Joseph Brooke was just recently named as the new director of spirits at the Edison. A post he takes over from Aidan Demarest who is now doing cocktail consultation with mixologist Marcos Tello at the not-yet-opened First & Hope Supper Club. We spoke to America's Top Bartender about his plans and cocktails for the downtown hot spot, which L.A. bartender he looks up to and what's going to be the next It cocktail.
Squid Ink: What exactly does a director of spirits do?
Joseph Brooke: Besides drink on the job? We don't actually have a head barman in place right now. I mean, when I transition fully over here I'll be three shifts a week behind the bar so I'm going to do all that. I'll be the head barman, I'll do the list, the ordering, staffing issues, just generally conduct the entire beverage program. Which seems really intimidating but my job is made that much easier because all I'm doing, I just want to match the space. I know how to make good quality cocktails but I'm not going to be so lofty with my ideas...the amount of volume that we do we will never have the quality of the Varnish or Death & Co. because it's just not feasible. It's too big. And I learned that from Copa d'Oro. Copa is such a great place but when we get slammed the room is just too big and it's the best training I've ever received because it's like strapping on weights and doing push-ups. But the drink program has to match the space. And because we are the size of a nightclub and I refuse to have corn syrupy nightclub cocktails, we're still going to keep the fresh component. That's not moving. And Marcos [Tello] and Aidan [Demarest] did such a good job of building it up to where it is that I just want to make it lean and mean.
I think if I reduce the amount of prep that the bartenders have to do.... Like if we have a prep cook. Like if we start having seasonal syrups. The thing is if we batch a bunch of honey syrup with some sage boiled into it as a syrup and puree instead of having to muddle the sage and putting the raspberry in and all that. Just like one, two, shake, done. And that's what I learned from Vincenzo [Marianella of Copa d'Oro] in as far as the London bars because everyone there is such terminal alcoholics you just make the actual transaction as quick as you can. You can still keep the ingredients fresh, the service can still be of a certain caliber and you get a great cocktail. We're going to stay free pour. Jiggering, I got my issues with jiggering. But we cannot jigger at this bar. So I'm going to test the fuck out of my bartenders with free pours and just make sure they can nail it. Because if they know the recipes and they've got good pours then the cocktails are going to taste good. It'll ensure consistency.
SI: What do you want to do with the Edison?
JB: I don't have this grandiose idea of turning this into something different because it's a totally successful program right now and I just want to keep the streak going and make it easy enough for the barbacks, the runners and the servers and streamline everything.
Let's take Radio Room, for instance. We flew in bartenders who chances are haven't touched a bottle of Kahlua in 5-10 years. These guys, it's not that they're snobs. And it's easy to dismiss it as snobbery but it goes the same way on the other side when people get defensive like the tequila and Chambord drinkers. What we're going to do for the next Radio Room, and I think Aidan spoke very quick when he said we're going to have twice as many bartenders, because I don't think that's really going to solve the problem. Like if you have to reinforce a bridge, if you just slap on a bunch more beams, it may be reinforced but you're not being smart about it.
I think what we're going to do, because these barmen have their own specific drinks we set them up at a show pony station where it's two or three of them and their drinks and that's all they make all night. They don't have to handle cash so they don't have to worry about searching around. So you buy tickets at either the front door or downstairs that's good for one of their drinks. Like a ticket to New York or a ticket to Oregon or other mixology places. So you take all of that out of their hands and you have three or four regular Edison staff members who, maybe we'll have one or two of my cocktails and a bowl of punch, but they'll be the ones who can bang out a Jack and Coke, the vodka sodas, the Goose tonics. That's the kind of streamline this place needs. The actual bar equipment has gone through like four different revisions and it's been getting better and better but you just need one big one and that's the one thing I know I can bring to the table as far as making it easier for the bartenders so that everything is improved. For every task that a bartender has to take three steps, to reduce that even by one step is going to make a huge difference.
SI: What are your plans for the Edison cocktail menu?
JB: It's going to stay fresh. And it's going to stay classic. And the new cocktails will definitely have the classic twist flavor profile. I think we can get away with losing a lot of bottles in the back bar to speed everything up. I'm confident in my bartenders that they're able to make balanced cocktails. And to have the mass appeal we can't go too far into the left field. Maybe one or two cocktails on the list will be like drink nerd cocktails, like aromatic style. We don't have any aromatic cocktails on the list. We have the Anejo Old Fashioned but even still...because we're not jiggering, the agave nectar most times comes out too sweet. So just break it up a bit. I've learned this from Employees Only in New York. They have three or four drinks on the list for bridge and tunnel. It's basically like citron sour with mint and soda but then you have the other weird stuff for the people who know it, like chartreuse, cacao and bourbon. So something for everyone. I don't want to exclude anyone. Speaking of, we're going to add a non-alcoholic cocktail list, maybe four or five. I would hate leaving DDs [designated drivers] out of the loop and maybe we should just make something interesting so they don't feel left out. It really adds to the night to feel like you're part of something.
SI: What do you think is going to be the new It cocktail or spirit?
