What makes a drink a modern classic? For Erick Castro, host of the “Bartender at Large” podcast and proprietor of San Diego’s Raised by Wolves, it has to pass the elevator pitch test: a cocktail you can explain in less than 30 seconds, and make someone crave it. This brings us to his iconic Piña Verde, which thrives on familiarity, simplicity, and Green Chartreuse to create a tropical, herbaceous delight. With just four ingredients, the Piña Verde proves that “simple and simplistic are not the same thing.” Listen on (or read below) to learn Castro’s Piña Verde recipe — and don’t forget to like, review, and subscribe!
Erick Castro’s Piña Verde Recipe
- ½ ounce fresh lime juice
- 1 ½ ounces pineapple juice (50:50, Dole:fresh)
- ¾ ounce Coco Lopez
- 1 ½ ounce Green Chartreuse
- Garnish: pineapple fronds or mint sprigs.
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with some pebble ice.
- Whip shake for 10 seconds.
- Strain into a chilled Pearl Diver glass.
- Top with more pebble ice and garnish with pineapple fronds and/or mint sprigs.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: On a day that some people are calling to be a national holiday, the day after the Super Bowl, this podcast doesn’t stop. “Cocktail College” flies on, unlike the Eagles. Sorry, guys.
Erick Castro: Too soon bro. Too soon.
T: That right there, that jovial voice you can hear is returning guest Erick Castro. Erick, welcome man, thanks for joining me.
E: Thanks for having me back my friend. Thanks for having me back. I’m especially glad to be doing this in person, not over zoom. It’s nice to be sitting here in your studio, so I appreciate the invite.
T: It’s a rare treat when we get you over here on the East Coast and couldn’t miss an opportunity, a visit from yourself for us to not have you here in the studio.
E: You did invite me here last Friday. I was supposed to be here last Friday for everybody listening to this. However, I had a very big Thursday and I would like to tell you in person thank you for being so accommodating. I was ruthlessly over-served. I would like to say against my will. However, I was very compliant in it all. I do appreciate you pushing things back a couple days for me. I appreciate it.
T: You say the date and we’ll be here. One of the best things about having you back on as well, we covered the Margarita with you last time. It’s a wonderful episode. It’s a banger that one but today, we get to talk about one of your own creations.
E: We’re going to be talking about the Piña Verde which is a cocktail I feel very near and dear to my heart obviously. If we’re being honest, it’s maybe my cocktail that I’m most proud of for creating, mostly due to its simplicity. It’s only four ingredients. I feel like it’s easy to come up with a cocktail that’s good, not great, but it’s easy to come up with a cocktail that’s good when there’s eight things, six things, 10 things in a glass. It’s really difficult practicing economy in a cocktail. It is very very difficult and honestly I don’t even think I have another cocktail in my cannon that I’ve created that does so much with so little. That’s why I’m so proud of that cocktail.
T: Would you say that this is maybe the drink that most gets associated with yourself by other people in the industry or maybe some others? Where does that one rank?
E: I would say this might be the one because the Kentucky Buck is another cocktail I came up with that took on a life of its own. Though to be fair that cocktail maybe had a five-year, four-year head start. That cocktail’s been on menus all over the place and it’s even been on the menu like chain restaurants which I find fascinating. This is the one that I feel is the culmination of so many different factors in my life that was like — I mean it’s four ingredients. I’ve actually had people text me. Are we allowed to swear here?
T: Yes. Actively encouraged.
E: I’ve had people text me when they first had it like, “F*ck you. This is horsesh*t. I should have invented this. I should have come up with this drink. This drink in another universe in the multiverse, this is my drink, not yours.” I’m like, “Whoa, calm down.” It’s four ingredients, this makes no sense. How is this drink so good with only four ingredients and none of them are house made. You could buy them off the supermarket shelf.
T: Did Robert Simonson include this in his “Modern Classic Cocktail” book recently?
E: I don’t know. I think so. I’m almost positive-
T: If he didn’t, he should have.
E: No, I’m almost positive he did.
T: The reason I mentioned that is because when we do have returning guests such as yourself and they’re speaking about a drink they’ve created, generally speaking whether officially anointed or otherwise, they’re modern classics. He sets out a pretty compelling theory for what makes a drink a modern classic. One of the criteria he says is that they need to be made with simple ingredients and ingredients that everyone has access to.
E: They need to be replicable, but also I’ll even add one more thing. They need to have a wiggle room on the build. You need to be able to f*ck them up, have it still taste good. A Paloma‘s a good example, Margarita’s a good example. You can mess it up. You can make your Margarita with bottled sour mix and it’s still a Margarita. It still tastes good. You could do a splash of OJ, you could flow granola, Grand Marnier, grand anything on top and it’ll still taste good, so obviously it’s going to taste good. You could Cadillac it, you could add a splash of Sprite probably nobody would even notice, it’s still really good. You need that wiggle room on the build because you can’t go and train everybody. You could have a Margarita made with lemon juice instead of lime and it’s still delicious. You need that wiggle room on the build.
T: What’s that other one? That again, it’s another modern one. It’s bourbon and it’s honey.
E: The Gold Rush.
T: The Gold Rush. There’s another drink. You can f*ck around with the-
E: You can mess with that.
T: -ratios on that, but it just bangs.
E: You could mess up the garnish.
T: It’s brilliant.
E: You could not garnish at all. There’s so many different areas you can go into and it’s always good. Basically, it’s never going to get sent back. There’s a lot of drinks out there where if you mess up one thing, it’s unpalatable. I feel like for a drink to make that leap, you have to be able to mess it up and have it still be delicious.
T: I think another one as well is it doesn’t have some weird, proprietary component that requires a lot of prep. That just means it’s hard to replicate.
