Dushan Zaric and Simon Ford of the 86 Company were in town this week prowling around the bars that sell their hooch and getting their bearings -- in fact, this duo of drink slingers with a New York pedigree as long as a tattooed arm is here to stay -- both have officially moved west, to develop the market for their vodka, gin, rum and tequila, and no doubt to avoid the Middlemarch winter that typifies a New York spring.
Zaric and Ford have been central players in the New York cocktail scene for many years, Ford as a high-profile ambassador for Plymouth Gin and other brands, Zaric as the founding bartender at Employees Only and Macao Trading Co. Their years in the trenches put them in an ideal position to learn what works and what doesn't in cocktail production behind the rail. And so when they set out to start a spirits company, they canvassed 50 professional bartenders to find out what would make their life easier. To their great surprise, none had ever been asked these questions by a spirits company before. "Basically we asked them 'what would be in your speed well in heaven?'" says Simon Ford, a former Londoner who's lent his name to their brand of gin, Ford's. "Then we set out to make affordable versions of what they wanted."
The result was the 86 Company. The partners started crafting a new-old breed of spirit, honest, no-hype product in a practical, easy to pour bottle, with the sort of robust, punchy flavors that make for a good marriage in a drink. (The "86" in the name is taken from bar and restaurant parlance to indicate when a dish or a bottle is gone, or eighty-sixed).
What Zaric and Ford hoped to eighty-six was bullshit. They were sick of the turbo-marketing driving most spirits brands, nearly all of it geared to consumers with little regard for the most vital end-user, the professional bartender.
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They have four basic bottlings -- Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Ford's Gin, Cana Brava Rum and Tequila Cabeza -- each the product of partnerships in Canada, England, Panama and Mexico. Each is made, they say, to anchor a cocktail: the flavors are assertive, vibrant, rippling with energy, with bright aromatics and substantial, viscous palate weights. "We wanted to make spirits conducive to playing well with others," says Zaric. "They're tools after all, they're the part of the craft we've had the least control of."
Even the liter bottles are user-friendly, with gradated measurements on the side to help with inventory and a painstakingly ergonomic design to facilitate the perfect pour. The 86 Company will no doubt become more visible in the coming months as the partners settle in to their new digs, but already you can try their wares at The Varnish, Westside Tavern, The Roger Room, Harvard & Stone, Mixology 101 and Cole's.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.