In this edition of Mixology Spirit we visit with Dan Rek to learn about his Spirit of Hard Work and love of cocktails. We admire Dan because he is committed to continuous learning and follows his curiosity. He puts in the time to build his knowledge and loves to experiment until he finds the perfect combination of flavors. Dan mixed us a drink called Rapper’s Delight and is the first Mixology Spirit guest to showcase our Coffee Bourbon in a recipe. We also fell in love with a cocktail he created called the Diamond Cutter, which showcases our Apple Vodka. We don’t normally feature two cocktails in Mixology Spirit posts, but for Dan, we made an exception.
Batchers: Where do you work and what’s your role?
Batchers: How did you get started in the business?
Dan: I got started in the hospitality industry as food runner at a country club. I worked hard, said yes to just about anything I was asked to do and that led to working banquets and eventually serving in the dining room. About a year later, the club gave me a shot to work behind the bar. I was eager to learn all the details. I remember asking three different bartenders how to make a Cosmo, only to get three different answers. Experiencing this inconsistency frustrated me, so I started reading on my own and I haven’t stopped educating myself since. With time, I got antsy for a change and moved on to other restaurants where I started from the ground up again; slowly working my way from server to bartender—learning as much as I could.
I finally wound up at a West Hartford staple, Treva. The bar manager at the time took a chance on me because I didn’t have as much experience in certain areas, but I quickly learned their way of doing things. While I’ve always cared about quality and creativity, this time I was very focused on mastering the execution of intricate cocktails with efficiency and great service standards. All that effort and learning landed me with Elm City Social, where the current Owner-Chef, John Brennan, who was a friend of mine from one of those “in-between restaurants,” offered me the chance to re-build their bar from scratch and take it in a direction that reflected my unique tastes and interests.
Batchers: With so many talented bartenders constantly creating new and novel cocktails, how do you maintain a distinctive edge?
Dan: I try to maintain a distinctive edge by staying well informed and relying on my team’s ideas and insights. Knowledge is power and having a full bar of new and old products requires knowing a lot of details about how to best use them to extract as much flavor as possible. I try hard to convey as much knowledge as I can to my team and that allows me to get their opinions on what I’m creating, while inviting them to bring their own ideas to the table. All in all, teamwork makes the dream work.
Batchers: What is your process for creating a new cocktail from scratch?
Dan: I go about making new cocktails in a multitude of ways. Sometimes, I simply taste a spirit and think about what would work well with it and start building from there. Other times, I get inspiration from being out and about. If I’m at a restaurant or a store and I see an intriguing flavor combination, I’ll take note of it and start employing what I think would work best in that flavor profile. One of my favorite things to do is to go through historic cocktail books and pick a drink that I think would reach a more complex level by adding more flavors to complement what is already there. I can take inspiration from anywhere if I’m looking hard enough.
Batchers: What piece of advice would you share with a cocktail hobbyist trying to hone their skills?
Dan: Like the Litchfield Distillery tagline suggests…work. Work hard at it. Read, experiment, be curious, ask questions at your local cocktail bar. Educating yourself and putting in the work to reach your goals is a surefire way to get what you want out of just about anything. Working hard and working smart is the name of the game.
Batchers: What does The Spirit of Hard Work® mean to you?
Dan: The Spirit of Hard Work means quite a bit to me as that is how I got to where I am today. When I wanted to learn about things as a young bartender or barback, I didn’t always have someone that could answer all of my questions. So I took matters into my own hands and figured out how to learn on my own. Not everyone gave me the chance to experiment with their bottles of booze, so I went out and bought them just so I could learn what they were and what I could do with them.
How to make Rapper’s Delight by Dan Rek:
* You can find Pineapple Gomme Syrup here.
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with ice. Shake hard to chill and dilute. Double strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the top for aroma and drop in.
Bonus Cocktail: Diamond Cutter by Dan Rek
You’ll find the Diamond Cutter on Elm City Social’s cocktail menu. It features our Batchers’ Apple Vodka. We did not run a batch of Apple Vodka in 2018 in lieu of our Peach Vodka launch. Dan procured several bottles before it was completely sold out so he could make the drink at the bar for the foreseeable future. We felt compelled to share the recipe because it is out-of-this-world delicious. If you’re lucky to have a bottle of our Apple Vodka left, we encourage you to give this a try. It’s so good, we just may have to produce another batch of Apple Vodka next Fall.
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin with ice, shake hard to chill and dilute. Double strain into a decorative coupe glass. Express the oils of a lemon peel over the top for aroma and discard.
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.
© 2018 Litchfield Distillery. Photography & Editing Credits: Tony Vengrove