E: For instance, one of our top-selling cocktails at Raised by Wolves is a drink I came up with years ago, and I’m very proud of it. It’s a drink — also I’m very proud of it because it does a lot, it incorporates a lot of modern culinary techniques while still being very simple. It’s called Little Old Fashioned, but I know it’ll never be a modern classic and I’m OK with that because it’s a sous vide Irish whiskey that’s a fat wash. I don’t expect anyone to make that at home or other bars. You can’t just call it. The only way it could ever make that leap is if Jameson put out coconut Irish whiskey, that was good — that was good enough to drink in a cocktail. I’m fine with that because when we opened Raised by Wolves, the idea was my business partner told me, he’s like, “Erick, I want these drinks to be drinks that nobody can make at home. I want them to be all proprietary.”
T: I get the point in that.
E: Five years ago, that was a very novel concept. We’ve moved away from that since, but that was the idea. He was like, “I want it to be if you want this drink, you have to come here.” I think that’s fun. I think that was an interesting challenge.
T: When I was thinking about this drink before today, prepping for the episode, I think something that’s very notable about it and fits into this conversation is, this is a riff on a Piña Colada for those who aren’t familiar with it. What’s successful about this is it’s a completely different drink.
E: Tastes nothing like a Piña Colada, which is the coolest thing about the drink.
T: Exactly. It builds on that. That’s another thing that I think helps spread a reputation. It’s like, have you ever had Erick Castro’s Piña Verde? No. What is it? It’s a Piña Colada with Green Chartreuse essentially.
The History of the Piña Verde
E: More or less. Well, the way the drink started out, if we’re going to get into the history of it, is very interesting. I came up with a drink, this is one of those drinks — some drinks came together really quickly for me. Some drinks take a bit of time. This is one of these cocktails that took a long time. I think this drink maybe evolved over the course of about a year or two.
T: Oh, really?
E: Maybe even longer.
E: Might even be longer. The earliest version of this drink I think I was making was in 2009, which was maybe four years before it was ever on the menu, three years, four years before it was ever on the menu.
T: That’s crazy.
E: I started to float Green Chartreuse over Piña Coladas. I just liked it. Honestly, I was probably doing ⅜ of an ounce, maybe ½ ounce just floating on top because I thought it worked really well and I liked the way the botanicals and the Chartreuse played with the coconut particularly. It worked really well, and it was just a thing I just did, but never really put too much thought into it. When I started working for Beefeater Gin, even at 2010, I worked for them for about two years. I started to make the drink with gin instead and still flowed the Chartreuse on top. It was just something that, again, just was doing. Mind you, this might have been a year later or something. As time went by, I would make it for people, and when I’d make it for someone at the bar, they always liked it. Like, “Oh, it’s really cool, coconut and Chartreuse.” I actually took a step back and I got into the mindset, wait, if what I like about this drink so much is the Chartreuse and the coconut with the pineapple and the lime, why don’t I just get rid of everything or get rid of the spirit altogether and just replace it with the Chartreuse, which is a liqueur that’s at 55 percent ABV, so you can get away with it. I’m sure maybe, I think part of the inspiration for this drink was if I want to give a tip of the hat to Marco Dionysos, who invented the Chartreuse Swizzle, his cocktail’s another one that just does away with the spirit altogether. It replaced it with the liqueur. That’s when I was like, “You know what, yes, that drink already shows that Chartreuse can stand on its own. I’m just going to get rid of the gin and get rid of the rum and get rid of everything. Just let it stand.” That’s when the drink came alive. That’s when I was like, “Wow.” That’s when people were asking, “What was in that, what’s the recipe? I’m going to write that down.” Back then, we used to call it the Greeña Colada because it just seemed like a funny play on words. As time went by, if I’m remembering correctly, it was on the menu. We were doing it on special menus for Polite Provisions when we first opened. We used to do a tiki night there on Tuesdays. I think it was the second Tuesday of the month, and it was just a big thing there. There wasn’t a tiki bar in San Diego yet that was using fresh ingredients and stuff. We were doing that and it was just a thing. People were coming out for it. It was selling really well each time. Then when I came out here to New York and opened Boilermaker, it was on the opening menu.
E: That’s when the drink took off, because in San Diego it was more of a one-off. It would be on the menu now and then, and the folks who would come in would remember it, be like, “Hey, can I get that drink that I ordered for tiki night a couple of weeks ago?” Here it was just on the menu. That’s when it took off. I knew I had something special with that drink when people were stopping me on the street and asking about it. I was walking through the East Village and I bumped into Jeff Bell from PDT, and he’s just like, “Hey, Castro, what’s up, bro? What’s up?” I’m like, “Hey, Jeff, man, what’s going on? What’s going on?” We just had a little quick chat on the street. He’s like, “Hey, man, I was at Boilermaker the other night. Hey, that Chartreuse and coconut drink? Man, you got something there, man. That cocktail’s off the hook.”
T: That’s wild.
E: I was like, “Thanks, man. Thanks, man. I appreciate it.” Again, I didn’t think too much about it. Then I’d see someone else a few days later or someone would shoot me a text like, “Hey, man, I was at Boilermaker, that cocktail.” I think it was John Dargon, who also shot me a text like, “Man, that drink’s great, dude. You have something deep. That drink’s something right there.” The drink took on a life of its own. Now here we are years later, and last I saw it was on the menu at Universal Studios in Orlando.
T: No way.
E: Someone sent me a photo. It’s on a menu there.
T: Props to whoever their bar team is.
