Like many people who move from New York to L.A., Ben Scott quickly got caught up in the movie business. Showbiz isn't what brought the NYU grad West – we can blame that on a girl – but it's where he found himself working, as an assistant for a producer at a large production company. The job required a lot of time and effort, and not a lot of emotional reward.
Scott had worked his way through college in New York at upscale restaurants, and he came to a realization: “It occurred to me that I wasn't a movie guy who happened to really like food and drinks, but a food and drinks guy who happened to really like movies.” Despite the seven-year gap in his service resume, Sang Yoon was willing to give Scott a chance when he opened Lukshon, and the barman's drinks career was revived.
Now serving as head bartender at MessHall, Scott is known for his personalization of drinks to suit different customers, and his subtle but original creations. See below for five tools he needs to make the magic happen, as well as a recipe for a refreshing herbal summer cocktail.
5. High proof spirits
“Perhaps best known as the primary ingredient in frat boy puke, overproof spirits provide the base for all the tinctures we use in our cocktails. Tinctures are alcoholic extracts of any single ingredient (bitters are complex alcoholic extracts of many ingredients). The higher the proof alcohol you use, the fuller the extraction will be.
Dice up 40 serrano peppers, let them sit in a bottle of Lemon Hart 151 [rum] for a few days and you've got our serrano tincture, a few dashes of which will turn any cocktail into a spicy one. Soak kaffir lime leaves in a jar with some Wray & Nephew Overproof, and you've got the lime tincture we spray over top of our Tiger Milk (Tom Kha egg nog). Keep the tinctures sealed up and you have a library of unique flavors you can pull from and play with. It's the same basic science behind the vanilla extract you find in the supermarket, or the herbal medicines you might have found in an apothecary 200 years ago.”
“All the bartenders I know have a story that begins on some dark and stormy night when, after everyone else has gone home, they came up with the greatest drink of all time. Because they were so confident the drink's brilliance would be impossible to forget (or maybe they were a little buzzed on too much R&D), they didn't bother to put the specs down on paper. Naturally, when they tried making it the next day, they couldn't remember exactly what they'd done, and it never worked the same.
“I'm definitely guilty of doing the same thing, but these days, I really make an effort to be as methodical as possible when it comes to putting everything down in longhand, and encourage everyone I work with to do the same.”
3. Fine strainers
“I used to work for a chef who told me he would have cooks scramble an egg for him when he was interviewing them. The idea being that the simplest things are often the hardest to execute well because there's nowhere to hide your mistakes – it's either perfect or it's not. The same is definitely true of cocktails, and nowhere is a bar's attention to detail is more apparent than in simple drinks like a daiquiri. Along with a beautiful garnish, fine straining a drink to remove any bits of ice shrapnel that would otherwise make it cloudy and disrupt its texture is what makes the difference between knowing a recipe and knowing how to make it.”
2. The Flavor Bible
“Sometimes I wake up with a complete drink in mind and it's just a matter of fine tuning it from there, but more often a single ingredient piques my interest, and there's a process of experimentation that follows. The Flavor Bible, which indexes thousands of ingredients and lists complimentary flavors, is by no means the final word on what works, but it's a great place to start when you're laying around, feeling bloated after eating too much late night Ruen Pair, wondering what the hell you can do with mangosteen.”
“I have a lot of love for the people who sit at our bar. Obviously, the part where they pay my rent is great, but mostly I'm just flattered they take the time to appreciate the stuff we're working on. As a thank you for that, I try to pour a little digestif for everyone who has dinner with me at the bar before they leave.”
Read on for the recipe…
Feel Good Hit of The Summer
From: Ben Scott, MessHall
4 heirloom cherry tomatoes
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce rosemary syrup*
2 ounce Ford's Gin
1. Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker and muddle.
2. Add ice, and shake vigorously for several seconds.
3. Double-strain into a double old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice.
4. Garnish with heirloom tomatoes and a rosemary sprig.
* Rosemary Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup evaporated cane sugar (granulated sugar will do, if that's all you have)
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1. Stir the ingredients together in a medium saucepan.
2. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and bring to a boil. Let the syrup boil for 2-3 minutes, or until all the sugar is dissolved.
3. Let the syrup cool, then strain through a chinois and store in a glass bottle or airtight plastic container.
Syrup keeps for 1 month.