Jennifer Colliau

This is the Fifth in an ongoing series of bartender features in the Savoy Topic.

Previously, I had experimented by asking the bartender at Montgomery Place to make me a Bombay Cocktail No. 2, but this just seemed to result in a grumpy bartender.

To make it less of a shock, I thought I would contact some local bartenders and give them a choice of the dozen or so Savoy Cocktails that might be coming up in the book.

Surprisingly, some actually were game.

When I met up with Erik Adkins at Flora in Oakland, he mentioned that one of his bartenders at the Slanted Door might be interested in participating in the Savoy topic.

I’ve talked up the Slanted Door previously. I think they do a fantastic job with their bar program. They have a great menu and take an amazing amount of care, using all fresh juices and making many ingredients in house, including Jennifer Colliau’s fantastic orgeat. Even though we hadn’t met before, I was really psyched when I found out Jennifer was the bartender at the Slanted Door interested in participating.

What a joy to take pictures in a relatively well lit bar for a change!

Jennifer Colliau

Jennifer has worked in the restaurant industry her whole life, and began bartending as soon as she was legally allowed to do so.  She became bar manager of the Sonora Cafe, an upscale southwestern restaurant in Los Angeles, at age 23, where she soon found herself indoctrinated into the mysterious and intriguing world of the Agave.  When she is not tending bar, she designs and makes furniture and teaches woodworking in Oakland.

Also, since we met up at Slanted Door last year, Jennifer has launched a small business selling flavored non-alcoholic syrups to bars in the San Francisco Bay Area. Called Small Hand Foods, she is specializing in ingredients for pre-prohibition cocktails. Aside from her fantastic Orgeat, she also makes a real Gum Syrup using Gum Arabic and a Pineapple Gum Syrup, one of the essential ingredients in the classic San Francisco drink, Pisco Punch.

Two Absinthes behind the bar! How great is that? A year or so ago, there would have been nothing.

Fascinator Cocktail

2 Dashes Absinthe. (20 drops)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 oz Noilly Prat)
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Tanqueray No. 10)
1 Sprig Fresh Mint.

Shake (stir) well and strain into cocktail glass.

Preferred the Kubler in this cocktail. Somehow it seemed less muddled and the other ingredients of the drink were more able to shine. Since we were stirring this and not shaking, we were both quite surprised how clearly the flavor of the mint came through in the Kubler version.

The first thing that came up here is the question of the “dash”. Jennifer initially insisted on the small size, measuring dashes in drops, while I maintained my 2 dashes is half barspoon opinion (inarticulately and poorly.) I did mention my theory that not all “dashes” are necessarily equivalent. I.e. a dash from a bitters bottle not necessarily the same as a dash of lemon juice or curacao. This idea had some traction, especially as we progressed through the following recipes.

Favourite Cocktail

1 Dash Lemon Juice. (10 drops)
1/3 Apricot Brandy. (3/4 oz House Made Apricot Liqueur)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 oz Noilly Prat Dry)
1/3 Dry Gin. (3/4 oz Plymouth)

Shake (stir) well and strain into cocktail glass.

This was nice, but is a hard one to balance. That single “dash” of Lemon Juice is really tough. A little too much will tip this cocktails towards flavors I would describe as “children’s aspirin”. Not enough and it is too sweet. As well, very dependent on the brand of apricot liqueur.

Q: What place do house made ingredients have in the commercial bar?

A: Ideally, a bar wouldn’t have to make any ingredients in house. Unfortunately, the quality isn’t always there in commercial products, so if a bar wants to serve a drink of a certain level of quality, they often have no choice but to make some of the ingredients themselves. The other aspect is, when I see house made ingredients on a bar menu I know that the bar is taking a certain amount of care. That the staff are involved enough to take an interest in serving quality drinks.

Fairbanks Cocktail (No. 1)

1 Dash Lemon Juice. (1/2 tsp)
1 Dash Grenadine. (1/2 tsp House Made)
1/3 Apricot Brandy. (3/4 oz House Made Apricot Liqueur)
1/3 French Vermouth. (3/4 oz Noilly Prat Dry)
1/3 Dry Gin. (3/4 oz Plymouth)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass, with a cherry.