E: Someone found it, and I’m OK with that. I was like, “Hey, man, you guys want to throw me a season pass or something, I’m not going to say no.” I’m just very flattered by it because, again, I feel like there’s something about the drink. People are familiar with the combination. Here, I’m going to rewind a bit. I feel like sometimes in order for somebody to try a new drink, they need to be able to at least relate to some of the flavor combinations there. Even if they don’t know all the ingredients, if they can put a few together, that’s enough for them. Obviously it’s like bourbon, lemon, honey, like we mentioned the Gold Rush, that’s super easy. Someone wraps their head around that, cool. I get it. If someone sees something, even if it’s more of a Mai Tai, a properly made 1944 Mai Tai, they might not wrap their heads around, but they’re like, “Oh, lime and almonds, rum. I get it. I know the stuff, I can wrap my head around it.” That’s the hurdle they need to overcome before they order it for the first time. With this drink, the public at large, the mindshare of the American drinkers have no idea what Green Chartreuse is, but they know that the combination of lime, pineapple and coconut is delicious. They’re not taking a big leap of faith. The way we noticed with that drink, when it started to get ordered a lot — this was even when Boilermaker opened, I think it was 2014, a lot of people didn’t know what Chartreuse was, but it was a top seller there. They would see it go out and they’d say, “What is that?” They’re like, “Oh, it’s a cocktail called the Piña Verde. It’s a herbal riff on the Piña Colada. They’re like, “I’ll take one.” You don’t need to explain what Green Chartreuse is. They don’t need to take this big leap of faith. They don’t need to be schooled on the botanicals and the process and the Carthusian monks. They’re like, “Oh, a riff on a Piña Colada. It’s lime, pineapple, coconut? Yes, I’ll take one.” They don’t need to — that makes it so much easier for a bartender. I guess this relates back to Robert Simonson’s book, whereas in order for something to become a modern classic, it needs an elevator pitch. People need to be able to wrap their heads around it and how it’s going to taste within a few seconds. The Paloma was having a moment a few years back and it’s like, “Oh, grapefruits, tequila? Yes, I’ll take it.”
E: There’s nothing for them that’s too difficult to wrap their head around. If you were trying to explain like, “Oh, it’s sake and alpine liqueur and blueberry amaro.” It might not be as easy for them to grasp.
T: It’s hard to sell. You mentioned another thing there as well. When a drink looks great and that goes out in the bar, that’s another thing that helps spread the popularity.
E: That’s the thing. It goes out and it looks creamy. It looks like a milkshake almost. There’s no dairy in it, but it just looks creamy enough and the presentation looks really great. It just looks appetizing, especially on a hot day and people are like, “What is that?”
T: “I want one.” No reference.
E: Also I remember I would say, I knew that drink was really starting to take off when I started to have people send me pictures of it from around the world. That’s when it was on the menu. Even honestly, I knew I had something and people were impressed with it. It was on the menu at Boilermaker. Again, when you’re in it, I don’t know how much of it is actually what I’m seeing and how much of it’s just what people are telling me. It took a while. I would say it was a year or two as the drink was doing this slow build, when it just started popping up in different places, and that’s when I was, “OK, cool. I have something here.” I do know that also, God bless them. I know the team at Green Chartreuse was making an advance, because they wanted to show people, hey, look at this drink, you can use 1 ½ ounces of it.
T: They must have loved it.
E: They’re cranked out and also again, you can do it in an event, you can do it in another city. You don’t need to source any special ingredients. It’s stuff that I said you can buy at a grocery store. The drink took a life of its own. I would say probably around 2015, 2016 is when I started to get people sending me texts and photos of, “Oh, hey, I’m in Melbourne. I saw that Piña Verde’s on the menu here.” Oh, cool. Or, “Hey, I’m in Shanghai, I’m in Singapore. I’m in Buenos Aires.” It’s just people are having this talk all over the world. Again, I think it’s a thing no matter where you’re at, you can get these ingredients because there’s some cocktails I’ve come up with in the past and other people have come up with where someone, oh, that liqueur is not available here. I can’t get my hands on it here. A blueberry amaro isn’t available here. Again, with Green Chartreuse, as long as Green Chartreuse is there in this country, then all the other greens are already going to be there.
T: Speaking of which, timely here because did I not read somewhere where the — are they-
E: People are blaming me, I’ve had people blame me for that.
T: That they’re cutting production?
E: It’s not that they’re cutting production. They’re just not amping it up.
T: They’re not going to increase it because they want to also focus on what their actual day job or what they’re devoted to, which is being Carthusian monks.
E: For all of you out there who aren’t savvy on the production levels in regards to Green Chartreuse, is that Chartreuse is a monastic liqueur that’s made by monks, actual religious monks in France. Every year for the last maybe about 12, 13 years, they’ve been ramping up production each year, because bartenders are using more and more of it. I remember we used to be able to get Chartreuse when I was running Rickhouse, it was about $24 a bottle wholesale for 750. Which is very — no now, I think it’s like $58 wholesale because what they slowly started do is, well, we’re just going to start increasing the cost of it to slow things down but that doesn’t help. That’s not helping.
T: People just up the price for the drinks.
E: They just up the price of the drinks. Especially, I know places I’ve just, oh, we sold, we bumped the Piña Verde up to 22 bucks, and it still sells and people don’t care. I’m, OK, so here’s the thing at Last Word, I’ll use ¾ rounds generally. A Bijou or anything, uses maybe ½ ounce depending — a lot of these cocktails only use ½ ounce of Green Chartreuse. Then you have drinks like the Piña Verde that uses 1 ½ ounces. You can make three of those for one Piña Verde. People honestly, I think, don’t care what it costs to a certain extent if they want that drink. They might not pay that if it’s their first one but if they know it, they’ll pay it. Now it brings us to where we are in today’s reality, and that set the Chartreuse, the monks are like, “We’re not going to ramp up production. We’re going to keep making what we’re making. We’re capping it and all you out there have to deal with it.”
T: I like to think you’re on their radar down there. The monks. I like to think they’re thinking of you and they’re, “Oh my God, that guy Castro.”
E: Thank God, they have a vow of silence otherwise they’d probably say, “F*ck that guy.”
T: I want to say that there was a story that came out in the pandemic. It might have been in The New York Times, it was a profile on them. It was talking about how the rest of the world was entering into shutdown mode and solitude for the first time. It’s like, these guys are also like, “This is our time. We’ve been practicing this for a long time.” I hope that doesn’t come across as insincere because it’s really not but you know what I mean. I remember reading that article and just being like, “Oh, my God. Yes. This is our time.”
