I like playing with weird ingredients. I’m a huge fan of taking simple, classic and elegant drinks and flipping them inside out. This is essentially a Sazerac, but I split the whiskey with pine liqueur and I even split the whiskey into two different types of whiskey, one from Tennessee and one from Kentucky.
My entire approach for this drink comes from the Leadbelly song, “In the Pines.” I’m a huge fan of Leadbelly and all the scratchy, dusty Americana where you have to strain to hear what they’re saying. You have to use your imagination to make up whole stories because the lyrics aren’t necessarily very clear or descriptive.
The cool thing about that song is that people have interpreted the lyrics in so many different ways, and so many other musicians have covered it. Me being a child of the ‘90s, the first time I ever heard the song was Nirvana’s unplugged version. As I got older, I found Leadbelly through that song. To me, the song is obviously about a woman who may be doing something she shouldn’t be doing. That’s where the accents of the drink come through; the burlesque bitters with hibiscus and there is always that bitter resentment in dealing with someone stepping out on you, and red wine vinegar always makes me think of that feeling of regret. The acidity of the vinegar is important because the pine liqueur is so sweet, and I also put some demerara in there to give it body, a silky quality. Otherwise, the texture of the drink would be very thin.
The Sazerac is a Southern drink. I didn’t go with rye whiskey, I wanted my choices to represent Leadbelly and the fact that he was born in north Louisiana and lived in Texas—but played everywhere—and of course we know about his stint in Angola prison… All the ingredients have a place in that Southern tale.
I moved to New Orleans when I was 18 and bartended all over the French Quarter. Creating craft cocktails is bartending with obsessive attention to detail and history and accuracy. I had all this experience in high volume and neighborhood bars, but now I want to be involved in the nuanced expertise that comes with making cocktails. For five years, I’ve also worked at the Erin Rose, which is one of the best bars in the city. You get a lot of different people; it’s a neighborhood bar in the craziest neighborhood in the country. All sorts of activity goes through there. Cure is a high-end cocktail bar so you’re not going to get a stumbling drunk tranny rolling in to sit next to a three-martini politician. I like the contrast. It keeps me engaged and inspired. I get to interact with strangers, but I also get to super-nerd out and spend a lot of time really overthinking drinks.
In the Pines
1 ounce Zirbenz Pine Liqueur
1/2 ounce Buffalo Trace Bourbon
1/2 ounce George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whiskey
1/8 ounce demerara syrup
14 drops Bittermens Burlesque Bitters
4 drops red wine vinegar
Stir with ice, and then strain into a cold rocks glass (without ice). Garnish with an expressed lemon peel. (Expressed means twisted over the drink.)