Jason Beatty is a Midwestern bartender and a poet hiding behind the bar. Once a literature major, with a passion for the sonnet, he likens the skills he uses in bartending to writing short yet complex verses. He carefully selects rare ingredients each with distinct sensations and, using exact measurements, puts them together to create something new and whole.
Bartending, he says, is by far more gratifying than writing poetry (which is rather painful) because “it’s easier to find agreement on a drink than on a sonnet, and it’s easier to please a guest than a muse.” Jason is an advocate for innovative brands on the market. We had a phone conversation to talk about his thoughts on making cocktails and the contribution of vermouth. Currently the bartender at Indiana Grand Casino in Shelbyville, IN, he was previously at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Indianapolis and has been mixing drinks for five years.
AQ: What got you into this line of work?
BEATTY: One of my professors told me I needed to start serving because I was a little slow to find a job… I studied Francis Petrarch – the guy who invented the sonnet, Shakespeare studied him before he invented the English sonnet. When someone told me that, I took all the credits I could at once and went to Italy. All I did was study that one author and the language. Then I did the same thing with cocktails: I studied what they were using and the logic behind it and I studied ingredients and pairings, and now I rapidly know what pairs well with herbs and fruits.
AQ: Brands like Angel’s Envy?
BEATTY: Yeah, if you haven’t tried it, he was voted one of the highest ratings from The Whisky Advocate and it’s under $45. The master distiller used to be at Woodford Reserve and then took his family and started his own bourbon.
AQ: There are a few new high-end vermouths on the market, what’s your opinion of vermouth and what qualities do you look for in a good vermouth?
BEATTY: I definitely stay away from Italy, I used to live there, and I know their vermouth quite well. What I’ll look for is weather it’s robust or complex like the Noilly Pratt, then I’ll choose that as the heavy main ingredient, or if it’s something more down to earth I’ll do the Vya or Dolin. It depends on what I’m actually looking for. If the weather is like it is now, I definitely want something light.
AQ: If you were generalizing about the contribution of vermouth to the taste or quality of a cocktail, what is vermouth good for?
BEATTY: Before I’ll spend $30 on glass of bourbon served neat, I’ll try some vermouth to get my palate ready. It gets the palate thinking so that when I try it, it will go to all parts inside [my mouth] to hone my skills with and so forth. So it’s like a warm up to something very tasty. It can either be a complex bourbon or whiskey or a complex dish of lamb. The vermouth will work the palate and get your mind thinking and you’ll taste things you’re normally not used to and by the time you put the expensive [food] in your mouth you’ll taste a lot of different stuff. And also vermouth will help your stomach too, but I don’t drink that much of it.
AQ: What are some of your favorite drinks where vermouth is an essential ingredient and makes an important contribution to the drink?
BEATTY: I always try to pour as much whiskey as possible so I always do the Manhattan and use the Vya in it. I’m not into the scotch whiskey yet so I’ll do the Rob Roy and add it in there too. And then I’ll take the Vya Dry Vermouth and make up my own stuff with it.
AQ: Do you have any recipes where vermouth makes up more than half of the drink?
BEATTY: Rue Barbara AQ: With rhubarb infused Extra Dry Vya. How do you infuse that? BEATTY: Actually, everyone calls it an infusion but it’s really maceration. I’ll cut the bottoms off the stalks and then cut them up in 1-inch intervals and fill maybe a 1/5 of the jar with rhubarb and pour a bottle of Vya Dry Vermouth in. Put it in a cool dry place for 3-5 days because the sun will ruin it. [You can put this is in the refrigerator].
AQ: A lot of your drinks have ingredients that make them hard to attempt at home, what would you say to someone who is attempting to make one of them?
BEATTY: You can use substitutes because you may not be able to find the Van Winkle Rye [for the Rue Barbara]. Just take a rye whiskey, and instead of Bonal, you can use another aperitif, such as Campari. Rhubarb bitters you can get those almost anywhere.
AQ: Do you have a favorite Vya cocktail? BEATTY: It would probably be the California Bear. I would use the sombra mezcal because it is half the price of the regular mezcal. And then the Barenjager Liqueur and you always need the lemon to offset the honey because otherwise it’s too sweet. And then I bring in the Vya Extra Dry and it would break up the sweet and make it drier.
AQ: As a poet, what does Vya evoke for you?
BEATTY: A Woody Allan one-liner: full of knowledge, but it doesn’t overwhelm the situation. He’s known for his writing and directing skills and only shows up in films when no one else can play the part.
BEATTY continues: I remember when I first met your Dad, and then all of a sudden I see the restaurant owners coming up to him and going nuts over the sweet vermouth instead of anything else. And I realized what they were doing. [The Vya] is something really short and will throw a lot of complex flavor in to the drink. If you put Vya sweet vermouth into the bourbon, a bartender can make something really quick in less than a few seconds. And then the customers are going to think that this is a high-class place that puts a lot of thought into their cocktails. Even though the bartender only spent a few seconds making it.
AQ: What’s a difficult part in creating cocktails? BEATTY: It would be the name: it has to match in creativity and give some clues yet oftentimes nothing comes to mind quickly. AQ: What cocktails do you drink in your spare time?
BEATTY: Whiskey straight up, Angel’s Envy Bourbon, and I also have [Quady’s] Starboard for someone who’s not looking to get hammered. I have yet to make Indianapolis a cocktail scene but it will happen one of these days.
In the meantime, Beatty continues to write sonnets, and has a series he calls his ‘World Trade Center Sonnets’ that are as yet unpublished, but perhaps that too will happen one of these days.
1 ¼ oz Sombra Mezcal
¾ oz Barenjager Honey Liqueur
½ oz lemon juice
½ oz Vya Extra Dry Vermouth
8 drops of Bittermen’s Orange Cream Citrate
stir, garnish with an orange twist and serve in a chilled cocktail glass
Note: I tried the California Bear at home with Andy Quady and we preferred to switch the amount of Mezcal with the amount of Barenjegar for a softer, sweeter, cocktail, where the smokiness of the Mezcal is less in the forefront. In our homemade version we used: ¾ oz Mezcal and 1 ¼ oz Barenjager.
Recipe courtesy of Jason Beatty
1 ½ oz rhubarb infused Vya Dry Vermouth
¾ oz Van Winkle Rye
½ oz Bonal
3 drops of Cook’s Strawberry Extract
2 dashes of Fee Brother’s Rhubarb Bitters
Stir for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with an orange twist.
*The photo of this drink is taken with Campari, as we didn’t have any Bonal on hand. We plan to try this again with all of the right ingredients.
1 ¾ oz Quady’s Batch 88 Starboard
¾ oz Campari
½ oz Bols Genever
5 drops of Taza Mexicano Extract
5 drops of Bittermens Boston Bittahs
Stir for 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
**We were missing key ingredients here – the Taza and the Bols Genever – so we’ll be trying this one when we assemble everything.
Recipes from Jason Beatty