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Kirk Estopinal Talks Fizzes, Simplicity, and Nerding Out

Kirk Estopinal is a bartender that barely needs an introduction. A hometown hero and partner in Cure Co., Estopinal has been regarded as one of the city's finest libation-experts for well over a decade, even during him stint at Chicago's Violet Hour after Katrina. While he's co-founded some of the hottest bars in the nation (Cure, Bellocq, Cane & Table) and basically helped introduced the contemporary craft cocktail movement to New Orleans, Estopinal remains incredibly down-to-earth. Here now, the self-proclaimed cocktail nerd answers your reader questions in our Cocktail Week feature Ask The Pros.

Why are y'all (bartenders) so awesome?

I would say that, you know... I don't know, seriously? We're awesome because we work a lot. We work hard at what we do. There are a lot of people in our industry that work like we do and they're awesome too, but in order to be awesome you have to do all that work. It's like being a nerd a little bit. Reading a lot about drinks, caring a lot about drinks. Also remembering...I say it all the time... bartenders serve guests, not cocktails. I think that's a big part of the awesomeness.

What's your least favorite drink to make and why?

Obvious answer is the Ramos Gin Fizz. I don't like making drinks with cream in them because cream basically sticks to everything. You make a drink with cream, your sink is immediately coated in cream. Not only does using cream mean having to get cream? which really isn't the end of the world because we always keep cream right there? but it does mean a mess. So like, you've made the drink and now all the tools are dirty and it takes longer to clean it off.

I don't like making drinks with absinthe because it makes all your tools smell like absinthe. You have to really wash your tools over and over. So during the middle of a busy shift, cream, absinthe, maybe a smokey scotch, kind of slows you down. Other than that, I don't really have a least favorite drink to make, you know.

What cocktail or spirit do you wish more people would order?

A fizz. Just an OG real fizz. Simple. Like a short Tom Collins, basically, with no ice. That you just whip back and drink quick. I think they're really good, and nobody really does them, in a really needled way. We've actually been talking about doing it, but it takes a lot of little details to make it work. You have to have super chilled glassware, really good soda water, you have to have all you ducks in a row. The drink has to get executed really timely, really quickly and perfectly for it to really be the right thing. And it's really a question of soda water, just making sure that soda water is prepared the way it needs to be. It's kind of a very simple drink, but it takes a lot of finesse to make it. You know, it was one of the most popular drinks for a long time, and no one drinks them. The main reason is because there is some science and methodology to it that was really aligned in early soda fountain culture? you knew you had to have this cold this and hot that? and these things go in this order or the drink doesn't really sing as it should, so I'd like to really see that. Just because it's such a simple drink with a lot of finesse.

What's next cocktail-wise?

Fizzes. I don't know, I talk to a lot of bartenders about this all the time. You know, the kind of heady nerd guys that take themselves too seriously, like me. But I think there's a sort of day-of-reckoning for the rococo cocktail period that's happening? all these crazy drinks with too much stuff in them. I think the next trend is really going to be simplicity. People have been talking about it for a while, but I think we're really going to start seeing it. In some ways, it's going to let people down. But it needs to happen. It's important for this thing to have mass appeal. People have to get back to what it's really about, a tasty drink in a fun place, or a tasty drink in a nice place, or a tasty drink in whatever place. But the end result is tasty drink, that's it. It doesn't have to be high-minded to be tasty. A lot of people still are on that track, and it has a lot to do with ego and stuff like that, but I think simplicity is the next phase. And mass appeal. I think mass appeal is coming. I think you're going to see like 400-seat cocktail bars. It comes down to that it needs to happen at some point. It can't be squirreled away in little tiny bars forever, otherwise it will be like Hypercolor shirts or something like that.

What's your favorite party drink?

