Mixology – “The Art Of The Perfect Libation”

Mixology - "The Art Of The Perfect Libation”

mix·ol·o·gy noun
\mik-ˈsä-lə-jē\ :
the art or skill of preparing mixed drinks

Whether you imbibe or not, there is something transfixing about watching a skilled bartender mix the perfect cocktail. Like chefs, they are exact in their detailing. A splash of this, a shake, perhaps a double or triple of that. Next, a dramatic pour into the specially chosen shaped vessel and finally a touch of garnish. Voila! There it is, presented before you to devour with all senses. The beauty of the drink, colors bouncing in the light, smells and tastes that you could only imagine together, blended with razor sharp precision. Mixology isn’t a new fad term, it’s a practice. It is holding the honor of the spirit intact by combining fresh flavor combinations, not only to enhance but definitively open the menu to endless possibilities. It goes with moods and seasons. In the spring you may crave something “light” and “refreshing”, in the winter, perhaps something a bit heavier that “warms you up”. A hot toddy in February, or something with effervescence in May? It is exactly about how it makes you feel. Part of that feeling is making you feel special. After all, it is a treat that was made just for you, one glass at a time.

I had the honor of sitting and talking with Kevin Westmoreland (Co-Owner of Chestnut and Corner Kitchen) as well as Portland, Oregon transplant, Charlie Hodge (Bar Manager and Mixologist Extraordinaire) on the attributes that are important in perfecting the “art” of the cocktail.

(CSL) So, beginnings…how did the concept for Chestnut come about?
(KW)- “I started in the restaurant industry in Asheville about 10 years ago with my partner and Executive Chef, Joe Scully, who is a Culinary Institute of America graduate, first in his class. We started Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village, which is a historic part of town, and we also wanted to have another restaurant in the downtown area, so when we saw this building available, a historic building from the 20’s, we took on the task of renovating it by including a lot of reclaimed chestnut, window, and doors. We also refinished the original pine wood floors, and in the end our aesthetic was a mixture of a 1920’s New York restaurant and Parisian bistro from that era. Comfortable, big bar and room to enjoy. Our cocktails are a big draw.”

(CSL) And, Charlie how did you connect with Kevin and Joe?
(CH) “I moved here from Portland, Oregon, where I owned my own nightclub and had a strong history in bar service, as well as started consulting for other bar owners. At the time I was there, Portland was a hot-bed for new concepts but was hitting the point of saturation. I decided to move to Asheville because I think it is on the cusp and has that similar, fertile ground. I had friends that knew the owners of Corner Kitchen and spoke highly of them, I was really interested in working for them.“

(CSL) So what drives you to discover unique drink combinations?
“If you look at the history of how the bars have progressed, it got beyond the drinking and the pure consumption of alcohol, to covering up poor distillations with synthetic flavors and ingredients, to now where people are getting creative. What I am inspired by is taking those cocktails that people are familiar with and bringing them back to their honesty, with pure ingredients. For example we juice all of our fruit juices fresh everyday. It is time consuming and it isn’t cheap, but every time someone has a cocktail they express how amazing it is. And it is because we have a bar that takes the cocktail to that level. I think a lot about mixology is that people are realizing that it is about hospitality and beyond making a great drink, but also about how to make people feel good about being here.”

(CSL) Anything unique on the menu or in your process?
(CH) “Having all the farms around and what is available seasonally, as well as having a definitive season shift is something I did not have when I lived in Southern California, it is fun to play with winter drinks vs. summer and what that looks like. Also, our ice program. The amount of control you get with large ice in terms of water dilution vs. chilling a cocktail is substantial, allowing our cocktails to be cold and sharp in flavor. By shaking with a “big cube”, you not only control dilution, but it also whips a cocktail to brighten all the ingredients and prevents the small chips of ice that will quickly flatten out a cocktail. This is why for certain drinks, we use one large ice cube to extend the life of a beverage for the imbiber to enjoy.”

(CSL)Are you seeing resurgence in any particular kind of spirit?
(CH) “We’ve seen gin come back and rightfully so. Gin is amazing to play with behind the bar. You have all those botanicals to pair with. Rum has also gained some traction again. But I think more than the focus of what is trendy at the moment is the situation when you have a patron that tries a drink with a spirit they believed they did not like, and with the care and flavor combination put into that specific drink, they realize they like it more than they thought.”

(CSL) “I can attest to that, in fact I recall trying one of your cocktails at a special event that had whiskey in it, again, something that would not be on the top of my list, and it was unbelievably good, sneaky good. So, how would you describe the Chestnut experience, overall?”

(KM)- “It is warm and comfortable. We kept that in mind when choosing the color palette, decor and renovations. It is an American restaurant, some classics slanted toward the South, with an emphasis on seafood. Also our chefs are trained in Pan -American cuisine, so you will usually see at least one item on the menu with an Asian influence. In a nutshell, I think it is the kind of place you come in and get great service and food, the kind you would at a more upscale eatery but at a price that will leave you pleasantly surprised.”

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