E: I get it. Especially because during the pandemic, so many people started to create, I guess up their game at home for cocktails. They were creating better cocktails and more intricate cocktails at home that they might have not ever made a drink on that level before. Of course, they started beefing up their home bars, they couldn’t go to their favorite bar, they couldn’t get these cocktails. They started making them at home and I think as they started making them at home, I think that might be another driver for the sales of Green Chartreuse.
T: For sure. I bet and yet people are becoming more versed in just cocktails and stuff, but yes, for sure. So many people picked up that hobby during the pandemic. You mentioned, by the way, that this being in Universal Studios, I started to think what those guys are charging for this-
E: I know. From my understanding they’re saying there was a smaller serving.
T: That’s the other way you can do it, I guess. I want to say those got maybe a different theme park, but don’t they also have the — is it the Angostura Colada?
E: I don’t know.
T: You know Sunken Harbor Club?
T: I want to say that’s an old syndrome frizzle drink. They definitely got picked up at a park. I might be wrong. I might be making all this up.
E: For some reason I feel like the Ango Colada was some drink in Brooklyn.
T: They definitely have it on the menu.
E: From Dram. I think it was a drink at Dram, but I might not be remembering correctly. That bar was great. By the way, I really want to give a shout-out to Dram in Brooklyn. I know it’s been shut down for years now, but that bar was incredible. So many great bartenders came out of that place. Incredible cocktails. In a lot of ways, I feel like that bar, if we’re going to take a trip down memory lane, talking about $24 bottles of Green Chartreuse. I do remember that bar. I felt like it was novel at the time for what I feel is normal today. It’s just like being able to go to a bar with a group of friends, have your drinks. It wasn’t a speakeasy. There’s no dress code. You just went in there and just popped in and had a drink, a couple of drinks. If you wanted to have a beer, you can have a beer or you can have an exquisite cocktail. It was just a very casual environment with cool music playing. It had some incredible bartenders there. I feel like for the time, I almost feel like it was ahead of its time, because now what they’re doing is pretty standard. I would even say it might even be the norm in a lot of ways.
T: Definitely. Apologies if I misattributed that drink to someone or whatever.
E: It might be, though. I’m not saying — I’m not 100 percent.
T: Either way I came across it in the club, but whatever. The guys at Universal Studios, they like riffs on the Piña Colada.
E: They’re probably put on there for the same reason, because we could put this on the menu. We don’t have to explain it to people, especially the tourists who are like, “Oh, it’s a Piña Colada, lime, coconut, pineapple, it’s delicious. What’s this?” You’re like, “Oh, it’s a French liqueur.” “Oh, that’s fancy. I’ll take one.” It doesn’t matter where they’re from. It just seems like something that they could throw back easier.
T: A big fan down there.
E: I’ve even had friends tell me, like, “Oh, man, I hate you.” I was like, “Why?” “My mom, she doesn’t even drink cocktails, and her favorite drink is Piña Verde. She comes to my bar, and all she wants is that drink. She doesn’t want to try any of my cocktails.”
T: That’s wild.
E: I’m like, “What can I say? Your mom has great taste.”
T: For those listening who maybe don’t work in the industry, but again, maybe they picked up this hobby during the pandemic. Why is Green Chartreuse so beloved by the industry, do you think? Or both Chartreuse.
E: In a lot of ways. It was a very insider-y type of thing. It wasn’t a bartender’s handshake in the way that a shot of Fernet-Branca was years ago, still is, actually. Basically, if you went to a bar and they had Green Chartreuse on the back bar, you already knew it was a good spot.
T: Calling card.
E: It was a calling card. It’s basically a way to let people know that, hey, look, we know what we’re doing here, because there was no reason any other bar would carry it except for maybe a couple of dive bars in the Bay Area. They were blowing through cases of it just as a shot. That was more of, I guess, a unique situation. Generally, though, if you went to a new city and you didn’t know what kind of place you’re in, and there was a bottle of Green Chartreuse, you were like, OK. You might even have to start the conversation with me. Hey, so what are you making with that Green Chartreuse? That was a way to feel out whether you could order a proper cocktail there. It became a thing where it was a way of knowing that you were in a place capable of making a more classic cocktail.
T: I think it adds some of those other ingredients as well that you mentioned. When you talk about Fernet or whatnot, it’s insider-y, has a challenging flavor profile if you’re drinking it on its own. I feel like when you’re an insider, we like drinking this. I don’t know anyone who liked their first shots of Fernet. I know I certainly didn’t.
E: No, I didn’t either.
T: I had to get into it the Argentine way by drinking it with Coca-Cola for the longest period, and even then, I wasn’t really into it. I think that’s another thing. Maybe the last thing for that, too, is a cool backstory. People like backstories, right?
E: Yes. They do like some mystery to it. Especially when you get into the lore of Chartreuse. It’s very fascinating. It makes it sound that much cooler. The idea of only two people in the world knowing the recipe according to legend. It’s like these two aren’t allowed to travel. They can’t be on the same airplane. They can’t be in the same car, because if, God forbid, something were to happen to one of them, then the recipe will be lost forever. There’s a story that half of it is made by some of the monks and half made by the other monks. Then the final blend is blended together. It’s like no one knows the entire recipe. There’s all these really fascinating stories and I’m sure some of them are apocryphal. It doesn’t mean that they’re not potent in their storytelling as well. Because I feel in the modern era as more and more things become homogenized, everything from language to food, to fashion, everything’s becoming more and more homogenized, the world’s getting smaller and things are starting to feel more off the shelf. There’s something very reassuring about knowing that Green Chartreuse is just made in a monastery by a bunch of monks who’ve taken a vow of silence. It’s fascinating to be able to take an ingredient that’s been made for generations and generations and generations and incorporate it into cocktails. In a modern cocktail.
T: Modern cocktail as well and probably does benefit from the fact that it’s in some classics as well so they get rediscovered.
