Forget about neon-colored drinks with umbrellas or cocktails spun into smoke with the help of some gastronomic magic, says mixologist Erick Castro: drinks taste best when made with simple ingredients and minimalist style.
“Cool drinks just aren’t made the way they were 100 years ago, with homemade syrups and esoteric flavors,” explains Castro, who’s currently putting the finishing touches on his new bar, Polite Provisions, in San Diego, California. “Bartenders all too often reach for the premade mixes, but I’m all about bringing back vintage, interesting flavors with a real homemade, touch.”
Castro – who experiments with homemade syrup flavors ranging from pineapple, strawberry, lavender and even celery, a flavor popular in the 1920’s – prides himself on creating every element of his pre-Prohibition style drinks from scratch. The 34-year-old even makes his own sodas and bitters and trains his bartenders to do the same – a philosophy centered on fresh ingredients that he said he learned from his family.
“It really goes back to being a first generation Mexican American,” says Castro, who started bartending while studying communications at San Diego State; a gig that eventually inspired a full-time passion in mixology. “We lived just an hour and a half from Mexico and would go down once a month, where we’d eat raspados with fresh syrups, liquados and delicious aguas frescas – ordinary things that were made really amazing with the use of fresh ingredients.”
Now, with an impressive resume that includes the creation of award-winning beverage programs at San Francisco’s Rick House and Bourbon & Branch, Castro is thrilled to be opening his very own space.
“My goal was to own my own bar by the time I was 35,” says Castro, who counts pisco as one of his favorite spirits to work with (“It’s underrated because it doesn’t necessarily have a place in the American experience – for many people, it’s still uncharted territory.”)
“Making people happy with the most classic and minimalist of cocktails is my passion – and something I’ll love doing forever.”
Here’s a pisco cocktail of Castro’s creation; a blend of ginger beer and fresh fruit flavors that compliments the vegetal attributes in Peruvian pisco.
Mountain Berry Buck
2oz Encanto Pisco
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 medium strawberry
Lemon wheel and strawberry, for garnish
Preparation: Place lemon juice and strawberry into a mixing glass and muddle strawberry vigorously. Pour in pisco, bitters and simple syrup. Add ice and shake. Strain over ice into a collins glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with finely sliced strawberry and lemon wheel.