We came across Brady Weise about a month ago, while doing some "research" on the Old Fashioned. He was working at Library Bar (at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel) and made us a rather good one then went on to impress with his knowledge of American cocktail history.
We sat down with Weise at Pa-Ord Noodle in Hollywood for lunch to chat about cocktails, history, becoming a good bartender and much more. Check in later in the week to see Brady Weise's recipe for a drink he calls, "Amore de Pemacchia."
Squid Ink: The cocktails you guys are doing are different from what most other people are doing. What's the term for these: craft cocktails?
Brady Weise: It's kind of a blanket term. Just like about 10, 12 years ago when fine food was coming back into play and you got away from the small plates and the little stuff, to do actual craft dishes. We didn't really have a term for it. There wasn't a name. You had the French style of cooking, which was considered the traditional formal style. Then you had the avant-garde style. There wasn't really anything in the middle. I think cocktails are sort of going through the same phase, where you have classics, you have your Manhattans, you have your Negronis, you have your Sazeracs and whatnot.
Then you have this whole avant-garde movement, for example, like Matt [Biancaniello, of Library Bar] does. He takes mushrooms and infuses them with bourbon. He does a mushroom-infused Manhattan. Or like, Marcos Tello (The Varnish, 1886, The Edison) does a Penicillin with tequila and mezcal. These are traditional styles but using non-traditional ingredients. So there really isn't a term for it. Craft carries with it a certain feeling of, I want to say "love," but it's not really love. You're putting a lot of thought into the drink. You're putting in your own style and putting your own spin on what would otherwise be a traditional recipe. So "craft cocktails" is sort of an umbrella term, and you can get very specific with it. You can say "neo-craft," or you can say "traditional craft," but at the end of the day, it's just making good drinks.
SI: There are some pretty serious cocktail bars in Los Angeles, like Varnish, 1886 and Library Bar. You work at two of them. What's the difference between what people like you are doing and what everyone else is doing?
BW: I think in Los Angeles, you get a lot of people who bartend for spare change. Or they do it on the side while they're waiting to become famous. Or they're working on another job. You have to have a certain dedication to the craft before you can really begin to modify your own recipes. And I think the difference between 1886 and what Matt does at Library Bar, is that these are people are completely dedicated to what they do, and they have a deep understanding of palate and profile. Whereas most bartenders will make you something "frou frou." I know a lot of the big chain restaurants used to have a rule, and they would call it "the frou frou rule." Everything had to go out with lots of sugar, lots of fat and lots of sweeteners, because they were using the cheapest alcohol possible.
SI: Masking their bad alcohol.
BW: Right. It's that old Prohibition adage where fat and sugar covers up bathtub gin. Let's face it, that's originally how all these drinks got started, like the Ramos Fizz and whatnot. It was all to mask poor quality product.
SI: Was that the initial purpose of cocktails in general?
BW: No, the cocktail actually had a really great history in America, from the mid-to-late 19th century up until the early 20th, when Prohibition took over. That's when all the great barmen left, and they moved to Europe. And when they left, the mobsters took over and started making bathtub-whatever and importing the cheapest crap they could. And that forced the bartenders who were left to kind of cover up those flavors. But then you had a whole generation of people who basically missed what amounted to good quality product.
So by the time the 40s kicked in, or late 30s, and Prohibition ended, and people really started getting back into the swing, and places started opening up again after the war, there was nobody left to train anybody. Everybody was operating on blind faith. So the shift happened where you had a lot of these pre-mixes. So Rose's lime used to be made in the classic style, which was a lime syrup. It became Rose's lime juice product, which was corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. It was something that you could just pour into a glass, and it was ready-made cocktails.
SI: Like Hershey's "genuine chocolate flavor."
BW: Exactly. They had cocktails in a bottle at one point. You could buy a Manhattan in a bottle, or you could buy a Rob Roy in a bottle.
SI: You can probably do that again now.
BW: You probably can.
[To be continued in Part 2...]