On this episode of the “Cocktail College” podcast, host Tim McKirdy is joined by Houston’s Alba Huerta, owner of the James Beard Award winning Julep to discuss the Sex on the Beach. More than just an evocative name, the Sex on the Beach is brimming with ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia, and arrives topped with a fun (if questionable) backstory. Tune in for more.
Alba Huerta’s Sex on the Beach Recipe
- ¾ ounce Ketel One Botanical Peach & Orange Blossom
- ¾ ounce vodka
- 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
- ¾ ounce cranberry juice
- ½ ounce crème de pêche
- ½ ounce orange juice
- ¼ ounce simple syrup
- Garnish: dehydrated lemon wheel
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice.
- Shake until well chilled.
- Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass with ice.
- Garnish with dehydrated lemon wheel.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Let’s do it. It’s the “Cocktail College” podcast. We’re joined on a chilly Thursday afternoon with Alba Huerta. Alba, up from Houston.
Alba Huerta: Yes. I’m here from Houston, Texas.
T: Not exclusively for this, but I’m glad we’ve got you.
A: I know, me too. I’m so happy to find you guys and we had time.
T: Cannot wait to get in today’s episode, by the way. Welcome to the studio. It’s something you’ve been craving, this drink. It’s sunny. It’s Sex on the Beach because like I said, it’s a little bit chilly here today.
A: It’s a little bit chilly, especially for me.
A: I feel like the reason I chose the Sex on the Beach, to be totally transparent, it’s one of the first drinks I ever made prior to because I’ve been bartending since the late ’90s, which was the epicenter of all of these drinks. There’s a lot of feeling with the way it’s named and what bars represented at that time and how drinks were made, and how this particular drink gained such popularity and the name has a lot to do with it.
T: I was going to say, is that, do you think that’s what it is?
A: Well, I think it’s a number of things. It’s simplicity, the ingredients that makes a — I don’t know if there’s no argument that this is a modern classic and that modern classics have the simplicity of ingredients that are available to everyone.
T: I 100 percent agree with that criteria.
A: There’s something about this drink being very easily replicated and something that can be done all over the world, but the name itself is what caught fire. There’s some marketing genius behind how this drink was developed but maybe not so intentional but definitely after that.
T: It definitely always helps. I want to dive into those things because I think they’re really fun. Before we do, I don’t think anyone listening to this is not going to have heard of the cocktail before, but it might have been a while since they’ve had one or they perhaps need a refresher on what’s in it. What are we speaking about here?
A: It’s vodka and I’ve made it with sour mix and cranberry. The recipe has vodka, sour, cranberry, peach schnapps, and orange is the interchangeable orange or sour. When I made it, it was the sweet and sour powder mix. Now I make it with fresh lemon. One of the iterations of this cocktail that I really like, I’m actually very happy with in the bar that at Jule we have it on draft. It’s made with two different vodkas. Kettle One Peach, it’s like a lighter flavor essence vodka and then regular vodka. It’s got both because the Peach Essence vodka didn’t have the backbone where you’re like, it needs a little bit more. Add a little more vodka. It has lemon, a little bit of simple for some sweetness, Cranberry, and a mimic lemon recipe, like a citric acid type of dilution of a solution, pardon me, of something that tastes lemony. We put it on draft. The carbonation makes it taste really good.
T: Oh. Do you call it the Sex on the Beach?
A: It also has a little bit of the peach from Matilda, which is a creme.
T: Oh, yes.
A: The vodka has this fuzziness to it, and then the peach has the core, the creme has this very sweet peach to it. It’s over-thought. We over-thought it, but the product itself is really delicious and it’s stable and then you can put it into a keg and carbonate it and it’s quite lovely actually. It worked out to our advantage.
T: Is that a popular one? I bet it is a popular one.
A: It is. It’s the same thing because the name of the drink is so salacious that people are like, “Oh, I’m going to try it.” They try it like this joke, and they think it’s going to be a lame duck. Then they’re like, “Oh, shit, that was delicious.”
T: It’s actually really good. It’s so interesting. Two things you mentioned there, actually. We were doing a VinePair party event at one of these food and drink festivals earlier this year. Some lunatic tasked me with coming up with the cocktails. I’m like, “I’m not a bartender, but I’ll go for it.” It was a ’90s nostalgia theme for the party.
