Although fist pumping and vodka red bulls seem to be all the rage on television and in “ultra” clubs in the area, there is a growing population of those who require a little more thought and care into their cocktails. Over the past few years bars and restaurants have begun to incorporate challenging and unique beverage programs. Liquors and ingredients like yellow chartreuse, Alvear Fino and Lavender-Honey, were unfamiliar to most in Omaha a few years ago, but now the trend is catching on and guests are taking note. Two of the area’s premier mixologists sit down with us to chat about drinks, trends and advice; in this installment of bar chat.
Since the Boiler Room opened a few years ago, it has given as much attention and care to their liquid assets as they have with the food. The Boiler Room is widely known for the ambrosial offerings and treating the dining experience with finesse and purpose. Of course, it does not hurt that culinary wizard Paul Kulik is at the helm.
Ian McCarthy, who runs the bar at the Boiler Room in Omaha, has a very intense passion for drink basics and a humbling respect to the classic drinks constructed before his time.
Ian McCarthy: Boiler Room Restaurant
The Reader: What is your inspiration for making new cocktails?
McCarthy: My Inspiration for a new cocktail usually comes from a new ingredient; be it fantastic produce, spirits, herbs or spices. If I come across something unique, that I find engaging, I want to share it, and will combine it with other ingredients that will flatter it and highlight its charm.
TR: What advice would you give to another mixologist?
Advice to new mixologists: Don’t walk before you can crawl. Learn your classics inside and out before you start creating new cocktails. Even simple classics with just a few ingredients have infinite possible variations. Adjust your ingredients, proportions, and techniques until you find something that really sings.
TR: Are there any current trends you are excited about?
I am excited about more attention being paid to ice, and I hope this is something Omaha bars catch on to. Having a variety of shapes and sizes is really important for reaching and maintaining optimal temperature and dilution. Ice is more than half of your drink, you can’t ignore it. Everyone has the same crappy ice machines that churn out tiny, wet, shards. We need more kold-draft machines and block ice programs.
I am really excited about vinegar. Whether preserving fruit in a shrub or gastrique, or own its own. Vinegar has such a range of flavor, and when used as an acidulate in a cocktail, it really perks up the flavors and makes the drink pop. I have had the privilege recently of using the fantastic George Paul vinegars, from Cody Nebraska, which I highly recommend.
Ian McCarthy runs the bar at Boiler Room restaurant in the Old Market
This time of year it is not uncommon to take a trip on down to Lincoln for some great tailgating, football and friends. You can find our next mixologist, Luke Edson in downtown Lincoln. Edson was recently one of 52 finalists for the 3rd annual Bombay Sapphire GQ Bartender’s Competition. His local winning drink, The Debonair Pear featuring Bombay Sapphire, Apertivo Cocchi Americano and Belle de Brillet.
Luke Edson: Bourbon Theatre
The Reader: What is your favorite thing about bar tending in Lincoln?
Edson: Downtown Lincoln is a pretty close knit community so most bar and restaurant workers either know or are at least familiar with one another. We generally look out for each others establishments. Plus, I grew up here so I know a lot of my customers.
TR: How did you begin mixing?
I got a job at Sandy’s bar and learned all of the basics there. Even though I loved my job, I became interested in more challenging drinks and began feeling like I had to find somewhere new. Around that time, the Bourbon Theatre opened. I saw that the owner was excited about offering customers something new in everything from beverages to entertainment so I pestered him till he gave me a job. I quickly saw that I had a lot to learn, and that feeling has never left me.
TR: Any current trends you are excited about?
One of the promising trends is that bartending is once again being seen as a respected profession.
TR: When you create a new drink where do you start?
First, find the ingredient you want to highlight then look at the classic cocktail recipes or food recipes to see how they treat that ingredient. If it’s something totally new to you, see if you can find ingredients similar to the one you’re working with and see what people have done with those. Once you know that, you can start trying out variations on a previously successful theme.
Luke Edson is the bar manager at Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln and has bartended in downtown Lincoln for 9 years. Luke’s interests include music, carpentry and guitar-making. He is currently bar manager of the Bourbon Theatre on 14th and “O” Street in downtown Lincoln, NE. His goals are to offer people unique libations while still accommodating their personal preferences.