Welcome to Mixology Spirit. In this edition we sat down with Khalid Willliams of Farmington, CT as he built a unique cocktail called, the Maizerunner’s Oil. His inspiration for this drink came from imagining what a field worker or cooper might enjoy during their respite. Khalid’s goal was to incorporate some tiki elements and to celebrate the natural sweetness found in corn.
Batchers: Where do you work and what’s your role?
Khalid: I work at Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge as the Bar Manager and Beverage Director. I may be the point person behind the bar, but I’m fully entrenched in the belief that everything worth doing involves collaboration. Some of the best ideas we ever came up with here have been the ones that originated from the broader team–from our bar backs or the hosts, for example.
Batchers: How long have you been slinging behind the bar?
Khalid: I first got my feet wet behind the bar in 2008 when I worked at Carmen Anthony Fish House in Avon. It was a great experience working for an old-school clientele who enjoyed properly mixed cocktails like Manhattans, Five-to-One Martinis, and Old Fashioneds. I had a transcendent moment early on in my career there. I made a very shaken and “slurrified” Manhattan and a septuagenarian gentleman called me over to speak with him. He said, “I want you bring me a spoon, a mixing glass, and your booze.” Concerned, I began to reply, “Sir, is there…” But, he cut me off before I could even finish the sentence and simply said, “Just come over here.” He taught me step by step how to make a perfect standard Manhattan. He put me on a path to strive for excellence every time I stepped behind the bar.
Batchers: Do you have a particular creative process or philosophy you follow when experimenting with new drinks?
Khalid: My philosophy for making new drinks was taught to me by Anthony DeSario, former President of the US Bartenders Guild, CT Chapter. He proposed five key questions. Does it smell good? Does it look good? Does it taste good? Can I finish it? Would I order another one? These simple questions guide me on the technical side.
Mark Twain once said, “I wrote a long book because I wasn’t smart enough to write a short one.” Economy of ingredients is key. I use only what is absolutely necessary in the drink—nothing more. It’s almost like taking a Hippocratic oath: do no harm. If something is good already, don’t mess with it or overcomplicate it.
Batchers: Bartenders are known for offering words of wisdom to patrons venting their personal troubles. What’s your advice for folks dealing with hard times?
Khalid: I meet a lot of men and women who are on dates. I feel part of my job is to be their steward. For guys, I try to build their confidence when it seems they need it. For the women, I’m there to help them if the guy is a creep and acting inappropriately. I’ve even helped create fake “family emergencies” to give uncomfortable women an excuse to get out the door.
There are two things I generally say when someone is venting about a relationship that didn’t work out. The first was inspired by my grandmother who used to tell me, “baby, if you’ll take anything, that’s just what you might get: anything. It’s better to be discerning in life.” The second is, “human rejection is the universe’s protection.” When someone leaves your life, it might just be because they didn’t belong there in the first place. So just say thank you and goodnight.
Batchers: What’s the difference between a good cocktail and a great cocktail?
Khalid: A good cocktail follows the technical guidelines I mentioned earlier. A great cocktail is the one given to someone that needs it most. A great cocktail is one that expresses something personal about others or myself. A great cocktail is an archetype–an allegory. A great cocktail combines my talent with my guest’s desires. I make cocktails all day and my guests don’t; a great cocktail is something that connects us.
Batchers: What’s your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to mix with?
Khalid: I really enjoy the Vanilla Bourbon. It’s not overly sweet and it is very approachable—especially for someone just getting into dark spirits. It’s an exciting twist and turn for the practiced spirit connoisseur. I love it when one spirit has the ability to appeal to both the rookie and the veteran.
Batchers: What does the Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?
Khalid: The Spirit of Hard Work is about doing the right thing when no one is looking. Bartenders can take short cuts to make things move faster, but that’s not the right way to make an extraordinary drink. Making every single cocktail to my exact standards, no matter whom it is for, is how I operate when I’m behind the bar. I don’t believe in compromising on quality, which appears to be something I have in common with Litchfield Distillery. If given the option of making something okay in one year or making something awesome in three, I’m going to choose taking three years to achieve greatness. That’s what The Spirit of Hard Work is all about.
How to make the Maizerunner’s Oil:
Two pineapple chunks
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography Credit: Tony Vengrove