On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy takes a field trip to the beach and is joined again by bartender Brian Miller to discuss the Dark ‘N’ Stormy. The key to perfecting this drink? Put aside that can of ginger beer (unless it’s Old Jamaica) and pull out the juice extractor. Tune in for more.
Brian Miller’s Rum & Ginger Highball (Inspired by the Classic Dark ‘n’ Stormy)
- 2 ounces rum (such as 1 ounce Appleton 12 and 1 ounce El Dorado 15)
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- 1 ounce ginger syrup
- ½ tablespoon blackstrap molasses
- 1 teaspoon Hamilton 151 Overproof rum
- A dash of bitters (such as Angostura)
- 1 ounce club soda
- Combine rum, lime juice, ginger syrup, blackstrap molasses, Hamilton 151 and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake until chilled.
- Strain into a chilled highball glass with ice.
- Top with club soda
- Optional: garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel and candied ginger.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: All right, we’re getting into this. It’s “Cocktail College,” but it’s not the Cocktail College you know, listener. This is an episode of firsts. Definitely the first time I’ve recorded outside of New York City, I believe. The first time where my guest sat opposite me is wearing nothing but a swimsuit, some bathing shorts.
Brian Miller: There’s some listeners going, “I’m blind!”
T: There’s a reason for that. It’s Brian Miller. He’s back. Brian, where in the world are we?
B: We are in the Seychelles.
T: And we’re about what? 10, 15 meters from the beach.
B: According to that towel across from me, we’re rum from the other side. That’s where we are.
T: Okay. And what are we doing out here? What are we doing in the Seychelles right now?
B: Okay, well, aside from having an incredible time, we are drinking Takamaka rum. Pretty much breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
T: That is correct. We’re out here by invitation. We’re being hosted by the wonderful d’Offay family.
B: Wonderful people.
T: They were the first settlers on the island, the first people to ever call this island home. They’ve been here for multiple, multiple generations and they are the makers and the owners of Takamaka rum, as we said. Not currently available in the U.S. but I mean, I’m filling my suitcase with as much as possible.
B: It’s coming in a suitcase soon.
T: Do not listen, U.S. customs. I will not be declaring anything, but we’re bringing a lot back. But it is big, I know, in the U.K. and the United Arab Emirates. So for our listeners in those markets, if you don’t already know it, can definitely recommend it. It’s been wonderful so far. And you know, what else could we do today, but discuss a rum cocktail?
B: Sitting on a beach.
T: And I’m going to say that is the only thing that is Dark ‘N’ Stormy about today’s episode because it’s a beautiful day. As we say, we’re going to start roping that in. It’s a beautiful day. Wrong sound effect. Sorry. But it’s the Dark ‘N’ Stormy. Talk to me. What’s the first thing you think about when you think about this cocktail when someone brings it up, Brian?
B: Milk & Honey.
T: Milk & Honey.
B: Yeah. Attaboy their whole family.
B: Dutch Kills.
The History of the Dark ‘N’ Stormy
T: We’re going to get into that. We’re going to get into that a lot because I don’t think that’s the first thing that most people think of. Obviously it’s rum, it’s ginger beer. And look, oftentimes on this podcast, we like to get into historical stuff to begin with. When it’s a one-on-one, essentially, I think there’s some danger of going too far deep into that. Who did it first, because it’s so simple.
T: But what are the known facts about this drink? Who do people say invented?
B: Well, supposedly it’s invented by the Goslings family. It’s a Goslings copyrighted drink, much like the Painkiller is Pusser’s copyrighted drink. But I think you can do it with other rums. I mean, I definitely like Goslings.
T: Yeah, no slight on them.
B: Usually the way I’ve had it. But ginger beer for the most part I find hideous. So usually when I have it, I will check and see if it’s somewhere on the menu. If they have ginger syrup or something like that. That’s usually how I like to have it.
T: And that’s what we’re going to spend more time focusing on today, because I think this is one of those drinks. It’s a perfect candidate for this show where it’s like, okay, you think it’s simple, you think you know what it is, but you really can dial into it a little bit more with good reason, not just for the sake of doing so to be a “cocktailogist.”
T: Mixologist, cocktailogist, call it whatever you want.
T: But yeah, the story goes Bermuda, the land of many lost ships. I think it’s like 300 years ago or whatever. The Goslings first arrived there, they get into the rum business, I think they also get into the ginger beer business and they started making this drink. To this day, it remains, I’m sure, I believe the most popular drink on the island. And if you want to put that on the menu, as you say, if you want to call it the Dark ‘N’ Stormy, I think it’s just the N there. It has to be with Goslings. So there you go, Malcolm and family. Love what you’re doing there as well. But we’re going to talk about the combination of rum, ginger, and possibly lime today. So tell us about your philosophy when it comes to making this drink and your inherited philosophy, I would guess.
The Ingredients in Brian Miller’s Dark ‘N’ Stormy
B: Well, I first kind of got exposed to this drink when I was working at Pegu Club and Audrey was doing her own little twist on it. Shoot, what was it called? Her Dark ‘N’ Stormy- shoot. I’m having a brain fart here. But anyway, she kind of made it with a ginger tea, essentially a ginger tea syrup. And I thought that was good, but making that tea was kind of fussy. And so usually after work, if I felt like going out, the guys would take me to Milk & Honey. And that’s where I got exposed to Sasha. And I met Richie Boccato and Matty Gee and Mickey McElroy and Sammy Ross. And I had a Dark ‘N’ Stormy there once and it just kind of changed how I looked at the drink. Jamaican Firefly, sorry. That’s the name of the drink that Audrey served at the Pegu club.