This was the favorite of the evening, a very nice cocktail. The grenadine makes this a bit easier to balance than the Favourite cocktail above. I think we went with an half teaspoon of each, perhaps a bit generous.

Two house made ingredients here, a wonderful Grenadine that Jennifer wakes up a bit by mixing 2-1 with fresh pomegranate juice, and an Apricot Liqueur that Erik Adkins makes by macerating whole apricots in Osocalis Brandy. Just sort of FYI, as Erik A. pointed out, while freezing the apricots probably does help to break the internal cell structure of the apricots, apricot skin is too tough for the skin cracking eGullet member jackal10 details in his Autumn and Festive Preserves to work. Yer gonna want to poke those apricots with a fork before soaking them in booze. Erik Adkins’ is a very nice apricot liqueur, with the taste of the apricot kernels a subtle addition, rather than the over the top cherry flavor of the Brizard Apry.

Q: As we’re located near wine country here in Northern California, do you ever try to sway wine or beer drinkers to try cocktails?

A: I don’t usually try to steer people away from their beverage choices. I view my job as providing people with a satisfying experience. We have a lot of options for beer and wine at the restaurant and each has its place in the meal. If someone orders a cosmo or vodka tonic, I might try to steer them towards something more interesting on the drink menu. One of my favorite drinks, and a great drink to convert cocktail drinkers who don’t think they like gin, is a Gin Gimlet topped with 3 drops of Absinthe. We have so many special things we make in house, and great choices on the cocktail menu, that I will try to convince willing drinkers to have those instead of something more predictable.

Fairy Belle Cocktail

The White of 1 Egg.
1 Teaspoonful of Grenadine. (House made)
1/4 Apricot Brandy. (generous 1/2 oz House made Apricot Liqueur)
3/4 Dry Gin. (generous 1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)

Shake well and strain into port wine glass.

This was all right and an appealing looking cocktail to look at, but found I liked it less than I was expecting to. I have to admit that revisiting this recipe, I’m considering trying it with Apricot Eau-de-Vie, instead of the liqueur.

‘Flu Cocktail

Juice of 1/4 Lemon.
1 Dash Jamaica Ginger. (5 drops Ginger Extract)
1 Teaspoonful Rock Candy Syrup. (Cane Syrup)
1 Teaspoonful Ginger Brandy. (Reisetbauer Ginger Eau-de-Vie)
1 Glass Canadian Club Whisky. (2 oz Canadian Mist 1885 Whisky)

Stir well and strain into cocktail glass, but do not ice.

This is oddly enjoyable. It is a bit medicinal or theraputic in flavor. Still, quite nice. Probably be nicer with a good old fashioned American Rye Whiskey! And wow, is that Reisetbauer Ginger Eau-de-Vie something. Amazing!

Jennifer Colliau’s Original Cocktail:

Reunion Cooler

1/2 oz (by volume) pink peppercorns
4 1-inch pieces ripe pineapple
1-inch by 8-inch strip grapefruit peel (no pith)
1/2 oz lime juice
1 barspoon agave syrup
1 3/4 oz silver tequila (preferably El Tesoro or Don Julio)

Crush peppercorns in the bottom of a mixing glass with a muddler. Add pineapple and grapefruit peel and muddle thoroughly. Add lime juice, agave and tequila, fill with ice and shake thoroughly. Strain through a julep strainer into a double old-fashioned glass filled with fresh ice, but do not double strain. There should be flecks of pink from the peppercorns in the drink. Garnish with a horse’s neck of grapefruit peel.

Slanted Door is a pretty high volume establishment, and there’s no question that they serve a lot of Vodka Cranberries and Vodka Tonics. But, if you scratch a little beneath the surface, you’ll find some of the best cocktails, highest quality ingredients, and most personable and knowledgeable bartenders in the Bay Area.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.