in Tokyo, we learnt a lot there but not what you’d expect. There simply isn’t a younger generation coming through, as eager to learn or drink cocktails. When you look around only a handful of bartenders across the whole city are under 30, with 50% or more of the people who visit them being tourists. Those that are Japanese are all well past 30. Then you walk into any craft beer or natural wine bar and it’s mobbed– I was always the oldest prick in the room. Frankly I think they took this shit way too seriously and forgot to make it relatable to the next generation. Bars and bartending styles have got to be fun if they are to last; it’s alcohol, music and conviviality, it’s not meant to be a fucking sabbatical from enjoyment.
Other times we’ve just seen some cool techniques and badass bartenders – it’s nuts to see how craft cocktail culture is truly a global phenomenon and there isn’t a city we’ve been to yet that doesn’t already have bars knocking out tasty drinks to a dedicated audience. That shit keeps you focused like you can’t imagine, cos you realise just how many people are now listening.
Tell us how you’ve recreated the Daisy de Santiago and what’s the best way to approach a similar classic.
I first had this drink at Black Pearl – I’m pretty sure that Rob Libecans or Adi Ruiz made it for me. I hadn’t really got to know them at that stage so I still thought they were cool, and when they popped it down they gave some quick chat about it being from Charles H. Baker. I hadn’t heard of the book and so that in turn piqued my interest and I went home and bought the book online. It’s hands down my favourite cocktail book with my favourite recipes, ever.
Because of that I haven’t really changed the recipe too much. It was always served on crushed ice at Black Pearl and I stand by that (how the else you gonna float the Yellow Chartreuse eh?!). I’ve subbed in a little dark sugar lime oleo to make up for omitting the Bacardi 8 Year Old rum, and then used a bar spoon of aged agricole to help kick through those high esters of the Heritage, so the flavour is hopefully a little more reminiscent to what rums of that era were tasting like.
Whether or not Bacardi is your jam when it comes to rum, you’ve defo got to respect that fact that even in 1946, that shit was being brand called for, in text. I haven’t changed the Chartreuse in anyway cos who the fuck am I to play with perfection?
Daisy de Santiago
45ml Cuban Rum
1 tbsp aged Agricole Rhum
15ml lime juice
5ml 2:1 sugar syrup
*5ml lime panela oleo
Build over crushed ice in either double Rocks or Highball glass. Float 10ml Yellow Chartreuse.
*Specific preparation for one serving
Quickly grate the zests of you fresh limes before juicing. Add 10 times the amount of panella sugar to zests, cover and store at room temp for a day or so. Mix five times the amount of warm water with sugar and zest. Stir, strain and bottle.
(eg: 50g zests, 500g panella, 250ml water)
Keep up to date with Trash Tiki at trashtikisucks
Read more about the Finding Charles project here