T: I wanted to put on drinks like that, but also maybe trying not to improve them or bring them up to modern specs because to your point, it is a drink that needs a little bit of work for it to be a very good cocktail these days. I forget what we did it with. I think maybe I use something like Campari for the — It just basically looked like a Sex on the Beach. I wanted to use some eau de vie. Apparently, there’s no peach eau de vie, so we went with apricot. Anyway, long story short is-
A: That sounds delicious.
T: It was really good but the people, they batch them and the event crew did not ask me anything and I’m like, “You’re batching this, have you factored in dilution?” They’re like, “What’s that?” I’m like, “Okay,” people got sloshed. It was the most popular one on the menu. There’s a Cosmo on there and stuff too. That’s what people were going for. It speaks to your point about A) the name. I’ve had that experience. The name is very evocative and people want to have that. If you see it on a menu, like, “Oh, yes, maybe I’ve never had one, but I’ve heard of it before.” It also needs a little bit of work.
A: I think too, for us, it’s a bar that’s notable for its drinks and how much energy we put, how much energy and thought we put into them. When somebody sees a drink like that on the menu, they probably think, “Oh, these guys must have done something different to it.” It’s worth it. It’s a tempting decision for them to be like, “I’m really wondering what they did to make it different or improve or whatever.” Whatever they think their expectations are of us.
T: Yes. So interesting. One thing I do love about this cocktail, though, is its origin story or supposed origin story. What can you tell us about that today or what have you encountered?
The History of the Sex on the Beach
A: It’s funny to talk about the ’90s drinks because I think we’re having this comeback of the Appletini is back.
T: So they’re saying.
A: What’s interesting to me is, I don’t think that they’ve ever left, we’re just not in those places. There’s places that serve Woo-Woos and Sex on the Beach. Sex with an alligator.
T: I’ll tell you just head up to Times Square. You can get all of them. I bet somewhere around there.
A: Yes, there’s plenty of bars that have been serving these strings for a long time. It’s just we’ve left those bars.
A: Is the difference.
T: That’s a great point.
A: I believe it is not the late ’80s. Is it the late ’80s, ’87?
T: ’87 is the year I saw.
A: ’87 is the year that it was attributed to someone. It was attributed out of a Florida resort town.
T: Is it Fort Lauderdale or maybe I’m wrong there?
A: Ted Pizio
T: Ted Pizio is the one they say.
A: That he named it after the reason why tourists would come into town. Not just Mickey Mouse, it was sex. He’s like, “People come here during spring break for the beaches and sex.” He put those two things together and he had a slam dunk. I think it was also in print somewhere else but maybe not attributed to a person in the early ’80s.
T: It’s a weird one isn’t it, too, like, you look at that era, and that’s before the cocktail renaissance and then people start actively documenting things. Why would you, as well, it doesn’t sound like this guy is at a craft establishment. It sounds like a number’s getting you there, though a high-volume bar.
A: Well, I think I like — there’s a history there that even though we don’t make drinks that way anymore, I don’t think that it should be ignored. Necessarily, I think about the way that the first Old Fashioned was ever made and I’m not putting dashes on a sugar cube. I’m making my Old Fashioned with a diluted syrup because then I have the advantage of making this drink in a much more appropriate timeframe for my guests. I’m not dashing a cube, so there’s been an evolution in the way that I make that drink. Not to say that we shouldn’t look at these drinks from the ’90s and think, how can I make this different? Should I try a sex of an alligator with like real pineapple juice? It’s quite delicious once you put the ingredients together that are fresh or the way that we redid the Sex on the Beach on draft, it just seemed like a really nice bubbly drink, a carbonated drink. It’s like, ”Always give it a shot and see what happens.” It turned out to be one of the better drinks for the summer. That were really easy for us to pour and control the flavor because we’re making one large drink and always consistently pouring it the same way. Even though it became a drink that had a lot of small ingredients, we were able to pour that same exact drink for people every single time.
