Ask any bartender worth their cocktail shaker what they consider to be the measure of a good drink, the thing they strive to achieve in their work, and inevitably the word comes up: balance.
"I just to try to do my best to make delicious cocktails, stuff that my friends and I would like to drink," muses Dan Carlson, bartender at the recently re-opened and revamped Botanica in Red Hook. "I'm always looking to the past to see what's been done and trying to take a fresh perspective on reinterpreting classics, pushing boundaries of accepted flavor profiles, and first and foremost, aiming to keep things in balance."
At Botanica, the cocktails marry the flavors of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean—a nod to the heritage of owner Daniel Preston, whose parents are Dominican and Italian. "Most of the drinks draw on the ingredients and flavor profiles of those areas, but hopefully bring them somewhere new and interesting," explains Carlson.
By way of example, Carlson points to the Amaro Cobbler, which features sherry and amaro—two ingredients typically relegated to supporting role status—as well as Don Estaban, a Dominican cacao liqueur produced by Preston's next-door chocolate factory and distillery, Cacao Prieto. "It was the first drink I put together for Botanica, and it really exemplifies what the whole program is about."
But there's another kind of balancing act at play at Botanica: the place itself is an exercise in matching opposites, aiming to pair thoughtfully crafted drinks with the low-key, laid-back attitude of a local neighborhood bar. "We wanted to create a place where you could come and get an interesting cocktail, but with an emphasis on eliminating the pretentiousness in the service," says Carlson. "It shouldn't be a whole production to get a good drink, no one here will try to lecture you or judge your drink order; even if you just want a beer."
Of course, you really should have a cocktail. But which one? We asked Carlson to share 5 favorites from the menu. Check them all out in the slideshow above.
220 Conover Street, Brooklyn NY 11231 (map); 347-225-0148