Between now and the end of 2010, AHAlife is profiling seven of the most exciting, up-and-coming New York-based entrepreneurs we've encountered this past year—spanning each of our daily categories. Read more to learn why they’re names to follow, and hear their tips and insights into key trends for 2011.
Didn’t get what you wanted this year? Browse recently curated products in our SHOP section. We’ll be back with more exciting discoveries in January. Happy Holidays!
Greg Seider is the bartender’s equivalent of an iron chef. Or perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright. This talented cocktail architect constructs intricate and innovative compositions that combine bold flavor, top ingredients and inspiring concepts. No wonder he has devotees from all over the world flock to The Summit, the highly acclaimed “anti-cocktail” bar he co-owns in New York.
What do you do?
Many people would use the term ‘mixologist’, to describe my job, but I don’t feel like it applies to me. What I do is a sort of hybrid of the culinary and cocktail arts. I have a background as a chef and my cocktails are inspired by fine dining and created as an integrated part of a great meal. Cocktail hour is the prelude to a dinner. I get inspiration from my friends who are chefs and I translate the ingredients that they use for cooking into flavors for a cocktail. For example, a chef friend introduced me to smoked cinnamon, and that inspired me to infuse that flavor into bourbon and make a gingerbread Old-fashioned.
How did your cocktail career start?
I invented my first cocktail at age 11. It was a homemade wine cooler. I drank so much of it that my sister had to put me in the bathtub to get me to come to. When I was older I became obsessed with the movie Cocktail and I would practice all the moves. I also memorized the drink books.
What are some projects that you have worked on in the past year?
I spend most of my time working on my bar, The Summit, which opened in 2009. We call it an “anti-cocktail” bar because we serve a product that is on the highest level, but we don’t take ourselves so seriously. The atmosphere is loose, casual and warm. Our guests can jump behind the bar if they like ? it’s a friends and family feeling. I’m in charge of creating cocktails and I sometimes work behind the bar. One of the inventions I came up with this year was to make aged cocktails in whiskey barrels. You mix the cocktail and age it in a barrel for six weeks ? it softens its taste and takes on the flavor of the barrel, it’s amazing how seamlessly the flavors mold. Another of my favorite cocktails this year is She Loves Mei, She Loves Mei Not. The clever name and the drink were inspired by my dear friend (and AHALife founder and CEO) Shauna Mei. It's an elevated play on a Pisco Sour with an Asian twist. The Sichuan peppercorns pay tribute to her Chinese heritage and the rose petals are from her friend’s farm in Ecuador. (See recipe below.)
What are some of the main trends you’ve noticed in the world of cocktails and spirits this year?
I feel like people are starting to ease out of their comfort zone and getting more exposure to different spirits. I see more women drinking bourbon, tequila and whiskey. There’s also an increasing crossover between the kitchen and bar. Mixologists are starting to borrow tricks from haute cuisines, it’s becoming more common to use molecular techniques and other new kitchen technology to infuse cocktails and create new flavors. Another trend is cold distillation, which maintains the freshness of the ingredient better than the traditional (boiling) distillation method.
Why do you think these trends are happening now?
It’s a new way to present this kind of new technology outside of the food medium. There are also a lot more boutique distilleries, which create a larger range of specialized products. There are quite a few people who have switched careers to pursue their dream of creating their own liquor. This has infused much more passion and innovation into the business. Creating artisanal spirits has become a new creative outlet. This has contributed to more storytelling behind the product and more knowledge getting out there.
What trends do you foresee for the upcoming year?
I think that sophisticated distillery equipment will become more affordable and accessible. The more people that have access to advanced techniques, the more creativity will shine through. It’s exciting to watch this happen.
Why are these trends important to know about?
If you’re informed about what new brands are out there and who these boutique producers are, you can support their efforts. It creates a much more intimate relationship than with the big brands. For example, you can take a tour of the distillery and see the process for yourself. It’s kind of like farm-to-table restaurant culture. The more you know about where a product comes from, the more you can savor and appreciate it. It’s also a bit of an adventure to find these new products, and the discovery itself is something that creates a social component.
What is on your personal wish list for 2011?
Love…. I’ve been waiting very patiently.
Recipe for She Loves Mei, She Loves Mei Not
2 oz Pisco, 3/4 oz Sichuan Peppercorn infused agave, 2 Nevado Farms edible rose petals 1/2 oz Japanese yuzu, egg white, dash of angostura bitters
Muddle 2 rose petals in a shaker tin. Add remaining ingredients. Dry shake (without ice). Add ice. Shake. Strain on rocks in rocks glass. Garnish with two rose petals. Cheers!