T: Consistency there. I think it’s worth noting, too, that if you were to try Ted Pizio’s version, I don’t think it would’ve been a bad drink. I believe he wasn’t using cranberry. I think he might been using grenadine instead, which makes sense. It probably would’ve been all the rage at the time. Look, by modern standards, you can say maybe it doesn’t have enough acidity. Maybe it’s too sweet. We like sweet things. You were talking about sour mix earlier. I had recently a Mai Tai, at a place that was famous for Mai Tais but they’re stuck in a time capsule from the ’80s. It was rum from a bot. I’ve never seen this rum brand in my life before. Whatever Georgie vodka’s equivalent in the rum world is, that’s what this was. It’s with sour mix and something else. Definitely no orgeat going in there, but the thing was, it was a good cocktail. These things that are sweet and probably too simple for us these days when we talk about craft mixology, they are still tasty drinks. They’re just not up to the standards or they’re not where we’ve taken bartending these days. I bet you if Pizio was here today and you made us one of his Sex on the Beaches, I’m sure we’d enjoy it. I’m sure we’d be like, ”Yes, maybe just one.” I’m sure it’s pretty good. The other one, so I’ve got it noted here. I was looking into that too. I think it was Confetti was the name of the bar, Confetti Bar. There’s another theory or story goes that a company called National Distribution had started a challenge to — they were trying to get rid of peach schnapps.
A: That sounds like a familiar story. When they were trying to get rid of ginger beer and the mule.
T: Exactly. The mule. They went to these bars in that Florida town and they said, ”We will give $1,000 to the bar that sells the most schnapps and $100 to the bartender who comes up with a drink.” It’s not actually known whether it was Ted who won that competition or whatever, but his is the one that endures. It’s like the Long Island Iced Tea. I believe that was as well, like a thing or any Cointreau thing. Anyway.
The Ingredients Used in Alba Huerta’s Sex on the Beach
A: I always question that the stories of like, we were trying to get rid of as like, were you trying to get rid of or introduce or sell more like those are very different. Who was sitting on just cases of schnapps. I got to get rid of these. I know how that-
T: I was doing some spring cleaning or winter cleaning in the office yesterday and I came across a bottle of peach schnapps and I thought, what the hell is this doing here? Then I remembered the Sex on the Beach thing that I was doing earlier this year and I was like, maybe that was that, but it’s not an ingredient. Is it common behind bars these days? No.
A: For what?
T: Peach schnapps. Sorry. Again, a kind of technique-forward cocktail bars such as your own.
A: We use crème de pêche. We use a lot of that. It’s used in classics and that’s used in modern classics and there’s a difference between the schnapps and the crèmes. There’s a difference in sugar and production. I actually think that’s a pretty common staple in bars.
T: More along the lines of the crème de pêche that you’re talking about there versus like schnapps these days?
T: What is the difference between those two in terms of production?
A: If you’re talking about DeKuyper Peach Schnapps, is that what you found?
T: Yes, almost certainly.
A: What does that bottle cost?
T: It’s not expensive.
A: What do you think is in it?
T: Grain neutral spirit, flavoring, and sugar flavor.
A: Yes. When you’re thinking about like-
T: Schnapps is just a name that harkens back to probably something that was made differently long ago.
A: Actually, there’s a beautiful schnapps that are being created, but they’re like $250 a bottle. It’s the misnomer of something that was a flavoring agent with sugar in it. Nonetheless, this is where cocktails get a little complicated. If you ask me about schnapps, I’m thinking about that beautiful $250 schnapps because I’m like, “I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s beautiful, it’s delicious.” They also call them eaux de vie. They interchange those two words, but if you ask someone, maybe Ted Pizio, about Peach schnapps, he might be thinking DeKuyper. It’s about like, what do you think it is when you’re asking me that question, which is why I asked you, I was like, how much did your schnapps cost, what do you think is in it since you tasted it? Unfortunately, the labeling of that got a little convoluted and fuzzy just as the drinks did.
T: A Fuzzy Navel, little sibling to this drink. For the purposes of today’s show, we’ll talk about schnapps and then DeKuyper and eau de vie we’ll use for the fruit-based distiller. I know some of the ones you’re on about haven’t tried a good peach one, but some of the ones coming out of Germany and Austria and whatnot and this country too. Very good. Is there anything else you want to talk about in terms of that as an ingredient or a category of ingredients if we’re dialing into this drink and we’re trying to maybe bring it up to 2022?