T: Audrey was very good.
B: But giving a Dark ‘N’ Stormy at…
T: This would’ve been circa what kind of year-ish?
B: 2005 I think. That’s when I had the Jamaican Firefly. And that was definitely one of my favorites at Pegu among many others. But going to Milk & Honey. I actually believe, I think Sammy made me my first Dark ‘N’ Stormy and it was just made with lime, ginger syrup, and topped off with club soda. And I believe it was Goslings that they were using. Goslings was pretty prevalent that time at bars. And it was just amazing. It was ginger and it was like… I remember Sammy would tell me, he’s like, “Brian, women love ginger. He’s like, you can never put enough ginger in a cocktail.” Hence, the Penicillin is popular as it is. But it really does make a difference, fresh ginger in a cocktail. If I can avoid getting a Dark ‘N’ Stormy with ginger beer, I will. But sometimes it’s a crap shoot at a bar and you never know what they’re doing and they’re going to give me Fever-Tree or something like that. If I was going to have a ginger beer, to me the best one is, what is it…
T: Jamaican Old Fiery?
B: Yeah with the ginger actually floating on top of the soda.
T: It’s incredible, right?
B: Yeah, it’s real ginger flavor.
T: That real burn, the fiery, I think it might not be in the name, it’s somewhere on the can for sure. I’ve drank a lot of that growing up. It is. It’ll burn in a good way.
B: It’s really good. And so with the ginger syrup, that’s another side story where you kind of have to figure out how do you do proper ginger syrup. And Audrey made kind of this tea version where it was ginger and hot water and then we added some sugar later, I think it was.
T: So sliced ginger would’ve been for that?
B: Yeah, we would’ve chopped it up. So almost minced it and threw it in there. And that was good, but that way, sometimes the ginger could go bad and ginger when it’s bad, smells like ginger perfume. It has that kind of alcohol taste to it. It’s almost like a ginger cologne or a ginger perfume. But everyone was trying to figure out how to do ginger syrup. And I think at one point we were extracting the ginger and then it was equal parts with sugar.
T: What do you mean by extracting there?
B: You throw the ginger through an extractor, you kind of peel it.
T: Like a juicer for people at home?
B: Yeah, a juicer. If you’re juicing apples or…
T: Your green juice machine.
B: Yeah, exactly.
T: That you bought and never used.
B: I have a Breville at home. So you would extract the juice. And then I think sometimes we did equal parts sugar to ginger juice. And then we tried, I think, at Death & Co. for a while. We were doing two-to-one sugar to ginger juice. But the sugar just all kind of sank to the bottom, and so I reached out to Richie Boccato and I was like, how do you guys make your f*cking ginger syrup? I’m so tired of trying to figure this out. I was like, you guys do the best, you make the best Dark ‘N’ Stormy, what are you doing? And he’s like, it’s three to two. I was like, well that’s f*cking genius. And so three parts sugar, two parts ginger, and it works.
T: Not heated.
B: Not heated. No.
T: Just stirred.
B: Stirred or you use an immersion blender, something like that to mix it all up. It’s a little bit of work, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best ways to make ginger syrup. I just think it’s great.
T: And how long is something like that lasting for? I mean, you got all that sugar in there, but ginger, this is the juice we’re talking about, not just an infusion.
B: I mean, things will last as long as they’re kind of kept in a refrigerator constantly. If you’re at home, it’s cool. You pull it out, you make the drink, you put the syrup back in the fridge, and I think it’ll last for a while. But like I said, it gets to a point where it almost tastes like fermented. It tastes like perfume and that’s when it’s gone bad. But the syrup tends to last, can last for a while. Ginger syrup behind a bar doesn’t tend to last very much. You’re constantly making it.
T: I mean, we’re talking about the process now, so we might as well add a few additional points here to it. Are you keeping all of the skin on? Are you just roughly peeling it maybe with a spoon or something? What’s the thinking there?
B: Yeah, I think you roughly peel it with a spoon, some dull instrument so you’re not cutting your fingers up. A peeler is not necessarily good because it just gets caught up in the peeler itself. But you peel it sporadically, not sporadically, but you peel it a little bit. You want to leave some of the skin on, because you want the earthiness that comes from the skin. It’s just like when you’re doing jalapeño tequila, you don’t just cut it all up, seeds and all. Sometimes you’ll de-seed half and then you’ll use seeds on the other half. So you get that earthiness. Same thing with ginger. So you keep some of the skin on. Also, it’s a real pain in the butt to peel ginger completely.
B: It’s like one knot after another. But you do that and you juice it. I mean honestly, probably the hardest part about ginger syrup is cleaning the extractor after you juiced it. It’s just all the pulp that’s in there and it’s kind of a pain in the butt, but it’s totally worth it. I just don’t think there’s anything quite like it. And then you can get different types of ginger. Sometimes in my experience I’ve had Israeli ginger, which is really spicy and that’s great. Like I said, people who like ginger, it can never be spicy enough. They love it.
