Vasilis Kyritsis Makes Serving Hospitality His First Priority on talesofthecocktail

by Gray Chapman

Vasilis Kyritsis was 18 years old and studying to become a nurse when he worked his very first shift behind the bar in hopes of earning a little extra cash. But the money wasn’t the only thing that drew him to the job. “I loved that job from first sight because I really like to have relationships with different people, and that was a nice chance to do it,” he says. What started as a gig ended up becoming a lifelong career: Kyritsis fell in love with the craft, and started experimenting with fresh ingredients in a cocktail era that was still ruled in part by pre-packaged mixes.

Now, over a decade later, Kyritsis is a contender for the 2017 Best International Bartender Spirited Award, and co-owns the world-renowned Athens bar, The Clumsies, with Nikos Bakoulis, who began his hospitality career around the same time as Kyritsis. (Both Kyritsis and Bakoulis are also Greek World Class winners: the former in 2012, and the latter in 2011.) Bakoulis initially found his specialty in wine, but was so intrigued by the quality and potential of cocktail culture that he made the switch. In 2012, the duo opened The Clumsies as a high-energy, high-volume hangout “with cool vibes and high-end drinks,” as Kyritsis says, open from dawn until way past dusk (the bar also serves breakfast and coffee in the mornings). “The Clumsies looks like a big house, and as a house we try to first ‘serve’ hospitality,” Bakoulis explains, adding that their cocktail program prioritizes a tightly focused concept and a flair for the experimental. Apparently their strategy is working: The Clumsies is currently ranked ninth on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list.

One might think that operating one of the world’s best high-volume cocktail bars keeps you busy, but somehow, the pair manages to make time for other projects, like recently leading a Cherry Heering masterclass in April. “We did great tastings with Heering, old-school bitters, new age bitters, different spirits, combinations with stuff that you can find in markets,” says Kyritsis. “It was a fancy way for the bartenders to understand the amazing and beautiful combinations [you] can have with a liqueur so complex and so old with rich history.” The brand will celebrate its bicentennial in 2018, and to celebrate, they’re hosting a series of educational workshops and masterclasses by bartenders, for bartenders in more than 60 cities around the globe. When the tour came to Athens, Vasilis and his bar were a given.

This year, Bakoulis and Kyritsis also launched their own vermouth brand, Otto’s, which took about two-and-a-half years from initial concept to market launch. (The spirit is a delicate, rose-hued floral blend of almost entirely Greek ingredients.)

As innovative and passionate luminaries in their field, Kyritsis and Bakoulis have a lot of wisdom to share. One thing they both encourage bartenders to do: expand your perspective by traveling. “I believe the key point to upgrading my skills was to travel a lot in different countries trying to discover their culture, tasting combinations in restaurants, and speaking with other bartenders around the world,” says Kyritsis. “The most important thing in this job is to open your eyes and your mind.” Bakoulis agrees: “I follow a lot of seminars and I travel around the world because this is, for me, the biggest lesson for the bartender,” he says.

And, as hospitality professionals, they both agree that a bartender’s attitude can make or break a guest’s experience, no matter how good the drinks are. “The basic skill that a bartender has to show for me is not to be miserable, which means that he or she always tries to find solutions to the problems that a bar can face, and to have positive energy behind the bar,” Kyritsis says. “A smile is the most important thing to make your guests trust you.” In fact, Bakoulis explains that the workflow and bar setup at The Clumsies was engineered with this in mind: the morning “lab shift” preps for the more complicated drinks behind the scenes, so that during busy evening shifts, bartenders are able to not only serve drinks faster, but also have more time to interact with guests. “Our bartenders have the time to smile, serve, and have their head up for [making] eye contact,” Bakoulis says.

As for taking your craft to the next level, Bakoulis says, it’s all about networking and collaborating. “Work really closely with different professionals or legends and different companies: this way, the bartender starts to combine the diversity of all those elements and the result is to create multitasking skills,” he says. “If you combine those things with travels around the world and keep your mind open, you can [achieve] the next level of bartender.”

Perhaps most importantly? Don’t expect to achieve overnight success, and don’t forget that success is often the result of many, many small failures along the way. “As our food scientist at The Clumsies told me one time, 98 percent of your tests fail and only two percent give amazing results,” says Kyritsis. “It is a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll, so be patient and keep trying.”

Vasilis’s Highball Sling
  • 45 ml London dry gin
  • 15 ml Cherry Heering
  • 30 ml Clarified pineapple juice
  • 0.4 gr Citric acid
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 5 ml Benedictine reduction
  • 100 ml Coconut water

Prep: Chill all your ingredients and put them into a chilled cream siphon . Put a soda charger in and de-gas it. Then, put one more charger and create carbonation. After five minutes, open it, and serve straight into a chilled highball glass — the way you would serve champagne.