A: No, but I do want to talk about something that was in the back of my mind when we talked about, is it cranberry or is it grenadine? There was an approach to making drinks in the late ’90s called Just Make it Red and that’s where those two ingredients go back and forth. We had bars that were minimally stocked, perhaps you had cranberry or grenadine. It wasn’t considered two different ingredients and that goes back to trends just the way that bars were set up, the way that those ingredients were thought about, they were thought about as a coloring agent. They weren’t really thought about as a flavor component or the flavor wasn’t considered in the drink. It was like, “It’s going to be red, just add stuff to make it red.” I think there’s something to digest there that’s the approach to making drinks, the approach of how bars were thought of, how they were, what would be the difference between carrying both or either, like is it a cost-effective decision? I think that’s more the space where my mind was at when we were discussing which ingredient was it.
T: I love that philosophy basically making the drink to a color profile more than anything.
A: More than a flavor profile.
T: More than a flavor and using them interchangeably. Actually little known fact here about the Negroni, people think that it’s from Italy, but it’s actually from Naples, Florida and it was invented. It’s vodka and grenadine drink. No one knows this.
A: No one knows it.
T: It’s actually from Naples, Florida. We’re breaking that today here on “Cocktail College.”
A: Close enough.
T: Yes. Certainly fits that bill, though, nice and vibrant. It is true though of all those drinks from that time, you mentioned the Appletini before, bright green, the Cosmo, Tequila Sunrise. It’s definitely no coincidence that these were all popular around the same time and look so visually stunning.
A: Yes. I judged a Hpnotiq competition a few months ago.
A: One of the things that I found fascinating was all of the participants were 25-ish years old, and I realized when I did the math, I was like, “Oh, they never really saw an Incredible Hulk over the bar.” They were 5.
T: Which for anyone listening, by the way, in case they’re not familiar with that drink too, tell us about that. We wrote about this on VinePair too, but tell us about that today.
A: It’s Cognac, and it was Hennessy. I think it was the original ingredient, it called for Hennessy and Hpnotiq which is an electric blue color, but has passion fruit and some tropical flavoring to it. It’s actually quite delicious when it was used as a blending ingredient, which is how they approached it. The competition approached it as a blending ingredient. They didn’t have these fillings of the Incredible Hulk of nightclub bartending and they saw it as a Domaine de Canton. They’re like, “Oh, it’s like Domaine de Canton.” Was really refreshing to see that ingredient be utilized to make a Daiquiri.
T: Oh, wow.
A: Someone made a Daiquiri with it and it was delicious. I was like, wow. Okay. It was the approach of making drinks from this new generation of looking at these ingredients and saying, “Okay, well how do I make a highball with this? Or how do I make a cocktail with it?” Really eye-opening because my approach is when I think of Hpnotiq, I was thinking of the Incredible Hulk. The reason I wanted to judge this competition was so that I could see what they see, and it’s like, oh, I love what I saw.
T: That’s fascinating.
A: I love their approach to this ingredient that I had so many feelings about because I did Barton at the time when it was the Incredible Hulk era.
T: That’s bright green again, another one of those, big in the time bit of hip hop as well. That’s when — I think it followed on the hills of alleys and things like that. Well, I know it. Anyway, that’s at least what we published on VinePair. Let’s go check that one out, it’s a fun story. Next ingredient I want to talk about here is vodka. Again, Ted’s thinking is, he’s probably going neutral or maybe something that does have a bit of like citric in it that you don’t know when you buy but just like clean or maybe the vodkas they’re using are the ones that look great on the back bar at that time. What do you think, though, from a modern lens, vodka for this drink? Again, what’s your thinking when it comes to modern-day vodka and again, making this cocktail as if we’re elevating it, but keeping it true to its identity? Where are you going vodka-wise for this? You mentioned before that at the riff or your interpretation you have, you have one of the Ketel One flavored ones but broader speaking, what do you think?
A: In terms of the what? Vodka?