JB: Rum is going to hit the renaissance and tea-infused cocktails that we got a taste of at the Tar Pit. I mean, Audrey [Saunders of Pegu Club and formerly the Tar Pit], she was messing with that stuff a couple of years ago. You've got Constantino's opening and La Descarga is doing really well. It's all about rum. But also as far as the fancier stuff, because the ripples from Audrey's tea cocktails are going to hit here soon. What's funny is there are bars in Hollywood that are trying to fat wash bourbons for their cocktails because of Don Lee at PDT doing his Bacon Maple Old Fashioned. But the way that I feel the trends go, and this is more fashiony stuff but maybe cocktails are the same thing, trends are started on the West Coast, they echo back and are perfected in New York and they ripple back and are just ruined in Los Angeles. Think about it. Hipsters... They start here because this is like the sandbox of America and then in New York they're like, "This is how you gotta do it" and we're like, "Oh yeah" and then you have David Hasselhoff in head to toe Von Dutch.
SI: How did you develop your shaking style?
JB: When I first started bartending, I would watch the New York bartenders and it was just like, OK shaking a cocktail, whatever. And then I started really getting into reading up about old bartenders. And I liked the aesthetic of it but it wasn't until I got to Marmont that I started losing my shit on the cocktail. Like shaking it as hard as I possibly could because I read in a manual that you want to bring it to life, you don't want to rock it to sleep. So this would work for and against me. Where people would see me shake these cocktails, like wasting a lot of energy, like imagining that I had a parking officer by the balls or something. But then at the Edison I saw Marcos doing it and then it just kept developing and developing. The two things that really locked it in were like Vincenzo being like [imitates Vincenzo] "Kid, slow down. Seriously, you look a little stupid." He totally told me that, which is fine, and he can get away with it. Then I took Stanislav Vadrna's class on the fine art of bartending, the Japanese stuff. And most people think the hard shake is a bunch of shit. But I've always wanted to learn it. The whole point of it is to create as many collisions in the tin and just agitate it as much as you can. So I went from one axis to two axis to three. And now I'm where I'm at. In Marmont it got so bad that I couldn't hold a pencil. You know there's a right way and a wrong way to hold a drumstick? Same thing with a cocktail tin. Now I'm at the point where it's just my rhythm. It's my Erick Castro [San Francisco mixologist recently featured at the Radio Room] rhythm.
SI: What do you want to do with this?
JB: The Edison is going to be going global at some point. National and then global ideally. I'd like to learn, if I'm lucky enough to be on board, I'd love to see how that goes and really have full ownership of something from the get-go and to be able to open up my own spot with my friends where it's just totally bullshit-free. I would love that. That would be one of the goals. I also wanna be one of the next celebrity bartenders.
SI: Where do you go for a drink in L.A.?
JB: I go to the Roger Room, I go to Jones. I go there for ET [Eric Tecosky]. I love that man. Now that I'm back in the neighborhood I love stopping by the Varnish for an afterwork tipple. I don't have much free time lately. I really wanna go to La Descarga.
SI: Do you have a bartender idol?
JB: Eric Tecosky, hands-down. Because he's so laidback and he knows so much more than he lets on. Vincenzo is my Yoda. I was originally trained by Marcos but Marcos was trained by Vincenzo. So when I finally got to go to the source for it...and that's not to belittle Marcos' training because if it weren't for him I wouldn't be part of this, I wouldn't be here. But Vincenzo is my Yoda. And Eric is, right off the bat, he's unassuming, he doesn't judge. He makes incredible cocktails. I mean most nights he pours Jack Cokes but that's the Jones MO. He is so relaxed behind the bar and I'm such a little bundle of nerves that watching his example is what really helped me. I like Damian [Windsor of the Roger Room], too, because he doesn't really give a fuck.
SI: What are your favorite drinks to make? Any particular spirits you like to play with?
JB: I love applejack. I love gin. Love tequila. Love mezcal. I love rum. I love port. Basically everything except vodka. I'm starting to play with more rums these days. I love really weird tequilas. As far as the depth of them and the character. You've got the mass-market stuff like Don Julio and Casa Noble. Have you had Siete Leguas? The master distiller of Siete Leguas was approached by a couple of American businessmen couple of years ago who wanted him to make a mass-market tequila and a couple of years later Patron hits the markets. So it was the tequila that sold the Patron company and it's ah-mazing. So playing around with that stuff, all the different textures and layers and especially at Copa we're encouraged to just fuck around with the spirits. It's totally a jungle gym there. I'm seriously going to miss it.
Porco Rosso ("Red Pig")
From: Joseph Brooke of The Edison.
Makes: 1 drink
2 ounces Edison Woodford Reserve
1/2 ounces Aperol
1/2 ounces Sweet Vermouth
Dash of Angostura bitters
1. Stir and strain into chilled cocktail glass.
2. Garnish with citrus twist grapefruit peel.
The Jack Doe (tentative name)
From: Joseph Brooke of The Edison.
Makes: 1 drink
2 ounces Applejack
1/2 lime quartered
3/4 ounce honey syrup
La Palomita Mocktail
From: Joseph Brooke of The Edison.
Makes: 1 drink
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce agave syrup
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
3/4 ounce lime juice
Pinch of mint
1. Muddle & build in glass.
2. Top with soda and garnish with a lime wedge.