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Ask The Expert: James Grant (Woodwork)


Photo by Caitlin Varrin

WHERE: What are some trends in cocktail mixing that interest you right now?
Grant: Sherries are becoming incredibly popular in cocktails—either using them as a base or to replace a fortified wine. It offers a different kind of complexity and an acidity and dryness that vermouth doesn’t necessarily have. And using one of those in place of the other drastically alters a cocktail—whether it’s a classic drink like a Martini or a Negroni—but it expresses very different aspects of the spirits involved.

W: What would you recommend for someone who enjoys a classic cocktail but wants to try something new?
G: If you really like a rum and coke, try a Tiki cocktail. If you like a classic Old Fashioned, try a modern riff on a Manhattan, such as a Greenpoint or a Meat Hook. Finding a modern expression of a classic drink is usually not difficult if you have a bartender that’s willing to engage with you. When you really get down to it, there’s only about nine cocktails and everything else is a variation on them.

W: What’s your tip for pairing cocktails with food?
G: I think pairing cocktails with food sometimes requires a slightly different thought process than pairing wine or beer. For wine and beer, often you want to contrast the beverage with the food. So you have contrary flavour profiles, such as a big rich meat dish with a tannic and acidic wine. With cocktails, you’re creating a small complimentary flavour profile.

W: Do you have a go-to pairing?
G: One that I love is charcuterie and a classic cocktail called a Bamboo—it’s dry vermouth and sherry. Dry vermouths tend to be very herbaceous and astringent and a macchiato sherry is very nutty—and those compliment cheese and cured meats so well.

W: Any last tips?
G: It makes me sad when people come in, sit down, and order a drink in a sheepish way. “It’s probably below you to make this, but can I get a Long Island Iced Tea?” At the end of the day, it’s your time and money, and I’m lucky that you’re spending it at my bar. If you ever want to get out of that comfort zone, I’m happy to help. If someone wants to have something familiar and enjoy themselves, they should not be ashamed.

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