T: The vodka. Are you going for a neutral one? Are you going to maybe introduce one of these ones that actually does have some personality, but might get lost against all these other ingredients?
A: Well, I feel like that was the reason for using two vodkas in the keg cocktail, and at first I was like, well, is it going to make a difference? I am using the regular kettle with kettle peach, I think it’s kettle peach and grapefruit. I forget there’s — it’s like a combo.
T: It’s one of its infusions or something. Or maybe that’s not. I want to say it’s a tad below 40 percent ABV.
A: It’s a lower ABV, which is the reason why it couldn’t be the sole proprietor of that drink. Peach and orange blossom.
T: Peach and orange blossom.
A: Yes. It did have that peach, and again that fuzziness like what you get from the skin of the peach. I was like, well, you can’t– it’s like, as much as I’m trying to simplify this drink, I’m complicating it and I was like, you really can’t deny it that it could use this, a little touch of this vodka so that it can amplify that peach flavor without us adding any other spirit or the crème de pêche is on the sweeter side because that’s very interesting balance of how those two worked. Where you think, the flavor I’m looking for is peach. It’s again, do you have the grenadine and the cranberry or do you have both? We live in a world where we don’t have to, we don’t have to emit one. We can just say, well, this one complements the other one, so we’re going to use them together.
T: Can you use both?
A: As much as I was like, well I don’t and we made a singular one. Not so many touches. We’re just going to-
T: You might be making the world’s only split base Sex on the Beach right now.
A: I think we might have but we made a keg of them. I was fortunate to think of it like, I don’t think that we want to make these single drinks every single time. How do we put this on a keg?
T: Yes. I came across another one there. I was just searching too, as soon as you were talking about the peach and orange blossom, there’s a producer, I think it’s up somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Wild Roots. They call it infused vodkas because they do it with real fruit and I think they want to separate themselves from the flavored category. They have a peach one. It is phenomenal. I actually like it in a Vesper. Anyway, next ingredient: cranberry or grenadine. Actually, before we go into that, let’s go with the orange juice because you mentioned that in your version, you mentioned a citric solution and/or some lemon juice. I think that’s the one area where this drink maybe needs the most help is give us some acidity. Is that your thinking there? Are you doing both of them? Sorry.
A: No, it’s mimicking citrus. It’s a combination of three different acids, so that it’s like you’re not really sure if it’s orange or lemon.
T: Your acid adjusting?
A: Acid adjusting.
T: Very nice. I think that’s the way to go with this one by the sounds of it.
A: It does change the color of it.
T: Oh, really?
A: The color’s just really light. It doesn’t have orange or yellow in it. It comes out to be a very light peachy color.
T: Don’t worry. We’ve got our old friend. The next ingredient here. Cranberry or grenadine or both or whatever’s at hand?
A: For this drink, I use cranberry.
T: Okay. Ocean spray cocktail or?
A: If you think about what is cranberry juice like, that’s what cranberry juice is. There’s no fresh cranberry juice. Have you ever tried to make fresh cranberry juice?
A: It’s a nightmare and it’s not real. It’s a mass-produced product and it’s what it is.
T: It’s like the thing where people are like, this smells — you taste a cherry seltzer, like a Hal’s or whatever. You taste it and you’re like, “Oh, yes, that’s cherry. This is what we have been programmed to think tastes and smells like cherry. I actually have a real cherry one day. It’s the same with cranberry. Like we know what cranberry juice tastes like. They make the sauce like the juice. None of us are eating the fruit because it sucks on its own. It’s terrible.
A: It also begs the question of like olive juice or olive oil? You press an olive, you get oil.
A: Olive juice?
T: I don’t know.
A: It’s an olive wash. Not as marketable as olive juice. Those were our bar ingredients.
T: The essentials.
A: They were at least at that time. Even if you think about how these ingredients became, it was like this modern age when we were going to the moon and we were thinking futuristically and food was getting prepackaged and drinks were getting prepackaged. They were considered like these modern revelations of flavor and that’s just the common or the societal approach to those products. We think about how we develop. We’re in a very interesting point where we can use fresh ingredients and we can use, for example, Filthy is making this olive juice, olive brine. I’m like, this is great. This stuff is great.