E: Comfort by naming classics.
T: Yes, exactly.
E: It doesn’t say herbal liqueur, it doesn’t say herbaceous, it flat out says Green Chartreuse. There isn’t always a case with a lot of these old ingredients. Sometimes they’ll just say curse out. Or it’ll say, French vermouth. This is called for specifically by me, which adds that much more credibility to it.
T: Establishes as that kind of brand. I think it’s fascinating, though, as well. Other spirits or other ingredients are beloved, but you don’t hear of people having the Vintage Collection. I imagined Pouring Ribbons. The collection that they used to have there and people would go there for that.
E: Yes, you’re right, or meeting, but I know people who have Green Chartreuse tattoos. Or people who also — like we mentioned earlier for Fernet-Branca, is another one of those. It’s very similar. People who have a Fernet-Branca tattoo but people don’t have tattoos for other Amaro or liqueurs. No, that’s not the same because I can feel it’s not insular enough. Those products are a little too ubiquitous.
T: The other one is Underberg. We just ran a great story here on Underberg and people, I don’t know people with Underberg tattoos. I’ve seen a couple now on Instagram. I’m like, wow, that’s wild.
E: It’s very weird to me. I think it’s very strange, then I don’t even know if I should be talking about this. Underberg isn’t classified as alcohol I believe.
T: It’s not. You’re right.
E: Theoretically, there’s no age limit on that. Anyone could go and buy it.
T: You can sell it in any store. Food stores.
E: Which is very strange. It’s the way it does, otherwise we have this epidemic of teenagers on TikTok.
T: Exactly. People drinking that but no, I’m glad we got to do this little deep dive here on Green Chartreuse, because we’ve covered it obviously in other drinks before, but I figured it being the hero ingredient of this cocktail. I thought we could maybe pick it up, pull it out and explore that a little bit more.
E: I am, thank you. Thanks for having me on to talk about it. Again, it’s one of those drinks where it’s on the menu at Universal Studios. It’s on the menu in Vegas, in some of the hotel bars. It’s one of those drinks that’s taken off, It’s taken on a life of its own. I feel like of all the drinks I’ve come up with, that’s the one I think is most likely people will be drinking it long after I’m dead.
The Ingredients Used in Erick Castro’s Piña Verde
T: For those who haven’t tried this drink, profile wise, texture wise, what’s the perfectly executed version of this drink like? Can you describe that for us?
E: Creamy, tropical, and herbaceous. It’s very much — It almost reminds me of a coconut curry in a lot of ways. It’s just a lot of botanicals, a lot of herbs, very green, but with the acid from the lime juice. Then the brightness you get from the pineapple and it’s just — the drink is one of those drinks that when I finished it, I was like, “This drink. This is it. I don’t need to tweak it. I don’t need to riff it. I don’t need to do anything else. It’s just a drink that just stands on its own.”
T: Like you said before, as well. Some margin for error.
E: A lot of room for error. By that, I mean it’s not like you can totally mess it up. If you have your house- made coconut cream, if you’re using Dole pineapple out of a can, it works just as good. You could probably do lemons and a lime and it would still taste great. There’s so much room for error. I guarantee you maybe I’m guessing at Universal Studios, they probably don’t make it to my spec. I bet it doesn’t get sent back and I’ve actually ordered another one because sometimes it’s like, those flavors when they work, they just work. There’s something to say for some of those drinks where it’s like — that’s why I feel like certain cocktails never really broke out of the realm of cocktail nerds. I would even say like a Last Word is a cocktail. That’s like if you’re a cocktail and you’re in a cocktail bar, it’s delicious. If you’re at a place where they’re like — if you mess up a Last Word, if you put a little too much maraschino, even just that, or too much maraschino or not enough lime, that drink is unpalatable.
T: I don’t want to see whoever’s working behind the bar, and there’s no offense to whoever that may be, hypothetically, if I ask them for that drink and they pull out their phone to look up what’s in that drink. I’m like, “You know what? Hand me a beer.”
E: I don’t want to see you free for that unless you’re Marie Stenson. You know what I mean? Because, again, some of those ingredients, some of them are bullies. It’s like if you mess up one ingredient, the drink’s unpalatable. Again, it’s like Piña Colada, Paloma, some of these cocktails, Tom Collins, you over-pour, under-pour some, it’s going to be fine. It’ll pop just as good. Because basically some of these sour, even some that are like Manhattan, Martini, some of these drinks, I just feel like the room for error on them. Some people don’t even put vermouth at all in a Martini. They wave the bottle around, and it still tastes delicious.
T: It does, man. I’m not going to lie.
E: You might have a bar selling hundreds every week, and they’ve never owned a bottle of orange bitters and the drink still works.
T: 100 percent.
E: There’s that wiggle room.
T: What about those other ingredients, though? Tell us about your opinion or your thinking here. What do you do with — let’s go with pineapple juice next. Are you using fresh? Are you using Dole? Are you bringing those? Are you maybe doing a mix of two?
E: We do mix them together. This is something a lot of cocktail bars do. We do a blend of Dole with fresh pineapple.
T: What’s the thinking there?
E: It’s just for a little more consistency. It’s something that a lot of bars do. It’s just about having a little more consistency and control because I do remember when we were making the drink, originally, it was just pure, pure, pure, fresh, and then sometimes it’s really sweet, sometimes it’s not sweet. Sometimes it would just kind of stray all over. We started to do a blend of the two of them for a little more consistency. You still get the brightness, but a little more control over the final product.
T: Then the coconut component as well? Or is there something you do-
E: I just do Coco Lopez. That’s great. You know what I mean? I don’t think the recipe has changed in the last 50 years.
T: Doesn’t need to.
E: It doesn’t have a lot of ingredients in it anyway. I love the way Coco Lopez, I’ve made it myself from scratch before, but there’s something just about the way they make it. I’ve offered my services to Coco Lopez because I love the stuff that much. It’s just so versatile. Again, I’ve had places also make it from scratch, and it’s beautiful. It works just as well, if not better. I remember when Sammy Ross put it on the menu of some products she was doing in Vegas, and they had their house made coconut cream and it was absolutely lovely.