T: You don’t want this to just be sweet and taste like candy or whatever. The candied version of it. Or even just ginger flavoring that you might get in a bad RTD.
B: I mean, I think when you get it with ginger beer then it can be sweet because they’re not adding lime juice to it. Almost any one in one that just has a soda in it, not a club soda, but Coke or Diet Coke or ginger ale or stuff like that. It’s sugar. It’s sugar on top of sugar, on top of sugar, and so it’s just not worth it, and it tastes gross. That’s the kind of cocktail making that can ruin a cocktail for other people to try. They’ll be like, I’ve had a Dark ‘N’ Stormy, it’s f*cking sweet and terrible. As a bartender, it’s like, you’re responsible, you’re the gatekeeper. It’s like if you make a bad drink then you may have ruined this drink…
T: Someone forever.
B: A large group of people forever.
T: Okay, so you mentioned lime there. This is a component, we’ll get into your recipe later, we’ll get into your specs later for this. But lime is something that you’re including when you make this build of the drink?
B: Sure. I mean, this is the basic build that’s really simple is two ounces of rum, three-quarter lime, one ginger, shake, strain, top off with an ounce of club soda and that’s it. And it’s got to be an ounce. You can’t just fill it to the top. I am the anal retentive bartender where I’m like, “Cool.” It’s like how much Champagne? “Oh, you just top it off?” No, I’m like, “How much? Is it an ounce? Is it an ounce and a half? Is it two?” All that stuff makes a difference. I learned that from Audrey. She was always on me about “everything needs to be measured,” even club soda.
T: Yeah, because then it comes into, if someone’s reading this recipe on the internet or trying to recreate it at their own bar, what’s your glassware?
B: It’s a highball glass.
T: No, but your size of glassware might be slightly different. I know these things tend to be standardized.
B: I mean, it’s usually a 12-ounce highball. I mean, that will fit almost everything perfectly no matter what size.
T: So that will be filled with ice?
B: That will. I mean, that’s the size of the glass. I got a lot of practice at Pegu Club making drinks. So I got used to certain recipes and specs that you knew filled a 12-ounce highball glass. I’m not one of those people that if I got a glass and a cocktail in a glass and let’s say it was a finger and a half from the top, I’d still be fine with it because I know that hopefully…
T: So we’d not be tempted to just add another cube of ice or are you not adding ice to this drink?
B: No, you’re adding ice to the drink. But sure, as long as the ice doesn’t go over the rim of the glass; that’s gauche, if it’s over the rim of the glass. It’s not supposed to be that way.
T: All right then, so we’ve covered that club soda. Do you have any strong opinions about across the border? No. Just make sure it’s carbonated and cold.
B: Yeah, it’s just something good. I mean, usually we get Seagram’s and that’s fine. When I’m in a bar, I prefer something with a cap on it because once you’ve opened a soda up, then it’s starting to lose carbonation. But at least you can kind of stop it a little bit by putting the cap back on. It’s like the old “Seinfeld” thing when Kramer’s taking food from Jerry and he wants to be charged every time he does something. And he’s like, “That sound when you open the can? That’s the sound of you buying an entire can.” And that’s the way that I look at club soda is like, okay, cool, once I open it, it’s dying a slow death. So if I can put a cap on it, that’s great, but I don’t really care. At Lullaby we use cans and that’s fine. And they’re small cans, and we have a bunch of drinks that are using club soda, so it’s like we go through it pretty quick.
T: Nice. All right, so that’s ingredients all but rum. Rum is what we’re doing out here. Rum’s your thing as well. Let’s talk about rum.
B: I’m a fan.
T: Yeah, you’ve been known to drink some.
B: I’ve been known to drink rum.
T: From time to time. I guess I just missed my friend.
B: His name is Robert Paulson.
T: So Goslings, I think it’s the Goslings, the Black Seal is the official one. But I want to talk today about where you would go if you were putting this on a menu, if you’ve had it on a menu before and then we’ll go from there.
B: I’ve never really put it on a menu. It’s like an Old Fashioned or a Martini or a Manhattan. It’s like, you should know how to make these, I don’t have to tell you that we can make Dark ‘N’ Stormies, but definitely the rum is important. Really, simply just doing two ounces of Goslings is totally fine. I’ve done that. I’ve worked at bars where I’ve been very spoiled and my well rum is a really nice rum or the owners don’t really care. So I’ll play around sometimes. I’ve definitely f*cked around with the Goslings Old Family in a Dark ‘N’ Stormy and those…
T: That’s a very rich rum.
B: Yeah, it’s f*cking delicious. It’s really good. I really like the Old Family, but of course it’s super expensive and nobody in their right mind would allow you to make that on a regular basis. Not unless you were flushing money down the toilet and you were fine with that.
T: And if you were doing this with, or maybe splitting the base there because you were talking to me about this the other day, about possibly doing this drink with what? Appleton and something else?
B: Yeah. I mean, it depends on what I have available at the bar.
T: Well, this imaginary bar you have everything available.
B: A standard for me, I worked at a bar where we did a lot of rum drinks that were… We used Appleton 12 was our well, and basically so was El Dorado 15. And so we were just… We’d make a batch, make batches of just El Dorado, equal parts El Dorado 15 and Appleton 12.