T: So good, right? I got one upstairs in the fridge. I’m a big fan.
A: It’s so good. I’m a fan. Exactly. The thought of how we’re making products now is about quality and flavor, because we’ve learned how to redefine that throughout the times of just thinking, well, this is probably what a cranberry tastes like.
A: I would hope if I ever was able to press juice out of a cranberry in mass form, that this is what it would, like the possibility of like, can you make your own vermouth? Unlikely. There is a production there. There’s mechanisms there that you don’t really have the access to. It is the thought of how we are producing things or how we’re producing ingredients.
T: It’s been pragmatic, isn’t it? At the end of the day making what needs to be made, buying when someone can do it more consistently cheaper and better.
A: I think maybe, and this was very real in Texas where there was a lot of bitters projects. It’s like, well, yes, but Angostura’s better. A product that is made, has been made for a very long time. I think they got it, like it was a good experiment that we all tried to make our own different bitters and aromatic bitters, but not as good as this product that has been mass-producing this for a very long time. That product has its own history and it’s a very some complex history there, complicated history, but when we were like, we just don’t make, we’re not making our own bitters. It is great to have those experiences, though, to realize that you can’t make them.
T: No. You have limitations. Yes. I would stick orgeat in there as well, a handful of other things too. Sometimes, guys, it’s easier to buy, it’s better.
A: Well, the orgeat, I think that is more expensive, it’s about cost when it comes to orgeat, a lot of, I’ve tasted some beautiful homemade orgeats. It’s about cost and time, like how it took me like, my very first orgeat took me like 48 hours to make. There was some quite — there’s a few draws from the almonds that had to be made and stored. I was like, okay, well after 48 hours of working on this, turns out this is a $50 orgeat.
T: Yes, exactly. This is more than any other spirit we’re using in cocktails.
A: It’s going to take me two days to make this 1 liter.
T: You know what? I’ll hold off on that project until the next pandemic. Hopefully, we don’t have one, but you know what I mean? That’s when I got a lot projects done. I got the barrel-aged cocktails out the way, sourdough completed it, done. You know what, that’s a little detour here. To your point about these projects, everyone was doing that sourdough. I was taking three days to make a loaf of bread. It didn’t always come out, you know what I learned from making sourdough? That focaccia is better and I’ve always been a fan of focaccia and I can knock that out in a couple of hours or do it overnight. Again, it’s like, is it really worth it? I’m not sure it is, but I don’t know, maybe I’m just being converted.
A: I love that. You’re like, “Mm,” it turns out focaccia is better.
T: Oh, no fronts. All right, so we’ve go on vodka, we’ve go on schnapps, cranberry, orange juice. We’ve gone a little acid adjustment in there. That’s all the ingredients. Anything else you want to speak about from an ingredients perspective before we talk about preparation? No, we’re good on that. Preparation too. You’ve explained your own version, but if you were making this classic Sex on the Beach, can you talk us through it step by step here and maybe give some ratios as well, some numbers there, measurements?
How to Make the Sex on the Beach
A: How it was made in the ’90s?
T: How you would do it, say, today I hand you vodka?
A: If it wasn’t in a keg.
T: If it wasn’t in a keg. Exactly.
A: Got it. It’s three-quarter ounces of the Ketel One botanicals peach and orange blossom, three-quarter ounces of vodka, one ounce of lemon, three-quarter ounces of cranberry, half-ounce of crème de pêche, half-ounce of some– I’m sorry, a half-ounce of orange juice, a quarter-ounce of simple. That’s the overcomplicated nerdy version of this drink, garnished with a dehydrated lemon wheel on the rocks over ice cubes.
T: Great, so you’ve told us the quantities of ingredients there. Now talk us through the preparation of this drink from start to finish.
A: There’s really minimal setup in the terms of how to — Just make sure you have glassware, ice cubes, vodka, cranberry. You put all those ingredients and you put all your ingredients into your shaker. You shake it. We would put it in a rocks glass. It’s probably a 10- to 11-ounce double Old Fashioned rocks glass and you just pour it over ice. I think that’s pretty accurate as to what most of the drinks from the ’90s were. I don’t even know if Ted shook his drink. I think he just built his drink.