T: I know some folks also do that kind of splitting between different products as well, because they may be worried it’s a little bit sweet for their palate or whatnot, but again, speaks to our original conversation here. If you’re just using Coco Lopez, it’s one less thing to worry about when you’re thinking about, can I make this drink?
E: I know there are a lot of folks out there that use this coconut milk paired with condensed milk in varying ratios, and it works really well. It’s a really great coconut cream. The only thing you have to worry about is now you’re introducing dairy. There are some people out there that have allergies or intolerances. That’s another thing. However, I do know that making it yourself, there’s plenty, plenty of delicious options out there. Then we do fresh lime. That’s pretty self explanatory.
T: What are lime prices like these days? I know they go up and down. I hear they’re pretty crazy.
E: It seems like they’re all over the place. They’re all over the place, it seems like. For the most part, as long as you use just your standard, like Persian limes that you buy at the grocery store, you should be in good shape. Then the Chartreuse, what else can you put in there? There really isn’t a substitute for Chartreuse.
E: There is an incentive now for someone to put on another version or some type of competitor.
T: I think it’s a great call.
E: Yes, but we’ll see. Here’s the thing, if somebody put out a competitive product that was good, the monks would probably just up production.
T: That’s a good point.
E: Up production, drop the price.
T: We know they’re business-savvy because they just keep putting the price up.
E: They obviously know what they’re doing.
T: They know what they’re doing. For sure. People have probably tried, but there we go. What about now? Can you talk us through the build of this drink and the actual spec of it and talk us through as if you were making it at a bar?
How to Make Erick Castro’s Piña Verde
E: There’s a couple ways of doing this based on what you have at hand. We generally at the bars do ½ ounce lime, 1 ½ ounces of pineapple, ¾ ounce coconut cream, and then 1 ½ ounces of Green Chartreuse. If you have a Hamilton Beach blender, which is what all the tiki bars do, and honestly I think all bars should have them anyway because if you’re making any drink that has any fat in it, it’s just better, they just come out better. All those tiki guys figured it out years ago. That’s why you go to a tiki bar, you go to Tiki-Ti in L.A. or something, and the bartenders, those guys back there are like 56 years old, 65 making drinks, because it’s easier on your elbows, you just build it in a tin thing, you just flash-blend it real quick, just hit for like five seconds, and the drink comes out frothy and delicious. We use a flash-blender on it because it has coconut cream and coconut has fat in it, the Coco Lopez has fat. The drink just aerates and pearls up. It’s just beautiful and fluffy and the texture’s amazing. That’s the way we’re making it.
T: With a couple of ice cubes?
E: Oh, we’re talking about crushed ice like pebble ice.
T: Pebble ice.
E: Pebble ice. Another way you could do it is, the way we did at Boilermaker, we didn’t have the Hamilton Beach blender there, we did at Boilermaker, we just build it in a tin, throw a bit of pebble ice in there, crushed ice, just whip it for about 10 seconds until the pebbles all dissolve so it gets nice and frothy, then we just put in a glass and then top it with more pebbles or more crushed ice, whichever you happened to have and that’s it, you’re good to go. I’ve also seen places put them in the blender like an old-school Piña Colada. That case you might want to up the Coco Lopez a bit because it gets really cold. Cold temperature inhibits the ability for your palate to perceive sweetness so you might want to do that, which is why I guess the best way to see how this happens in real life is, melted ice cream is so much sweeter, taste is perceived as being sweeter, than cold ice cream. That’s it, basically. Then once a drink’s done we garnish it with either a mint sprig or pineapple fronds.
T: Glassware for this?
E: We always use I guess maybe a Belgian glass, a lot of bars call them a pearl diver. You could put it in either a goblet, a Belgian glass, a pearl diver. It looks good. Pretty much anything that’s about 13, 14 ounces will work really well. I’ve rotated. As long as it’s my own drink, I haven’t really landed on the garnish yet years later because you could put pineapple fronds or mint sprigs, It’s solely up to you. You can even get elaborate like a pineapple wedge, put a cherry on there for a parasol, whatever you go for.
T: Maybe do some tiki.
E: Again I think it comes back to this idea of just there’s that flexibility in it. There’s just the flexibility where we throw whatever’s in there. I do feel like a lot of tropical cocktails lend themselves a bit more to that. I do myself prefer the pineapple fronds, but I’m not going to correct anybody however they choose to serve it.
T: Very nice. Before I ask you any final thoughts on this drink I’m reminded of something I wanted to ask you earlier. We’re going down this memory lane here. You were talking about how you used to do a Tiki Tuesday.
T: We’ve had a lot of guests on the show before talk about that. I think Brian Miller had his Tiki Monday. Garrett Richard had one as well, I forget what the name of it was.
E: This is like 2013 we were doing? Yes, 2013.
T: Why was there this trend happening for doing one night, having a tiki night? We don’t see that with any other style of cocktail. What is it about that? I’ve always been curious about that.
E: Now, a lot of bars don’t do them anymore because now there’s actually places dedicated to that so you don’t need to. In San Diego now we have False Idol. Then there’s another spot in town, Grass Skirt. Both of those places are doing great tropical cocktails, so we don’t really have to do them anymore. Then here in New York you’ve got Sunken Harbor now. The need to do a dedicated tiki night in a bar isn’t quite as pertinent. Because of that, I feel like in that era specifically, and this sucks and this is what irked me at the time was that, a lot of times back then the fancy craft cocktail bars, the speakeasies and stuff, they didn’t take tiki drinks seriously. A lot of them wouldn’t even make them. Not only that but they were defiant about making them, even if they had the ingredients. They’d be, “Oh, we don’t make that stuff, we make classic cocktails here, like pre-Prohibition. OK, whatever,” which I think was very, very stupid. That’s how it was. I think one thing that helped is I know that a lot of the high end cocktail bars in the U.K. were taking those drinks seriously and were doing them very well. I feel like eventually that spilled over.