T: And those are both for anyone unfamiliar.
B: Appleton 12 is Jamaican.
B: Yep, they’re both… And El Dorado is Demerara based. They’re both delicious. I just think everything that Appleton and El Dorado does is delicious. And I just think a 12 and a 15 going together, I think are really good. It definitely adds some richness to it. It’s got a little bit of funk from the Appleton. And then I’m always three-quarter lime, one ginger, and then sometimes I’ll f*ck around with… I’ll put half a teaspoon of blackstrap in it. Or if I want a little bit of a kick, I’ll put a teaspoon of the Hamilton 151.
T: Tell me about that, because that’s a technique, something of a little, I’m not going to say secret weapon, but it’s something that you like to deploy every now and again, is it not?
B: Yeah, I’m a huge fan of that. I learned that little cocktail hack when I was at Death & Co., and the first time that I was playing around when I was trying to create the first tiki drink I ever did, the Gantt’s Tomb. I was playing around with that drink and Avery Glosser, who is of Bittermens Bitters, him and his wife Janet, they own Bittermens Bitters. Avery was a great guinea pig and someone who would always help me out with cocktails. And he had told me, he was like, look, if you add the 151, it helps boost the flavors of all the other things that are in the drink, much like vodka in a vodka alla penne sauce. It brings out all the spices and the flavors. And so I’ve used that a lot. It’s also a way of just bumping up the proof of a cocktail, which brings all the flavors together. Sometimes I’ll use 151 bitters. It helps tie everything together and it doesn’t matter the spirit. I played around with a drink recently doing a fake infused bourbon with a teaspoon of 151 added to the drink. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But a little cocktail hack that I like is putting a teaspoon of high-proof alcohol. I’ll do it in Daiquiris and stuff like that too.
T: And otherwise, in this one though, you said you can also do a bar spoon of blackstrap just to give it, what? That extra dimension there?
B: Yeah, I mean, blackstrap is really… God, I just can’t prevent myself from saying this, but it’s a fart in a small room. It can overtake a cocktail real quick. So using a teaspoon of it is really good and it brings that “Dark ‘N’ Stormy” aspect of the cocktail. I don’t think a Dark ‘N’ Stormy is a visual thing because dark skies are dark f*cking skies. It’s like, “Ooh, it’s kind of white and it’s kind of dark.” No, it’s dark. It’s dark and stormy. So I don’t believe in separating the cocktail so it looks dark on top and clear ginger beer on the bottom. But it adds a complexity. I mean, like I said, a little bit of blackstrap goes a long way. And sometimes I’ll throw a dash of bitters and a dash of Ango in it to kind of bind all those rums together. That’s what Angostura does.
T: And what about here? Another type of rum, I’m going to throw it out there. Well-made spiced rums? So because I’ve been enjoying, as I know you have from Takamaka, we’ve been enjoying these Creole-spiced rums that we’ve seen the fresh ingredients in front of us. We’ve been drinking it. Maybe you’re not a multi- conglomerate company that’s just trying to confuse people as to what the rum category actually is. How do you feel about a good spiced rum and its place in this drink?
B: I think everybody who knows me knows that I f*cking hate spiced rum. There’s a certain pirate that his name and his legacy is f*cking diminished because such a terrible rum is named after him.
T: You’ve really got two options there if you want to Google that one, listener.
B: Yeah. It rhymes with wrapped in Oregon. But this stuff is really making me eat my words. I really like the spiced rum that they’re doing here. Most of the time when brands are like, “We do a spiced rum,” and I’m like, “You’re wasting your money. You’re never going to beat the Captain of the market.” You’re just never going to do it. Obviously these guys started before I met them, so they’re making spice rum and Takamaka is doing something really cool. They’re taking a lot of local spices that they have on their property. Cinnamon bark, which I was very excited to get some fresh stuff for those of you that are friends of mine. I will have fresh cinnamon bark at my house and be making syrups and Daiquiris with that soon, kids. But the all spice down here? They’ve really just done — Steven, who is the master blender at Takamaka, has done a really great job of blending all these spices together. I may have a couple of hacks for him to bring out some of the spices a little bit more, but I think he’s done a wonderful job. And it all starts with the juice. The juice is good down here. I’m really pleasantly surprised. Certainly before I came down here, I was definitely worried that I was going to have to be one of those friends who has another friend who plays music and like, yeah, your music’s really good; meanwhile, I f*cking hate it. But these guys have a rum that is delicious.
T: And you talk about those fresh ingredients and those ones that we saw too. Also, thing to know, we were talking about ginger earlier. We’ve got our hands on some local ginger from their actual garden. I believe it might also be in the rum here as well, but it’s definitely…
B: They got a spice garden to die for that’s in their backyard.
T: But I’m looking at the extractor here across from us on the bar. And this local ginger that I can’t wait to try is just contemplating jumping into it. I’m not sure what’s happening with that.
B: I can’t wait. Well, the Takamaka family is coming over tonight.
T: The d’Offays.
B: I get to make cocktails for them and to my surprise, this house is loaded with everything. I was like, “You have a juice extractor?” “Oh yeah, it’s down here.” I’m like, “You’re f*cking kidding me.” Great. So cool.