T: Just built it. Sounds about right. Maybe over some crushed ice. I feel like they love a bit of crushed ice. Ted would’ve.
A: I feel like there’s a lot of dilution in the way that the recipe from him of there’s quite a bit of orange juice or quite a bit of sour mix. There’s a lot of dilution in that product in order for it to dissolve or to make sure that there’s dilution in the alcohol proportion so that you can taste the different flavors that are coming out of that drink, but the way that we make it, or the way that I would make this drink, we’ll shake it out, pour it over ice, and maybe garnish it with-
T: What are you thinking garnish-wise for this?
A: I think that this is like — I don’t know. Let’s say we’ve tinkered with it from its original form, I like to put a dehydrated lemon or something that tells you that there’s something that’s changed about this drink.
T: Yes, it’s slightly elevated. Some people don’t like that term, but the elevated version of it.
A: That just a little dehydrated lemon wheel would tell you that this drink is going to be a little different from its original version. I think that in garnishes, there’s always a telling of what’s in the glass. If I’d used orange, I would use a dehydrated orange wheel. If I’d use lemon, I’d use the dehydrated lemon wheel. You’re visually telling of what’s in your drink and at least with citrus, to me, it’s like the garnish is telling you what’s in the actual drink, what juice was utilized in the actual drink.
T: Unless you’re ordering a gin tea in Britain, but that isn’t alcohol. Is it a lemon or lime? I don’t know. I never drink them, but I know there is an argument amongst Americans and Brits over that one.
A: The TGI Fridays, they have a phenomenal training program or they had. I’m sure that they continue to train. If you could ever get a hold of that training manual, I’d love to see it.
T: I would love to see it.
A: If anybody out there has one, please share with us, but I think these drinks became these oversized attractions. There’s something about how that drink evolved even in its own era from being perhaps a drink that sounds like it was maybe in a pint glass, and then was later in a footed glass in those big Mardi Gras glasses or these long glassware or plasticware. There’s an evolution even to how that drink was consumed and thought of as a party drink for a very long time. Even to at this day. We did something nerdy with it, but in its true form, it’s a party animal.
T: As are those who continue drinking them today.
A: There’s people out there drinking them.
T: I’m heading up to TGI Fridays after this. I know what I’m doing tonight.
A: I think there’s.
T: I’m going to get foot-long Sex on the Beach.
A: I do always wonder like how much alcohol is in there. Like a lot. I just want to know. I just, no judgment. I just want to know.
T: I’m curious. It harkens back to that Mai Tai that I had that I was telling you about earlier, it was boozy. I think they equate like how boozy you experience it as to value. I think there may be for some folks that there is a thinking of that.
A: I think that’s still prominent, though. There was — I was on a panel a few years ago where we were talking about low-ABV drinks and zero-proof drinks. Alcohol, how the consumer equates alcohol to value or cost is very correlated, but the ingredients that are being used to make low-proof cocktails are the same, just about the same expense as alcoholic drinks and maybe even sometimes a little bit more. It might cost a little more to make a low-proof cocktail. It costs something to make a zero-proof cocktail and it’s costing just throughout the same. How we consume alcohol in the terms of how we think of what it should cost. I think there’s a conversation there.
T: That’s a very good point there.
A: If this yard-long drink was in a classic cocktail bar that’s using high-end spirits, like is that a $60 drink?
T: Yes, exactly. That’s the other thing. You think you’re getting value because you’re getting more, but that just means they’re using worse ingredients, which as you’ve mentioned today is, that’s a no-no. Any final thoughts on the Sex of the Beach before we head into the next section of the show?
A: No. We can move on.
Getting to Know Alba Huerta
T: All right then. Quick hit questions to finish the show here. Starting with question number one for you. What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?
T: Whiskey, any in particular that has more showing than others?
A: I think in general, Brown Water is going to be the whiskey that showcases the most at a bar called Julep.
T: I was going to say.
A: That’s just common sense.
T: It would be weird otherwise.
A: Tequila‘s right behind it. It’s definitely Brown Water.
T: That makes a lot of sense there. Question number two for you, which ingredient or tool is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
A: The ice scoop.
T: The ice scoop. Good one.