T: Came over here.
E: I was bartending in San Francisco at the time which obviously the tiki footprint there was huge. I feel like we never really had that issue in San Francisco. If we had the ingredients we were more than happy to make them for people especially Mai Thais, 1944 Mai Thai was being cranked out all the time. Fog Cutters, a lot of these drinks were still being made and served with regularity. There wasn’t that stuffiness but I feel like it was happening in other cities a lot more. As it spilled over, I think a lot of the New York bartenders started to embrace what was happening in London. The accessibility and the cross pollination was a lot bigger. Now it’s totally common to go to a high end tiki bar or, sorry like, craft cocktail bar and order a tiki drink. You don’t even get a second glance 10, 12 years later. You don’t even get that anymore. Back then it was a lot more pronounced and also I think the reason why it tended to be more of a dedicated night was because a lot of these bars didn’t stock these ingredients all the time. They didn’t always have passion fruit syrup, they didn’t have fashion. They might have not always kept a 151 Demerara around. It was a way of putting all these cocktails in these ingredients together and making sure that you had them all for that one night.
T: Feels like a lot of those tiki drinks as well are very prep heavy. If you have it on the menu maybe it doesn’t sell that well then.
E: Then you’re stuck with it right? I do remember specifically the first bar that I saw outside of San Francisco that was taking — high-end cocktail bar that was taking tiki drinks seriously was Death & Co. I remember going there maybe 2009 and they actually had a section and this I’m sure was Brian Miller’s influence. They had a Zombie on there made properly, made to classic spec. I remember trying it and it was absolutely delicious. I remember thinking like, “OK, cool. This is really cool that it’s getting a bit of shine.” Again as I mentioned San Francisco there was more than a footprint. Also at the time we had Martin Kate. Martin Kate hadn’t quite opened Smuggler’s Cove but he’d already done Ben Island. That place was already starting to get a really really big buzz. Remember I bartended the Smuggler’s Cove preview night with Martin in San Francisco maybe 2008 maybe. It was at Bourbon Branch. We had a preview night and that bar or even that night there was a line around the block and mind you this is Tenderloin in 2008 you didn’t want to beat — stand off street there. People were just out there just waiting to come in. They were so happy and so eager. I feel like there was a bit more of that culture that was still very rich in the area. I do remember seeing it start to get taken seriously. I remember when I went to the Death & Co, I was like, this is really cool.
T: I think otherwise you wouldn’t have expected to see it being taken seriously either.
E: Which is cool that’s why I remember thinking like oh, this is really cool. I’m glad to see that like this era of cocktails is finally getting like the shine that it deserves and especially at a place as prominent as Death & Co. I always thought that was really really cool. I honestly do feel like in retrospect a bit of credibility was added to that style of drink in New York especially by being on that menu there.
E: Really cool.
T: Really appreciate that context there and now I can ask you any final thoughts on the Piña Verde today before we move into the final section of the show?
E: Shoot, I guess I’m just really proud of that drink. I am really proud of that drink because the Kentucky Buck, the Iron Ranger, I have a couple of drinks I feel like I’ve broken through and gotten a bit of a claim taken on life with their own. Of all those I honestly do think the Piña Verde is the one I think I’m most proud of, specifically for the economy that’s in place there. Why, I do feel like you can look back and be like wow, that drink accomplishes a lot with very few ingredients and drives home the point that like simple does not equal simplistic. I’m just proud of that drink.
Getting to Know Erick Castro
T: Nice. All right then let’s finish the show with our second round of questions here for you. We’re going to call this one question number six. Since you’ve done five before. How are you feeling? Ready for it?
E: I think so.
T: Here we go. Which spirits category are you currently most excited about?
E: Oh, shoot. There’s a lot going on here. I’m excited about a lot of categories out there. I keep expecting Baijiu to blow-up.
T: Not happening yet.
E: That’s a category that just completely fascinates me and it bums me out that people outside of China generally just don’t understand it. I would even say there’s a bit of cultural chauvinism at play there because some of the ways that I’ve heard people dismiss it, I feel is non-productive because I do feel for better or for worse, that spirit needs to be understood within the realm and within the context of food. I do feel there’s so much opportunity there for deliciousness and I wish people could expand their palates a bit and give it a chance.
T: That is definitely a good one.
E: It’s really cool. The first time you hear about it, you see how it’s made. I remember I was in Chengdu just before the pandemic and I was visiting some of their distilleries in China, and the way it’s distilled is just completely foreign. Not in the context of foreign countries, just outside of your realm of comprehension. It’s distilled as a solid.
T: How does that even work?
E: I don’t even know, I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s so unlike the way things are distilled in most of the world that it’s just a very strange process. The product I feel can be just utterly complex and delicious and exciting to comprehend especially, but I wish more people would appreciate it within the context of food.
T: Nice, good answer. Next question here for you. What was the last drink or cocktail you had that truly wowed you?
E: There’s this drink that I’m very very much in love with these days. It’s called the Four-Letter Word. It’s on the menu at Grand Army. It’s a hot cocktail that’s just absolutely lovely. It’s almost like a mix between a Hot Buttered Rum and an Irish Coffee because there’s a little bit of cream, but it’s just a very, very lovely drink. It’s a great nightcap or a way to start the night. It depends on the temperature outside.
T: There’s a style of drinks that ‘s wide open for some folks to introduce more like hot cocktails, beyond the Irish Coffee or the Hot Toddy where there’s not a lot.
E: There is a drink that I absolutely love and it was created by Giuseppe González, it’s called the Duke of Suffolk. It used to be at this bar that was over on Houston.
T: The name of it was Suffolk Arms.