T: So fresh ginger, spiced rums. It is an interesting one. Definitely this is not a drink where we’re going to spend as much time talking about it as, say, maybe a Martini or a Manhattan or whatever or anything. Everything you’ve spoken about shows that you can make something that seems very simple and probably has been very bad in your life beforehand, you can really take that to a different level.
B: Yeah, I mean I think it’s all about the ginger syrup. The ginger syrup is what really changes it. It’s like when I’m at Lullaby and somebody’s like, “I’ll have a Jack and ginger.” No problem. Essentially, I just take bourbon because we don’t have Jack Daniel’s and it’s bourbon, lime, and the ginger syrup on top of it. It’s the same spec that I would use for a Dark ‘N’ Stormy. I do the same thing with tequila. I do the same, Audrey has her Gin-Gin Mule, but instead of using her ginger tea, I use ginger syrup and club soda. And the Presbyterian, which is a classic old… It’s basically a rye version of a Dark ‘N’ Stormy.
T: So you’re basically saying here is, it’s worth going the effort to make this syrup because there’s a number of amazing drinks you can use it in.
B: You can Mr. Potato Head the f*ck out of this cocktail.
T: The old Death & Co.
B: Absolutely. Shout out to Phil Ward.
How to Make Brian Miller’s Dark ‘N’ Stormy
T: So we’ve already gone through this in today’s recording, but let’s do it again because people might not have been paying attention earlier and usually we do it around this time in the episode. So make your ideal, your desert-island version of this drink for us, or talk us through as if you were making it now in front of the Indian Ocean right now. Talk us through specs.
B: I mean, it’s still three-quarter lime, one of the ginger syrup. And depending on what island I’m on, how delicious the ginger is, it’s definitely going to make it spicier, more flavorful than the crap we get in the United States. But as far as rum, I’m allowed to have any rum I can? Cost is no…
T: We’re saying for this one, cost is no issue.
B: Cost is no issue. Something dark and rich. I mean, honestly like… Oh God, rum people are going to fall off their f*cking stools if I say this. But when you have an amazing rum, no matter what the price of it is, in my mind, there’s no such thing as, “Oh, well you shouldn’t use this rum in a cocktail, it’s only meant for sipping.” I think that’s partially true in something like a rum and Coke then no, I don’t think you should use really… But if you’re making a Rum Collins or a Dark ‘N’ Stormy or a Mai Tai, it’s like you want the best ingredients, so use the best to the best of your ability. Make the best cocktail you possibly can. So with this one, man, I don’t know. I mean, I think just sometimes you don’t have to use the most expensive rum. Honestly, I think the El Dorado 15 and the Appleton 12 is a nice mix. I’m thinking of, shoot, there were some delicious rums I used to have at the Polynesian that were off-the-charts delicious. It wasn’t Zaya, it was something, Zafra. Oh man, I had, because I drank most of it. The Zafra 40 year old is pretty f*cking amazing. Or it’s 30 year old, I think it’s a 30 year old. The Zafra 30 year old rum. So age is better, kids, age is better. So being old in that instance is a good thing. Zafra 30 would be fun to play with. Honestly, the Goslings Old Family is kind of f*cking ridiculous. But in that case, I would still add a little blackstrap and a little 151.
T: All right. So I’m going to bring it back here to Appleton, El Dorado, one ounce of each. You said three- quarters of lime.
T: One of your ginger syrup.
T: And then what’s happening?
B: Probably if I’m going balls out, probably a half-teaspoon maybe of the blackstrap, teaspoon of the 151. The Hamilton 151.
T: Shaking that up.
B: Shaking that up. Probably put a dash of bitters in it.
T: Any specific?
B: Angostura. It’s the salt and pepper of bartending. Yeah, I’d probably do that. If I was feeling cheeky maybe I’d throw a lime shell in there or a lime peel.
T: You’d go for the old regal shake?
B: Yeah, the old f*cking regal shake.
T: We’re back there.
B: Yeah. God, that’s a term I can’t stand.
T: You’re shaking that up with ice.
B: Yeah, I’m shaking it up with ice. Add the club soda to the tin and then pour it all in the glass over ice.
B: Highball glass.
B: Nah, chilled. F*ck it, we don’t need to chill it. Garnish. Honestly, I would probably love a dehydrated lime wheel and a piece of ginger candy.
T: Nice. That sounds like a good Dark ‘N’ Stormy. I look forward to drinking that later on.
B: I did a play at one of my last jobs with pickle ginger. It’s like a long thing. Looks like a gummy worm or something like that. It’s purple and white on the end. Just sticking that in. And that’s something that’s kind of cool. You can drink it, eat a piece of the ginger.
T: Adds a new dimension of flavor as well. That’s cool.
B: It’s fun.
T: Nice. Any final thoughts on the Dark ‘N’ Stormy here or rum before we move into the next section of the show?
B: Come see me at Lullaby. I’ll make you a Dark ‘N’ Stormy. I’m there Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Fun place to go.
T: “Old Man Mondays,” I think they call it.
B: “Old Man Mondays” is round. The old man is not referring to the guests. It is referring to me as the old man serving people. It’s old music, served by an old bartender, real slow. Or go to any of the Milk & Honey family bars, Attaboy, Dutch Kills, wherever Sammy and Mickey have conquered cocktails.
