Mixology Spirit: Corinne Ferrante
Corinne Ferrante not only knows how to make great-tasting cocktails, she knows how to make cocktails look absolutely stunning! Dubbed the “Ice Queen of CT,” Corinne creates beautiful floral ice cubes that serve as a focal point in her delicious craft cocktails. She joined the restaurant industry at the age of 16 and quickly climbed up the ladder to take on increased responsibilities. Eight years later, she holds multiple positions with the Bears Restaurant Group and Blind Pig Pizza, and remains hungry to get better at what she does.
Batchers: Welcome Corinne! Please let everyone where you work and what your role is.
Corinne: Hi! I’m Corinne Ferrante, Beverage Director of Bears Restaurant Group and Restaurant Manager of Blind Pig Pizza in Hartford.
Batchers: How long have you been working as a bartender? How did you get started in the business?
Corinne: I have been bartending for about 8 years. I started as a host and busser at the age of 16 and had no idea about the organized chaos I signed up for. I was homeschooled for most of middle school and high school, so I was used to a structured routine and being alone—that is when my three brothers weren’t distracting me. I remember looking over at the bar and being envious of the natural fluidity and confidence the bartenders had. It was like they were on a stage. They had hundreds of drinks memorized that they simply dug out of their brain on the spot, not to mention the ability to control a rowdy group while still having fun and being polite. I consider myself pretty shy, which made me admire that confidence even more. With time, I worked my way up from host to food/drink runner to server and finally bartender. After being given the chance to bartend without a lot of experience, I knew I had to work really hard to prove myself. I was up for the challenge because I knew the fun was just beginning and the reward was going to be great.
Batchers: What is it about the craft that you love so much?
Corinne: I love the attention to detail and how every single part matters. Whether it’s choosing glassware, my uniform behind the bar, homemade syrups versus store bought, how I approach you once you sit at my bar, the style of ice and so on, all of these small decisions ultimately add up to create the entire experience. There are so many talented bartenders in Connecticut and everyone has such unique styles, which can be intimidating at first. Even so, there’s always going to be something you can do to stand out. You just have to take a chance and trust your gut. I’ve had some pretty out-of-the-box ideas that I thought would never transition well into a drink. But, I persevered and was able to pull them off, which is such a great feeling and one that I never tire of. I love that amazing “ah-ha” moment you feel when you realize you finally “cracked the code” and found the creative solution. I love those kinds of challenges.
Batchers: Besides building delicious cocktails, you have another intriguing skill – making beautiful floral ice cubes. How did you stumble upon this creative idea?
Corinne: As I was inching my way into the bartending community, I was a florist by day. I absolutely LOVE flowers. Ask anyone I know and they’ll tell you how obsessed I am with them. I studied the Victorian Language of Flowers in homeschool and it made me appreciate them even more. Eventually, I had to move on from my florist job due to financial reasons, but I knew flowers were always going to be a part my life.
In 2017, I started working at Restaurant On20 where I was lucky enough to be mentored by Geoffrey Smith, the true “Ice King of New England.” Geoff introduced me to the concept of directional freezing using the “Japanese pond method.” Geoff was diligent about teaching me the history of bartending, the breakdown of each spirit, the stories behind the cocktails, and how important and impactful the role of ice can be in a cocktail. Once I saw how gorgeous Geoff’s clear ice cubes were, I looked right at him and said, “We can freeze flowers!” And so we did. The first cube I created under Geoff’s mentorship was a bright pink African rose and it came out beautiful. Soon thereafter, I started working at Blind Pig Pizza and I noticed there was a space outside for a garden. The owners Jamie McDonald and Cheryl Antoncic were kind enough to give me complete creative freedom and allowed me to plant as many edible flowers as I could think of. This enabled me to create a “frozen garden” from which I could harvest specific flowers for specific cocktails. Jamie and Cheryl have been so supportive of my unique craft and I am so grateful.
Batchers: It’s probably harder than it might seem. Can you explain some of the important details that go into making them so clear and beautiful?
Corinne: I get this question almost daily and the answer is never what people think. It’s not about using distilled water or boiling it beforehand. It’s about controlling the temperature in your freezer—creating an environment where the cubes are able to freeze from the top down. There are other factors like the condition of your silicone molds and other interchanging variables. I use a basic 9-quart igloo cooler and old silicone ice molds. For some reason, the more weathered the silicone, the clearer the cubes turn out and I have yet to figure out why that is. I learn something different about creating these cubes almost weekly. While I’ve been dubbed the “Ice Queen of CT,” I definitely do not have all the answers. But, I remain ever curious and continue tinkering to find new tricks and techniques. I will say that every single time I hack out a fresh batch of beautiful, clear cubes my heart fills with joy. There’s just something so aesthetically pleasing about a flawless cube, especially when it pairs beautifully with a cocktail I created.
Batchers: What advice would you give someone just starting out in the industry?
Corinne: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how intimidating or tough the bartender you’re working for may seem. Some of the “scariest” bartenders I’ve met along the way ended up being the nicest and most supportive. Also, don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong. Admitting you made a mistake or don’t know the answer is how you learn and grow. My other piece of advice is to always have a notebook handy and write everything down. I have several notebooks filled with information from either my own research or from what I was taught by other bartenders. I keep these notebooks with me at all times. It’s so much fun looking back at them and remembering specific moments when I went out of my way to capture important notes about recipes and techniques.
Batchers: What is your favorite Litchfield Distillery spirit to work with?
Corinne: This is a tough question, being a whiskey girl at heart. My quick answer is the Vanilla Bourbon—absolutely delicious! However, when it comes to building cocktails, I love working with Litchfield Distillery’s Gin. After trying this gin for the first time, I was so surprised by the bold and spicy juniper notes and how forward the flavors were for what I normally consider a mellow spirit.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?
Corinne: The first thing that comes to mind is something I tell my staff almost every day: “I’ll never ask you to do a job I wouldn’t do myself.” I never hesitate to get my hands in the dish pit, put on an apron and work the line, wheel the trash bin out and unload it in the dumpster at the end of a long night, or work the service bar on a busy Friday evening. I’m so grateful to have worked all these different positions in a restaurant and be able to recognize what needs to be done just by reading the dining room. I get my work ethic from my old-school Italian father who once said to me, “Don’t be sorry, be better.”
Corinne’s featured cocktail is called Petal to the Metal. This is a deliciously refreshing cocktail to enjoy during the spring and summer seasons and it is easy to make. While the addition of Corrine’s amazing floral ice cube dazzles the cocktail’s presentation, it is not essential for building the recipe at home. You can simply present with a large ice cube and garnish with a grapefruit, orange peel or edible flowers.
- 1.5 oz Litchfield Distillery Gin
- 1/8 oz Blue Curaçao
- 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
- 1 bar spoon Citric Acid
- 3 dashes Grapefruit Bitters
- Pineapple Juice sinker
Method: Add all ingredients (except Pineapple Juice) into mixer glass with ice and stir. Strain into rocks glass with large ice cube. Add a splash of pineapple juice and allow to settle on bottom of glass.
You can follow more of Corinne’s work on Instagram or Facebook. Please follow Blind Pig Pizza on their Website or on Facebook and Instagram. The restaurant is located at 89 Arch Street in Hartford, CT.
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.
© 2021 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove
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