the genius: Jeff Grow
New York, NY
the inspiration: I’m inspired by the mixologists I work with at Theater Bar — the work I do there really blends into the rest of my creative life. They do things that I would have never imagined. We’ve been adding drinks to the menu, and even just tasting or watching the way they put things into drinks, pairing, blending, presentation, the way there’s a gorgeous green drink with just the right amount of foam on it, and the garnish, the way the whole cocktail gets tied together and how deeply ingredients go together, including what glass the drink goes in. That’s how I think about magic all the time, and am learning to think about cocktails the same way.
the genius: Frankie Solarik
Owner, Master Mixologist
the inspiration: My inspiration is derived from anything and everything. I could walk through a forest and smell the fall leaves and that correlates to Halloween and pumpkin or I could hear Miles Davis’ muted trumpet on a track and that correlates to the experience of viscosity on the tongue. It could be a dish or cuisine or the scents I pick up walking through a city, like someone caramelizing an onion, and what does that derive in me, then that translates into a cocktail.
the genius: Michael Neff
the inspiration: My creativity is inspired by my daughters, who remind me that there is something profound to discover in even the most mundane situations.
the genius: Todd Richman
Frederick Wildman and Sons
the inspiration: I’m very much into seasonal ingredients. As a brand ambassador I try to come up with cocktails using Chartreuse and Ilegal that taste beautiful, but are easy enough to replicate at home. I find inspiration in anything and everything, in music, in art, in walking through a farmer’s market and smelling what’s fresh. It’s funny, there are so many bartenders doing incredible things, hundreds of them, but in every city, someone does something different with our spirits. Every time I try a classic, like a Widow’s Kiss or Last Word, I’m blown away by the execution, time and care. I’m always surprised, but never surprised at the same time.
the inspiration: I have been studying the Mizuwari recently and really think it is beautiful. This is the Japanese way of taking a simple highball and elevating it to a level near that of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. First a few ice chunks are selected and put into a super-thin, tall glass. A small measure of Japanese whisky is poured over and it is stirred exactly 13 1/2 times. Then two to three times as much water — or soda for a Sodawari — is added to the drink. Next, it’s gently stirred three-and-a-half more times and garnished with a little citrus or fresh herb. Soulful stuff.
the genius: Ethan Terry
the inspiration: There's so much creativity and innovation happening in the cocktail world right now it's almost impossible to keep up. It's all very inspiring. There's an all-out renaissance rising out of the ashes of the mercifully dying drinking culture of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and it's growing exponentially. We're specifically in awe of the number of long-defunct or mostly forgotten hard-to-find ingredients coming back with a vengeance:
Cremes, liqueurs and spirit styles that many considered extinct and thought we would never have the opportunity to explore are, through the tireless dedication of the enthusiasts and historians that study them, resurfacing every day.
Beautiful antique cocktail books are being painstakingly restored by Mud Puddle Books in NY for cocktail geeks and curious home bartenders alike to ogle and experiment with.
Winemakers like Carl Sutton in San Francisco are looking to resurrect vermouth.
Youngsters like the Bon Vivants weren't satisfied with the flavor profiles of the bitters available to them and decided to create their own line.
We're seeing vinegar and gastriques and infusions and juices and spices that would wow the culinary world ending up in our glass at the end of every day, all over the world. And even that's not enough to satiate our thirst.
the genius: Aaron Smith
the inspiration: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins inspires cocktails for me — I love the way he describes base notes, mid notes and high notes in the final fragrance and like to think about that when tasting cocktails, really experiencing the drink like you would a glass of wine. Great cocktails, like wine, have a great start, mid-palate and finish. Robbins also talks about the evolution of the brain from reptilian to mammalian, and then progressing to floral, with the floral mind being the place where senses and memory meet and transcend the physical plane. I like to think of spirits and wine as pathways to that sensory experience.
the genius: Diego Felix
the inspiration: Right now I'm listening to Fantasma and trying to transmit the pulse of my city in gourmet fine dining without forgetting that we are simple people living in a big city at the bottom of South America.
the genius: David Shenaut
Beaker & Flask
the inspiration: When I'm behind the bar with another bartender ... we're having a good time ... a customer comes in and wants to try something. I'm a dealer’s choice guy, so I'll make up something on the fly and make it work. Quite a few people will come in and name a spirit. My favorite thing to do is grab the other bartender and we agree that I grab a base spirit and he grabs a secondary spirit, any two, and then you end up with two random bottles that nine times out of ten, you’ve never seen those two spirits together in a drink. Then we have a dialogue about everything: long, citrus, stirred, soda, under three ingredients, five ingredients ... and you talk through it ... and then make it. We start by putting the two spirits together and tasting, then trying to balance it out. That ends up being pretty fun.
I spent two nights last Halloween at PDT guest-bartending and walked away with a tip from Jim Meehan, who told me to write down every drink you ever make, no matter how bad or how good it is. I also just spent some time with Eric Castro and he’s got a Google doc of every drink he’s had, it’s a database of thousands of drinks all at his fingertips. I’ve got a stack of little black moleskin books that I keep recipes in. I’ll flip through that and get inspired by what was put together.
the genius: Scott McMaster
Executive Director, Cocktail Development
the inspiration: When inspiring creativity, I look for what isn't there, the "duh" moment you feel when you see something for the first time. This includes finding the dusty bottle at the liquor store. A tip for the hometender would be to seek out tastings. Not everyone should have a 100-plus home collection of spirits. As for me, I differentiate myself with my bad sense of humor. My bad jokes help to highlight how good the drinks are.