T: Richie has a new place upstate as well, if you want to check that out.
B: Yeah, he’s got a new place upstate. Yeah, I need to go check that out myself. I certainly want to see his liquor store. But anywhere where ginger syrup is served is where you should go and have a Dark ‘N’ Stormy and let the bartender make it however they want. Hopefully they’ll check their ego at the door and make you something delicious.
Getting to Know Brian Miller
T: Sounds good to me. All right. We’re going to do it. We’re going to head into the next section of the show where I like to normally say where we get to know you a little bit more as a bartender and a drinker. We’ve already done that once around.
B: You really want to do that?
T: No comment. But we’re going to do it anyway. And you’re going to be the third person, I believe to answer this second set of questions. So very exciting times here for everyone involved.
B: I’m very nervous.
T: Question number one, as is customary. Which spirits category are you currently most excited about?
B: Rum, rum and rum. No, sorry, finish the question.
T: For the sake of who wants to be a millionaire, I’m obliged to finish the question. It doesn’t count otherwise.
B: A, final answer.
T: It’s rum. Yeah, we knew. It’s the one you’re most excited about. Both professionally and personally.
B: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if there’s a certain spirit, necessarily. I mean, certainly anything that comes from rum, anything that has the letters R-U-M in it, I’m definitely interested in. But there’s always incredible and different spirits that are coming out, whether it’s whiskey or… I mean, the only thing I would say is I am not interested in anything from the vodka world.
T: I’ve got a bottle that will change your mind. We’ll save that for another day.
B: No you don’t.
T: I do. It’s a potato eau de vie.
B: Potato eau de vie? Well, that wouldn’t be vodka then, would it?
T: It is.
B: Or is that semantics?
T: It’s how I’m turning bartenders. Changing their opinions by the truckload.
B: Good luck with that. Changing bartenders’ opinions, there’s a whole other show we could go on about.
T: We’re going to move on to question two instead.
T: What was the last, ideally alcoholic, drink you had that truly wowed you?
B: What the f*ck does ideally alcoholic mean?
T: No, it could be… I mean, this is a show about cocktails, but you could turn around and be like, you know what? I had this really good non-alcoholic RTD.
B: That’s not a cocktail, that’s a mocktail.
T: These are semantics.
B: No, they literally aren’t.
T: But it’s just a drink. It could also be a mixer. So anyway…
B: The last cocktail that wowed me?
T: The last drink.
B: Yeah. Cocktail. Okay. The last cocktail that wowed me. Okay, we did talk about this so I could get my head wrapped around it. There’s a couple of drinks that I had that I just really liked. One on… I mean, I’m dating myself because I don’t go out for drinks that much, to be honest. I don’t go out for drinks. Usually I’m in the mood for rum. And I have a better rum selection at home than most bars do. So when I do go and then usually it’s just cheap beer and absinthe when I’m going to a bar, or a Daiquiri. But I really liked back when Toby Cecchini opened Long Island Bar, the Rip City Fizz, I really liked. And that was a combination of Aquavit and cider. I think pretty much almost every time I go there I ask Toby or Phil if they’ll make it for me, because I don’t think it’s on the menu anymore. But I think that’s really good.
T: Rip City Fizz.
B: Rip City Fizz.
T: And what is it, an alcoholic cider?
B: Yeah, alcoholic cider. I can’t remember which one he uses. Let’s see, I really liked — I got a chance to help Yael Vengroff with… She did the menu for SBE, I can’t remember the name. It was a sushi place out in L.A. But she did a really interesting cocktail that she had added green food coloring to, and was kind of a Martini-esque thing. I honestly can’t remember the name of it. Knowing SBE, it’s probably still on the menu there. But that was really cool. It was just different. It’s hard for me to describe just because I can’t remember, but I do remember the green Martini drink that I thought was really good. And it’s very esoteric, but it was resonating with people out there. And then the first drink I thought of when you asked me this question the other night was Thomas Waugh had done this drink for a restaurant in the Lower East Side that… It was Japanese whisky and he infused Cocchi Torino with coconuts or coconut coffee or something like that. I think it was called the Monte Carlo, I’m not really sure on it. I don’t think it’s still on the menu there. But that was a drink. I was like, “Holy f*ck, what is this?” And honestly, Thomas’s drinks tend to have that effect on me. He’s really great at mixing flavors. He had a drink, it was literally called the Carrot Drink that had a carrot eau de vie, a juice that was mixed with carrots and red peppers — like spicy red peppers — and cumin syrup, which was great.
T: Carrot and cumin, big friends.
B: Yeah, I just didn’t know. Because the first time somebody, an old friend of mine tried to make a carrot cocktail and she did it with — I can’t remember. It was carrots and Laphroaig. And I was like, “This tastes like a f*cking ashtray.” It was one of the worst drinks I’ve ever had in my life. She’s gone on to do amazing things. But Jessica Gonzalez, by the way, I think she’s got a new tiki bar called Jet Set in upstate New York. You should all go visit. I know I need to.
T: So a lot of drinks that have wowed you? Yeah, a couple there.
B: I mean there’s a couple.