Punch. Real punch. I mean any party, punch is best. The quick and simple thing about punch is that it doesn't take much, and it should be a strong drink that you don't need a lot of. You can make a bowl. 50 people can get loaded on one bowl of punch. That should be the answer. So what we need to forget about is all the stuff we made in college that was like everclear and then a bunch of stuff to cover up the everclear. We need to work the other way. The simple thing is 2 cups of sugar, peels of eight lemons, muddle those together, let it rest as long as you can. If you can let is rest overnight, or if you've got an hour, great. If you don't, put 32 ounces of hot water on top of that, right? Put at least a 750, 750 and a half of good booze, and then a little bit of juice of the lemons you peeled, and a little bit of spice. And that's it. That's punch. It's really good, and everybody likes it and it's simple. It's really methodology. Creativity has nothing to do with it. Punch is the answer. I usually use dark rum or dark brandy3 they're both round and sweet; they have that bliss factor thing. They don't have too much sugar, just that perfect amount where everybody goes mmmm.

So much has changed cocktail-wise in New Orleans over the last five years, where do you see the New Orleans cocktail scene going in the next five years?

I mean, if New Orleans is on brand with the rest of the a slower adopter... you'll see somebody's going to do some sort of weird molecular mixology thing, I'm sure. Some people are already touching on it a little I think. You might see one of these really high-minded bars, and I think it's insane we haven't seen an actual speakeasy in New Orleans yet. Like a legit, proper speakeasy. Like PDT. I think there's a market for that, but the problem with that market is it doesn't make money. It's like a little pet project. Somebody will do it and it will be great, but it's a pet project for sure. Nobody's going to get rich on that thing.

I think you'll see a lot more restaurant-driven culinary cocktail stuff that has a lot to do with the menu at the restaurant it's at, not just the same five, you know, Sazerac, Brandy Crusta, Manhattan, whatever. Those are on every restaurant menu. I think you'll see more of this paired-idea? and I mean paired, not like where the drinks go well with the food type of pairing, but the entire concept is in line with the restaurant.

That's about it. I mean, tiki is definitely going to have it's moment. There's a lot of stuff starting to happen now. Over the next few years you'll see that really come into its own in a really good way. Hopefully Jeff Berry gets his bar open. It really seals the deal for that. Tiki Tolteca is doing great. We have inklings of that sort of that idea, but I'd like to see a Jeff Berry tiki bar. It's something I want to go to. I think if that happens, you'd see a lot more tiki happening in New Orleans too.

Also, restaurant groups opening a cocktail concept, like in Chicago that's happening now, big time fancy gastronomical bars, tiki places. I think you'll see that too, and that falls into the mass appeal thing. Every restaurant will have a cocktail program, hands down. I tried to do it when I got here, and nobody would listen to me. Like, I'm not sad about it. I'm glad. It's definitely something in Chicago or New York, if you have a restaurant with a bar, you have a cocktail list, and it's good, I'll say that much, it's good. It's thought over. It's cared for. Bartending in a whole is going to shift in New Orleans to that ideal, because bartending as a whole is shifting toward that, and that's great.

We're having a little version of the celebrity-chef issue that spurred on this whole restaurant thing that's happening in America. Without the early celebrity chefs there would be none of this stuff that we're seeing now. It made the job admirable. It made the job professional. And now you can get out of high school and be like, I want to be a chef, and your dads like great, cool. Your dad understands that's an actual viable career path. Now bartenders, like me and Neal, who make our living on drinks. So, it starts to get bigger and bigger. There hasn't really been a celebrity bartender. There are some, but no like, Emeril, that's just schlepping it on TV all the time and everybody knows them. There's no Snoop Dogg of mixology. People have been trying. It's just a matter of if they'll make it through and whether or not they're actually credible. If they have a great guy, an actual person who is respectable on Bar Rescue, that guy could be that guy. Because people watch that show and it's inane and whatever, but like, if that person would also make amazing drinks and have a really awesome personality, he could be the celebrity bartender of the world, you know?

· All Cocktail Week 2013 [-ENOLA-]


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