Acclaimed bartender Paul McGee to tend bar at Milk Room for the 1st time since it opened

by Joseph Hernandez

Heads up, cocktail groupies: Paul McGee, owner of Lost Lake and beverage director of Land and Sea Dept.’s Cherry Circle Room and Milk Room in the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, will be tending bar at the latter for the first time since it opened.

Once a month, the cocktail wizard will hold court behind the stick at the intimate eight-seat Milk Room to mix and serve cocktails from his favorite vintage cocktail books. These drinks will be served alongside the normal menu, but when McGee’s around, why settle for the usual?

The first of McGee’s bartending shifts is Tuesday. He’ll be mixing drinks — made with vintage spirits — from “The Gentleman’s Companion,” a cocktail tome by Charles Baker first published in 1939. A taste of what’s to come: The Remember the Maine will feature 1970s Cherry Heering and 1950s Abbott’s Bitters, while the Ile de France gets a dose of rare 1980s Yellow Chartreuse.

These cocktails are a time-capsule twice over, and McGee will only be behind the bar, mixing drinks and sharing stories about the book and booze, for the first two blocks of seating, until 9 p.m. Book now via reservation site Tock, or miss out.

NYC Beverage Leo Robitschek Concocts Modern Classics With Cherry Heering on talesofthecocktail.com

by Jennifer Nalewicki

From a go-to ingredient to a bartender’s staple, this Danish liqueur stands out.

Cherry Heering Liqueur has been a go-to ingredient for Leo Robitschek for years. The beverage director for New York City-based Make It Nice restaurant group’s Made Nice, Eleven Madison Park, and The NoMad Hotel had been using it to make classic cocktails like the Singapore Sling and Blood & Sand, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he started experimenting with the ruby-red liqueur and creating cocktails he could call his own.

One of his first concoctions was the Eclipse, a mix of Cherry Heering Liqueur, tequila, Aperol, and lemon juice. Impressed with the way that the Cherry Heering and Aperol worked in tandem by balancing each other out, he later paired the two again along with rye whiskey, chiles, and lime juice to create what would soon become one of The Nomad Hotel’s best-selling cocktails: the Satan’s Circus (pictured below). Named after the property’s location in the city’s entertainment and red-light district in midtown, which in the 1800s was nicknamed “Satan’s Circus” by reformers thanks to its preponderance of gambling dens, brothels, and saloons, the result is a drink that mixes bitterness with a hint of heat.

“The Cherry Heering and Aperol have complementary flavors — one of them has cherry while the other has rhubarb and strawberry — so you have a blend of red fruits,” Robitschek says. “The Aperol brings in a bitter quality that balances out the Cherry Heering’s citrus notes and nuttiness. Together they make a really delicious and balanced flavor.”

More recently, this spring Robitschek introduced members of the global bartending industry to the wonders of pairing Cherry Heering with Aperol, along with a dozen other spirits during the two master classes he led in Madrid and Barcelona (taught entirely in Spanish!) as part of the iconic brand’s 200th anniversary celebration. Robitschek is one of a handful of bartenders that the brand cherry-picked (pun intended) to lead a series of workshops and master classes in more than 75 cities over the course of 100 days. Called “Modern Classics,” the three-month event serves as a way to get bartenders thinking of ways to use the cherry liqueur to make new cocktail classics back home at their bars.

For his master classes, one of the first things Robitschek did was have his students sample Cherry Heering along with a dozen base spirits, such as rye, sake, tequila, and, of course, Aperol, as well as bitters, produce, and other modifiers.

“We did a blind tasting with the Cherry Heering blended together with the other spirits to see how they changed and what attributes the Cherry Heering brought out in each spirit,” he says. “Once everyone decided which flavor combination they liked the best, we split everyone into groups and had a mini competition where they built cocktails using that combination of flavors to create a modern-day classic. Cherry Heering is an ingredient that most bars have on hand if they’re trying to create some form of the classics like the Blood & Sand or the Singapore Sling, so most bartenders have used it before and are comfortable with it.”

Two combinations that surprised Robitschek included Cherry Heering with sake and again with Green Chartreuse.

“Leading classes like this, you always hope that you learn something new and gain something from it,” he says. “There were a few flavor combinations that I had never tasted before on their own without mixing in other ingredients, so it was interesting to see how they did work

We can only hope that one day in the near future one of these combinations will wind up on Robitschek’s drink list.

Satan’s Circus

  • 2 oz Old Overholt Rye
  • ¾ oz Thai-Bird Chili Infused Aperol
  • ¾ oz Cherry Heering
  • ¾ oz Lemon Juice

Directions: Shake and strain into a cocktail coupe

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