T: Not recently, but I think it’s funny that you mentioned Toby’s aquavit drink because I believe when he answered this question or the previous question, aquavit is the category of spirit that he’s most excited about. And they have it as their Boilermaker over there at Long Island Bar. And that’s my preferred way to go now, ever since having that
B: Yeah, I mean we used to…
T: Hard to get in a dive bar, I should say.
B: Yeah. At this one job I had, we were bored one night and we were trying to figure out what’s the best Boilermaker? What’s the best combination for a Boilermaker? And I had done an aquavit, which was really good, but number one now is Absinthe and beer. I love that. We call it Death Before Dawn.
T: Very nice indeed. Question number three, what’s one book you would recommend to every alcohol and cocktail…
B: “Sippin’ Safari.”
T: -enthusiast, should own a copy of?
B: Sorry. It’s always going to be on my list and it’s always going to be number one. I haven’t just…
T: Give us a couple of sentences on that book for anyone not familiar with it. “Sippin’ Safari.”
B: It’s Beachbum Berry’s book. It’s his seminal cocktail book. I think it’s one of the best things that he’s ever written. He had a 10th anniversary edition that came out, which evidently is different according to my friend Robert. It’s different, but I have not read the 10th anniversary edition, but I have the original and it’s phenomenal. The stories are great. It’s more stories of cocktails than it is just a book of recipes.
T: So one you could read on the beach?
B: Oh yeah, definitely. That’s one you can read on the beach. Actually, another good beach read, which I read the first time I went to the Caribbean and I went to St. Lucia was “Cosmopolitan,” by Toby, that was like… An ex-girlfriend of mine had read that and she’s like, “You need to read this book because this guy is exactly like you.” And that’s, to me, quite the compliment. But I mean, Toby is a wordsmith and he’s incredible. So his book is great. Morgenthaler’s book, “The Bar Book,” I think is really great. That for me was, I read that later on and reading that book I was like, okay, we’re doing things pretty much the same. We have the same thought process. And I was like, okay, cool. If I’m doing the same thing as Jeffrey Morgenthaler I know I’m still a…
T: That’s usually…
B: I’m a pretty decent bartender.
T: Very nice. All right, penultimate question for you here. If you could appear in one movie scene where alcohol plays a prominent role, which one would it be and who would you like to play?
B: Okay, so the scene is da da da dum, big surprise. “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the first movie where Captain Jack and what’s the woman’s name? I mean, it’s Keira Knightley, but I can’t remember… Elizabeth. He’s got a giant bottle of rum, which is my favorite shape of bottle. The bottle of rum, the big bell-shaped rum bottle. They’re dancing around like banshees or wild engines, and they are singing “A Pirate’s Life For Me,” that’s a really great scene. I don’t know whether I want to be Jack Sparrow or be the person that’s with Jack Sparrow. I don’t think I could ever fill those shoes. So maybe I’m actually Elizabeth in that scene.
T: You’re Elizabeth and you’re just dancing around with Jack Sparrow.
B: I’m a beautiful woman in a long white gown drinking rum with Jack Sparrow. That sounds pretty f*cking cool.
T: You’re a Johnny Depp fan? I’m not Team Johnny.
B: I am. I’m definitely Team Johnny. I think everybody who knows me knows that.
T: I mean, I’ll take current events aside.
B: We’re not even going to get into politics.
T: No, no, just as an actor. I think “Donnie Brasco” is a terrible movie.
B: I love you, brother, and I completely disagree with you. I think that’s a seminal mobster movie.
T: It’s definitely not. It’s so much worse than the sum of its parts. It’s a good book, though.
B: The “Forget About It” scene is priceless.
T: I’ve already forgotten about it.
B: Forget about it.
T: All right. Last question for you here today.
B: Okay. I thought the penultimate…
T: Penultimate, that means second to last.
B: Second to last. Okay.
T: Last question for you before you go make-
B: “Read a book sometime, Miller.”
T: “It’s the most popular name in the world.” That’s a “Super Bad” reference. Go listen to that one. Mclovin. Yeah, classic. Final question before you go make some ginger syrup. Which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving of more recognition than it currently gets?
B: Oh, well, there’s a lot of great cocktails out there that probably don’t get their due. And for anybody that knows me, knows right now where my head is probably at, and it’s with Brother Cleve and the gang at Lullaby. Harrison and Jake and Devon and Nick and CJ and Miriam, Daniel, and Sterling. I don’t like the Painkiller. I think the Painkiller is a watered-down version of a Piña Colada. I don’t think it’s that good. That’ll probably start some fights for anybody, any tiki fans listening. And I think Cleve’s Soggy Dollar cocktail is something that is just completely overlooked. I think it’s a much better cocktail. It’s also a quintessential Cleve cocktail and that guy can take the most obscure or overlooked ingredients and make an incredible cocktail. That was the first thing that kind of drew me into Lullaby. He gave me some cocktail with Barenjager and I was like, what is it? 1975? Who f*cking uses Barenjager anymore? But his Soggy Dollar cocktail uses…
T: Tell us about this drink and give us the context for the incredible name here and its ties to the Painkiller.
B: It’s from the bar called The Soggy Dollar, which is where the Painkiller was created using Pusser’s rum.
