Batchers: Where do you work and what’s your role?
Christine: I am a Mixologist at Zaragoza Restaurant in New Milford CT. I am also a part-time Pastry/Tournant Chef from time to time.
Batchers: How long have you been mixing cocktails?
Christine: I have been in the restaurant industry for 14 years and enjoy working in all areas of the restaurant. My cumulative alcohol-specific experience is about 7 years as most of my career has been split duty behind the bar and on the line as a sous chef. For the past year and a half, my efforts have been concentrated on mixology at Zaragoza, which has been exceptionally rewarding.
Batchers: Why are you so passionate about mixology? What inspires you about it?
Christine: I’m passionate about mixology for the same reason I’m passionate about pastry and cooking on the line: customer service. I love giving people an experience that is beyond ordinary. Cooking, baking, or bartending is a creative outlet for me. Bartending is like language; I communicate ideas, tastes, and sensory stimulus through the medium of a cocktail. For example, one of my cocktails, “The Huntress,” was inspired from a childhood memory of walking through the woods; a recollection of all those wonderful woodsy aromas and fond memories of picking wild blackberries. When customers try my drinks and describe them in a way that mirrors my original inspiration, I’m thrilled—not to mention inspired to create more!
Batchers: Bartending is hard work. Share a story about one of your toughest nights. Why do you choose such demanding work?
Christine: Bartending is equally rewarding, as it is hard. It is a labor of love. You have to love what you do and have a thick skin to be a “lifer” in the industry. I care a lot about the quality of my work and the service I provide. One really busy summer night, we were short staffed on the floor and the owners and manager were away on business. It was me and the assistant manager charged with keeping the tempo of service that night. Waitstaff kept coming to the POS system to put their orders in and vent about their stress– morale was dropping fast. I had a line of tickets on the service bar I had to tend to myself. That translated to getting drinks out for a 60+ seat restaurant and 13-seat bar that had turned over twice by 7:30pm–all without sacrificing recipe accuracy for speed. I ended up putting my own stress aside to serve as a “life coach” of sorts, to keep my coworkers motivated and focused. Secretly, I wished someone would come to relieve me!
Adrenaline always seems to provide just the right boost to push through it all. Bartending is really about having innovative resiliency when it comes to problem solving. You develop militia-style camaraderie with your co-workers that lasts long after you change jobs. The esprit de corps created after an insane service is hard to describe. When working behind the bar feels like trench warfare, when muscle memory is all that seems to get everyone through, there’s one simple reward that makes it all worthwhile: a compliment from a satisfied patron.
Batchers: What was the inspiration behind the cocktail you submitted for Litchfield Distillery’s recent cocktail competition?
Christine: The inspiration for the “Litchfield Love Potion” was Litchfield County itself. All of the ingredients in the cocktail are sourced from our local community. I used figs from a local farm and “Love Bitters” from Twinstar Community Apothecary in New Milford. Litchfield Distillery’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey sources grains locally, as well. I made a “hops-honey-simple-syrup” with local honey and hops grown by Twinstar. Litchfield County is an old mining community with huge amounts of quartz veins. I had the idea to replace whiskey stones with amethyst, which is a type of Quartz. It’s safe if cleaned properly and I use it in this drink as an alternative way to keep the cocktail chilled. By the way, shamans and natural healers credit amethyst with properties that can ward off drunkenness. You might call it a sobriety stone!
Batchers: What was it like to receive The Distiller’s Award and share your cocktail at the event?
Christine: It was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had in my career. I felt so happy to be recognized by people that I admire and felt completely humbled and grateful for the opportunity to share my cocktail with everyone. It was really nerve racking though being surrounded by people in the industry that I consider game changers. Getting a tour of Litchfield Distillery was a learning experience. I gained so much from the opportunity and was elated that everyone enjoyed my creation.
Batchers: What’s your personal process for channeling the creativity you need for creating unique and delicious cocktails?
Christine: I just try to play with flavors and combine my cooking knowledge with mixology. I enjoy reading cocktail blogs, looking at pictures for inspiration, and do a lot of reading. I use some of my bartending time to ask my regulars if they’d like to try something new, which provides an opportunity for some mini market research. Of course, they happily oblige and we end up having a blast together as we co-create some new recipes.
Batchers: What’s your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to mix with?
Christine: My favorite would have to be Batchers’ Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It is such a versatile, well-rounded spirit.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work mean to you?
Christine: It means never giving up and always pushing beyond what you think your limits are–always having pride in your work and always striving to deliver the best quality. I am a steward of the establishment I work for. It is my responsibility to exceed the quality my employer and customers expect. When working with such a quality spirit as Litchfield Distillery, it is also my duty to put as much love and hard work into my recipes as they do with each bottle.
How to make the Litchfield Love Potion:
2 oz Litchfield Bourbon
1/2 oz Hops Honey Syrup *
6 drops Twinstar “Love Bitters” **
1.5 oz Blood Orange Ginger Beer
1/2 Rehydrated fig or fresh, if in season
Sugar and powdered cardamom rim
Ginger root peel
1/2 Muddled rehydrated fig garnishes
In a cocktail shaker muddle fig and Love Bitters. Add hops honey and Bourbon. Add 1/2 cup ice, shake lightly for 10 seconds. Fine strain into coupe glass rimmed with equal parts granulated sugar and powdered cardamom over a chilled quartz whiskey stone. Pour blood orange ginger beer on top. Peel rind for twist expressing oils over and onto the glass for an aromatic effect. Add ginger root peel, hops and fig garnishes.
* Hops Honey syrup
Bring water and hops to a boil. Once boiling immediately remove from heat and fine strain out hops, then stir in honey, let cool and refrigerate.
**Love Bitters (flavor profile Hawthorne, Dandelion, Orange Peel, Ginger Root, Cardamom) readily available year round at Twin Star Apothecary in New Milford, locally sourced and produced.
About Mixology Spirit:
Mixology Spirit is a Litchfield Distillery blog series dedicated to sharing the stories of creative and passionate mixologists who embody The Spirit Of Hard Work®. Think you got what it takes to be featured? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
Photography credit: Tony Vengrove