Meaghan Dorman is the head bartender at Raines Law Room in New York. She's in charge of the menu, cocktail development, and staff training there, and also serves as the Vice President of the New York chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.) She's a lady who knows her drinks. So we asked her about what's going on in the cocktail world these days and how she goes about developing new drinks. Here's what she had to say.
What got you into the bar business in the first place?
My mom worked in restaurants when I was young because of the flexibility and I followed suit for after school jobs. I really fell in love with bars though at TK's American Cafe (New Haven) where I bartended in college. My boss Susie created such as lovely team environment and I worked my way up to the coveted Sunday football season shift! I worked there for 4.5 years, I've been at Raines Law Room for 5...I'm a put down roots and build a family kind of a bartender. I love the family aspect of making something great happen every night with our crew. When your bar is a big part of someone's life or vacation or whatever, it's quite rewarding.
How do you go about developing cocktails for Raines Law Room?
Most often when I'm creating a new cocktail, it's either to fill a void or because I've come across a product I'm excited about. For example, people are loving spicy cocktails these days, but there aren't a lot of classics that include spice. That's how I came up with the San Luis Cup, which combines a housemade ancho chili syrup with lime, cucumber, mescal and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. The Wildest Redhead came about when I wanted a crowd-pleasing Scotch drink for the menu (it's based on an old drink called the Wild Redhead that had an awesome name and boring recipe.) The Andean Dusk happened when I first started getting La Diablada pisco and I wanted to show off its floral profile.
What's your take on using expensive spirits in cocktails? Does a super-premium whiskey or rum belong in a mixed drink?
We use some pretty high-end spirits in our cocktails (Compass Box Spice Tree for example) but balance them out with more affordable ingredients to keep the prices consistent.
I think to each his own. I have definitely made a Johnnie Blue Rob Roy before, and have a regular that likes Yamazaki 18 Penicillins. We stock spirits to sell them, whether it's neat or in a mixed drink. I just want you to be happy with your purchase. It can be easy to lose those subtle distinctions that make rarer, pricier spirits so special, but there lies the skilled hand to still make it shine when mixed with other ingredients.
Are there any commercially-available cocktail products—bitters, mixers, etc.—that have impressed you lately?
I am forever a fan of the Bittermens Xocolatl mole bitters. I also think the Crown maple syrup from the Hudson valley is very tasty, and you really get these difference in profile from more mass produced maples. Over the winter I made Old Fashioneds: 1 1/2 ounces bourbon with 1/2 ounce of apple jack and Crown Maple as the sweetener. Yum!
I have not gotten a chance to try it yet but I'm really intrigued to try the Crafthouse bottled cocktails that Charles Joly worked on. Those be a great way for cocktail fans to liven up a house party.
Where do you think cocktails in the US are going next? What trends are on the rise? What trends will go away?
People are figuring out ways to do cocktails in higher volume which I think is really fun, whether by tap service or batched service wells. It's great not to be limited to just a handful of bars when you want a great drink, but bigger venues, hotel, clubs etc. The environment of cocktail bars is not perfect for every occasion, but I think a delicious drink is always in order.
Also now that cocktail culture has been around and is spreading, it's nice that it's also loosening up, especially in New York where we see 70s and 80s drinks getting the gourmet touch. I love espresso martinis, I won't hide it, I'll just make the best one I can!
Regarding trends dying... I'll be happy when I never see a neon cherry again or chemical sour mix. Just bite the dust already!
What are you drinking at home these days?
My go-to at home right now is recreating the Koffe Van Brunt from Fort Defiance. It's a delicious warm mix of aged rum, Cherry Heering, coffee, and cream. Perfect for a snow day!