T: And why would you…
B: And that was a bar that you had to swim up to. At least it used to be. There was a time, I think later on… I mean, it’s gone now because of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico and the Caribbean many years ago when Donald Trump was throwing paper towels to the locals. But it was a bar you had to swim to. And so people would swim up there and they would take out their wallets, which were in their bathing suits or in their hands, and they would clip it with a clothes pin onto a line and let their money dry out before they paid their bill there. Never got a chance to go. Always wanted to go there. Thought that was a brilliant idea of a bar that you swam up to. But Cleve’s cocktail is basically a twist on the Painkiller. The most amazing part about it, it has — where I was talking about earlier about using a half-teaspoon or a teaspoon of blackstrap — he uses two and a half ounces, which is incredible to me. That really blows my mind and makes me respect him all the more and miss him all the more. But it’s got coconut cream in it, it’s got orange juice, it’s got a little bit of Falernum, Fee’s whiskey barrel-aged bitters. It’s a cocktail that sometimes when you have a massive ego as a bartender or you’re just like, this drink, this can’t work. You just look at a recipe and you’re like, that’s not going to work. But it does. I used to make it at Tiki Mondays when I was at Mother’s Ruin, and it’s great. My bartenders at the Polynesian, when I had that bar, they were like, how do we make a Painkiller? I’m like, we don’t, we make a Soggy Dollar Cocktail.
T: And he would garnish this drink with?
B: Well, he would garnish it with one of those cute little cocktail clothes pins and a toy $100 bill or whatever, which I just thought was cool. That’s the coolest. That was kind of the inspiration for all my toys and sh*t that I like to put in tiki cocktails, the little toy pirates and stuff like that. Seeing that. And it’s just a beautiful looking drink. It’s well done. It doesn’t have to be made in a blender. It is served on crushed ice. It is really good. And in the tiki world, it’s a little surprising that drink hasn’t become more popular.
T: We’re hoping to change that today and cheers to Cleve for that one there.
B: Cheers BC. I miss you like a motherf*cker.
T: All right then. Well, this has been a special one. Before we do finish, two questions for you. You know I throw…
B: Oh God, there’s two more.
T: You know I don’t throw soft balls. You’ve not been able to answer them thus far on this trip, so I’m going to put you on the spot here.
B: Oh, okay.
T: Favorites of all time. Number one, Paul Thomas Anderson, PTA movie, favorite of all time?
B: Dude, “Boogie Nights”.
T: “Boogie Nights”.
B: “I’m a man of simple pleasures. I like lollipops in my mouth and butter in my ass.” Great line.
T: Great line. Might not make the final cut. It is a quote.
B: Please, Keith, leave this in.
T: Final one then, you’ve revealed yourself earlier. I will continue this as being someone who appreciates listening to Elvis on the beach. Favorite Elvis song of all time?
B: Oh man, that is tough. I just listened to three hours Elvis on the beach today. I don’t know. Like I said, I think the reason why I’m a hopeless romantic is because of Elvis songs. That guy really knows how to write a love song. I mean, I’ve gone through different stages. So the song I kind of like currently because it’s perfect for sitting on a beach is, “Pocketful of Rainbows.” I used to like when I was doing Tiki Mondays, one of my favorites I put on the list was “Marie’s the Name.” That was a good one. I was listening to the words of “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” and it makes me miss somebody. I don’t know. There’s not much that Elvis doesn’t do that I don’t like.
T: There’s not much. Yeah, he doesn’t do well.
B: I don’t like the questions when people are like, are you an Elvis man or a Beatles man, you have to be one? And I’m like, why? I can’t enjoy Elvis and the Beatles?
T: I would say this, though…
B: I do enjoy both, and that’s probably fighting words for all the millennials and Gen Z-ers out there.
T: I would say that’s a Gen X question. But anyway, if you haven’t done it before, I can confirm Elvis on the beach is something quite special.
B: What is your favorite Elvis tune?
T: “If I Can Dream.”
B: “If I Can Dream.”
T: And I think it’s — I said this to you earlier — I think it’s the ‘67, the comeback special where he is in leather. This one’s on YouTube. Not really a great…
B: Oh, the one where Elvis is in leather. Jesus, which one would… That’s like, “Oh, remember that blonde in California?”
T: No, no, no, no. This is where he lost…
B: When was Elvis not in leather?
T: This is where he lost all the weight.
B: This was pre-sequins?.
T: He came back and… Yeah, maybe not a great beach one. We’ll see. We’ll check that out. But I think that’s the one that, if I had one last Elvis song to listen to, that’s the one I’m going for.
B: I think we’ve also come to the conclusion that all music is better on the beach.
T: All music is. Everything is.
B: Even the stuff I hear at Lullaby is still good on the beach.
T: Cheers Harrison.
B: Cheers buddy.
T: Final for you. Final quote here, adapted. “I hope that the Indian Ocean is as blue in real life as it is in my dreams.” That’s Red. That’s “The Shawshank Redemption.” It is blue out here, folks. It’s incredible.
B: It’s incredible.
T: We’re going to go and enjoy some final hours of the Seychelles.
B: I think it’s time for a swim before I get to work.
T: Let’s do it.
B: All right.
T: Cheers guys. Cheers Takamaka.
B: Thanks everybody. Thanks Takamaka.
Okay, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s Cocktail College is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.
If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.
Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.