E: He had a cocktail there. It’s essentially the same build more or less as Irish whiskey except Earl Grey instead of coffee. Then gin instead of Irish Whiskey, but everything else was essentially the same. It’s just an absolutely lovely drink. I just think that every time I have one. I guess most bars don’t carry Earl Grey or whatever, but that drink is absolutely lovely and I wish it was more popular.
T: The other one at Grand Army, the Four-Letter Word, I guess you can interpret what word that is. Could be love, could be a bad word, who knows there, but a decent name for a drink. I like that. Next question for you here. What’s one book you think every alcohol or cocktail enthusiast should own a copy of? It doesn’t have to be a recipe book.
E: “And a Bottle of Rum” by Wayne Curtis. I told everyone to read that book especially if someone’s first getting into the world of cocktails or established. I always tell him to read that book because first off, anyone out there unfamiliar with his work, he writes for The Atlantic, so he’s obviously an accomplished author and writer just in his own right. That book lays out such a compelling story of the way that culture and cocktails and history all intersect. Essentially to better understand them, you need to understand the context of which to produce them. You can’t separate them. To do so is that you’re in peril because you will lose understanding of them. His book, even though I think it was written about 12 to 13 years ago, I feel it’s still one of the most important books for people to read out there in regards to better understanding the culture of cocktails and the world that produces them.
T: Great book. I think I have the audiobook version of that.
E: That’s so great.
T: If you’re not much of a reader-
E: Is it Wayne reading it?
T: That, I would need to check. It’s been a couple years since I listened to it, but quite possibly. Oftentimes it is the author, right?
E: Yes. One of the best things I’ve ever done was I read Reid Mitenbuler’s book, “Bourbon Empire,” at the same time as I was reading Howard Zinn’s, “The People’s History of the United States.” I was reading them concurrently, the colonial era, in regards to Reid’s book, and just the two of them as they were overlapping, you realize how much more dense the political and social constructs that were giving rise to bourbon at the time. I feel like it lent me such a deeper perspective into the history of bourbon, in the world that created it.
T: Nice. There you go folks. Three recommendations.
E: Really. Right. I don’t expect everybody to read all of Howard Zinn’s book, but just a colonial era, especially through probably the 1950s, those two. It really just illuminates, and it gives so much more insight into understanding bourbon. Of course, Reid’s book is just absolutely wonderful. He actually wrote a book on animation too. There really is animation. That’s great. I believe it’s called “Wild Minds,” incredible book.
T: Nice. Talented guy.
E: I can talk about that book for 10 minutes, but, so I don’t want to lose track of everybody.
T: We’ll move swiftly onto the next question then. Penultimate one for us here today. 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?
E: How prominent? Because I love the scene at the end of the first “Avengers,” where Tony Stark offers Loki a bit of whiskey.
T: That’s prominent enough.
E: I love that part, where he is just like, “Hey, do you want a little bit of that whiskey?” Loki just pretty much tells him off.
E: Then things don’t go his way, and he’s like, “Oh, can I still take him on that drink?” I’ve always loved that part of the movie. Maybe if I was there, I don’t think he would’ve declined the first drink. I don’t think he would’ve declined the first offer. I probably would’ve offered something a little more compelling than just like a, “Hey, can I pour you some whiskey?” I would be like, “How about a Sazerac, my friend? What are you in the mood for? What can I get you?”
T: Nice. I love people’s answers to that question, because oftentimes, people always tend to think outside the box on that one. We’re not just talking about-
E: I probably could have offered him an Incredible Hulk, which he did end up getting a sample of later in that scene. I’m pretty sure he would’ve preferred the one I would’ve made.
T: Yes, there you go.
E: Which Hpnotiq and Hennessy.
T: Classic. Often forgotten, that one, but again, we got an article about that, fairly recent.
E: On the incredible Hulk?
E: That’s great.
T: Fantastic story. All right then, last question for us here today, Erick Castro, which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving of more attention, or recognition than it gets?
E: The Amaro Daiquiri.
T: Talk us through that drink for anyone who’s unfamiliar with it.
E: This was a cocktail created by Stephanie Andrews, of Billy Sunday in Chicago. It’s essentially just two ounces of amaro, with lime and sugar. Again, it’s one of those drinks where this has even more economy. If you really think about it, because really, she uses two amaro in the drink, so I guess, four ingredients. Really you can make it, if you’re really happy with amaro, it’s three ingredients, and that’s even harder to come up with. It’s such a stellar cocktail, and everyone I make it for is wowed by it. I know that the drink is great, because I’ve made it for people, and they don’t believe it’s only three ingredients. It’s like, “What else is in there? There’s rum, right?” I’m like, “No, it’s just amaro, lime, and sugar.”
T: Amaro is just-
E: You put a bar spoon of — I’m like, “No, it’s just those —” the way she made it, I believe. Oh dude, I want to say it’s like — because I know it changes kind of based on what happens behind the bar. If I remember correctly, it’s Braulio and Zucca, ¾ lime, ¾ simple syrup, and then shaken, served up in a coupe. That’s it.
E: That’s it. You garnish it with the lime, if you’d like a lime with it, what have you. The drink is just beautiful. It’s majestic. There’s nothing too complicated or complex in the build. That’s just exactly what you think it is. It’s absolutely lovely. I’ve had people tell me they’ve tried it with a ton of different amaro, a ton of different combinations of amaro, and it works basically with whatever amaro you happen to have around you. It was absolutely lovely, and I think I would be way happier to see that drink getting ordered way more often.
T: How about it then? How about we go and order some ourselves?
E: Yes. Also I think I already plugged the Duke of Suffolk, earlier as well. I don’t know when this is going on, so it might not be cold anymore, when this airs, so I want to make sure, there’s two drinks-
T: Two options there for you.
E: It depends on the occasion.
T: Always at least two for one, will you, Erick Castro? All right, man. Thank you very much. Thanks for joining us, and look forward to the next time.
E: Yes, thanks again to all of you out there for listening. Tim, thanks for having me. Cheers.
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