Since bursting onto the scene in 2004 as the head mixologist for Thomas Keller’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se, Brian Van Flandern has become revered as one of the top cocktail authorities in the world. Not only is he talented behind the bar—known for his innovative flavor combinations and unique ingredients—but he is a gifted spirits historian, creative consultant, television personality and award-winning author (his fourth libation-inspired book, “Tequila Cocktails,” was published by Assouline last November). He is also the visionary behind the cocktail program at chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s first West Coast restaurant, Georgie, at Montage Beverly Hills. Montage Magazine checked in with Van Flandern to learn a bit more about his illustrious career.
Montage Magazine: How did you get your start in this industry?
Brian Van Flandern: I was a bartender for many years supporting my acting career in New York City, and in 2004 I decided to go back to school and get my degree, and I took one last restaurant job. That job happened to be at Per Se, working alongside Thomas Keller. It was a completely eye-opening and [life]-altering experience. I got this full culinary education that I hadn’t anticipated, and I started to [learn] how to compose flavors on a plate and pair great wines with them. All of a sudden, I thought, “Why can’t we do this with cocktails?”
MM: How would you describe your mixology style?
BVF: The best bartenders in the world are emulating chefs, and my style is to use farm-to-table ingredients. I have a real understanding of the principles of flavor profiling, which allows me to work with exotic or unusual ingredients. I understand that as long as a cocktail has something acidic, something sweet and something alcoholic, I can take any combination of flavor profiles—literally anything—and balance it out, and it can taste interesting.
MM: Why did you choose tequila as the subject of your most recent book?
BVF: Tequila is one of those terribly misunderstood spirits and, in the last 30 years, it has gone through a renaissance, and has really risen to the heights of the finest cognacs and whiskeys in the world. I wanted to write a book that not only showcased tequila’s magnificence and the history and cultivation of the spirit itself, but also the variety of styles and types. The vast majority of people only think of two tequila cocktails—margaritas and the tequila sunrise—and people love the flavor, but they don’t like that bitter finish, which is really associated with cheaper tequilas. There is really great tequila that you can sip on all day.
MM: What type of food would you pair with tequila?
BVF: Blanco tequilas—made with agave—go very well with raw, leafy green vegetables and other crudite[s]. In Mexico, they’ll serve a lot of cucumber and jicama with paprika, and they’ll just drink blanco tequila with that. Reposado, which is tequila aged for 60 days or more, tends to go better with fish or a bouillabaisse. Anejo, which is tequila aged for at least a year in a barrel is great with hard cheeses, charcuterie and nuts. And then there is extra anejo, which pairs well with anything chocolate, caramel, butterscotch or toffee.
MM: You served as Geoffrey Zakarian’s consulting mixologist for his new restaurant, Georgie, at Montage Beverly Hills. How would you describe this project?
BVF: Geoffrey wanted to make this restaurant very LA—something that was fun and accessible, but also high-end and posh. We did a little homework about the LA crowd, and found that West Coasters regard themselves as having the freshest and best produce and are also very health-conscious people. Especially in Los Angeles, people do not like sugar in their cocktails—which was a conundrum for me, since I adhere to the formula of acid, sugar and alcohol. So I decided to use the freshest ingredients and things that you would often find at a juice bar, like beet, cucumber and cantaloupe juices. And then I also started experimenting with different kinds of sugars. Rather than use cane sugars, we started using beet sugar water, agave nectars and other alternative forms of sugars that are not so calorie forward.
MM: What is one of the best-selling cocktails on the menu?
BVF: I created a tribute cocktail to Rande Gerber and George Clooney—they own Casamigos Tequila together, and Rande wrote the foreword to my book. It’s called the Georgie Gerber, and it uses Casamigos and Gerber peach baby food to create a sort of a peachy margarita. It’s delicious. This is exactly what I’m talking about, in terms of experimenting with different ingredients. If Gerber is good enough for babies, it’s certainly good enough for adults.
1 ½ ounces Casamigos anejo tequila
1 ounce Gerber 1st Foods Peaches
¼ ounce fresh lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup (see recipe below)
½ ounce Moscato d’Asti sparkling wine
Garnish: Peach slice
In a cocktail shaker tin, combine all ingredients except the Moscato, add large ice cubes and shake vigorously, then add the Moscato and tumble roll back and forth once, taste for balance, double strain over fresh ice, garnish and serve.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Let cool before adding to the cocktail.
By Amanda Ebersteinspiritspir