With Grant Wheeler at The Garret East
The Perfect Super Bowl Party Drink Is… Beer Punch?
Above the black awning that hangs over the sidewalk in front of The Garret East, at Avenue A and 13th St, is the rorschach inkblot version of a raccoon. Inside, the bar’s interior is designed like someone’s home. That brings up the question of whose home. “It’s Rocko Racoon’s,” says Grant Wheeler, the beverage director of The Garret East and its twin The Garret West, as he points over his shoulder at a taxidermied version of the logo, a stuffed raccoon overtop the bar. “He’s an avid Gear Patrol reader slash jetsetter. An inspiration for Monocle. If Richard Branson and Gene Simmons had a baby.” He’s speaking with the lazy sarcasm of someone killing time, before the sage, one of the two main garnishes of the Sunrise Special he’s showing us how to make, arrives. In a shareable copper bowl with six long straws, the drink is a perfect group drink for the Super Bowl (“it is a super bowl,” he says).
Wheeler added the Sunrise Special — named for its two Asian-inspired ingredients, Two James Johnny Smoking Gun umami whiskey and Korea’s Hite Beer, (“the sun rises in the east”) — to the menu about eight weeks ago. By all accounts it’s becoming a mainstay. Its other “large-format” competition, the Apples & Oranges punch bowl, is seasonal.
Bartender turned beverage director. Wanted both a job and time to explore the city, hard to come by during the 2008 financial crisis. He’s a fast study, but not technically rigorous. Drinks made with feel, not a ruler.
“Really expensive mineral water. The most baller guy at the club is walking around with a $15 bottle of water.”
Trends to Look Out For?
People are getting interested in alkaline and high acid pairing, like raw kale ceviche, with lemon juice and parmesan. Oh, and juice presses, carrot and beet to name the sweeter ones.
Wheeler designs drinks one of three ways: (1) by “negotiating” between seasonal flavors (see: Apricot Bandana) and whatever alcohol he chooses; (2) with a particular type of alcohol, which he plays up, or down, depending on the other flavors; or (3) using a concept — a name or identity or moment — that he picks first and finds the flavors for second.
The sage arrives, and Wheeler places the leaves on top of his creation to add aroma, while also giving the photographer shit for his camera’s flash. We are setting up in one of the bar’s two “living rooms,” which come complete with rugs, leather couches and shelves full of old Vogue magazines, overlarge hourglasses, picture frames featuring Andy Warhol and a vast assortment of flasks, lighters, guidebooks and candles. It’s like the “best of” hits from a vintage shop in The Village, all positioned nicely and set against walls painted white and bathrooms with either a plug or a socket stenciled on them. The Sunrise Special is light and agreeable, refreshing in the way a mimosa can be.
“It’s for a morning in Aspen,” said Wheeler. “To split with a few friends and scratch that itch that is alcohol addiction.” Sage and salty umami whiskey isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for Super Bowl imbibing, but, at a bar that holds “Bring Your Own Vinyl” night, it’s not out of the question.
6 dashes Angostura bitters
1.5 ounce lime juice
1.5 ounce sage syrup
1.5 ounce Small Hands pineapple gum syrup
3 ounces Dolin Blanc semi-sweet vermouth (it pulls overly sweet or bitter cocktails toward the middle)
4.5 ounces Two James Johnny Smoking Gun whiskey (umami whiskey, the “key ingredient”)
2 Hite Beer (cans for garnish)
Sage leaves (garnish)
Big copper bowl (or flower vase for the adventurous)
1. Combine all ingredients, except beer, in shaker, with a little ice. Shake well.
2. Strain into copper bowl filled with 2 handfuls of ice.
3. Pour in 2 cans of beer — don’t be afraid of the froth.
4. Garnish with sage leaves and beer cans. Serve.