A: I feel like anytime I’m doing a catering event, it’s like everybody’s got the tools and I’m like, did you bring the ice scoop? They’re like, oh, I always carry one.
T: Explain that because otherwise, I mean, you don’t want to be putting glasses in there. You don’t want someone using their hands.
A: Super simple. You just explained it for us. Your ice scoop. It’s not necessarily considered a tool for the bar, but I also don’t think that there is an underrated or underused tool otherwise. I feel like the essentials for what we carry in a bar are for, are used multiple times throughout. Throughout a round or at least for us, it is, I think that.
T: Well, I think your example that you gave though, it speaks to that point, right? This is maybe undervalued because like you said, you go to a catering and it’s like, what’s the one thing people forget? It’s the ice scoop. It’s not on the top of your mind, like people are bringing their jiggers.
A: The other thing I think about it is because most– if you think about the consumer buying their own bar tools, they have their beautiful jiggers or beautiful bar spoons. Their shakers and their mixing pens, maybe some ice tools there as well, some tongs, but no one really is making these ice scoops, but they’re so essential for us behind the bar because we think about cleanliness efficiency, and we need ice to be able to make actual drinks.
T: That’s a good one. It’s definitely the first time that one’s come up on the show, and we always like to see new ones there. Question number three for you. What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?
A: I think that — I don’t know if I’ve received this. Actually, I know I haven’t received this advice, but this is advice that I give in the sense of how I think about myself in this industry. When I am asked to give advice and I tell new bartenders to think about staying power, not star power. If you think about your staying power in this business, you’ll think about your health, you’ll think about your decisions that you’re making today, how to think about your future, your career. You think about this as a career that you want to stay in for a long time. That’s probably some of the most clear communication I can have with someone. Think about, do you want to stay in this business for a long time and how are you going to do that?
T: Very wise words. Question number four. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?
A: I have this story with, La Perla bars in the, what is now, I think there’s now one in Paris, but at some point, La Perla and Cafe Pacificos were bars that were all over Europe and they were started by Tomas Estes. La Perla Bar that was in London in particular, was a really special place for me. He was my mentor and I would stay in this building. When I would visit London, I would stay in Covent Square. There was an apartment in the building and it was called the Ambassador Suite. The Ambassador Suite is where we would all, like, people would come in through and visit and stay there. What I loved about the Ambassador Suite was not just like, there was a great place to stay in Covent Garden, but I could see the operations of this bar. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d have coffee with the chef Amin. Then later on, they’re closed down the bar and I’d go have like burgers with the staff. To me, that bar was so special and it’s been sold, the property was sold and then I think now it’s a restaurant. I’m not quite sure what the name of the restaurant is, but I think that would be the place to visit mostly because I got to see the other operational side of it, which I really enjoyed.
T: That’s super interesting. Very nice. Last question for you today. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
A: I think Champagne is the last thing I want to drink, but, in terms of cocktails, I like simple highballs, like tequila soda. I think there’s something called the Ranch Water now, which I find like very interesting that you renamed the highball, but.
T: Some folks in West Texas might fight you on that one.
A: They do every day.
A: Yes, I think tequila soda is something that I genuinely enjoyed very much in my lifetime.
T: It’s such a refreshing one. Have a friend from Dallas who also swears by a little Cointreau in there, as well as if he’s making an elongated Margarita or something. I don’t know. He made this, I’m like, that’s one too many ingredients for me. Just, you know, bring it all together.
A: I worked in a bar where, a long time ago, I worked in a bar where we were asked to sway people away from drinking vodka drinks because that’s all they wanted to do. There’s a guest that came in and he’s like, do you think I could have a vodka cranberry? I was like, of course, you can. They’re like, well, can I add a little Cointreau? I was like, of course, you can. Can you shake it and put it on ice? I’m like, did you just make Cosmo? He’s like, can you add a little lime to it? I was like, of course.
T: The guy just-
A: He guided me on into a Cosmo, and I was like, you know what, you win this game. I didn’t like, you know, I didn’t hear it from my boss about making Cosmos. I was like, yes. That’s what your friend is doing.
T: Very nice.
A: With the Ranch Water Cointreau situation.
T: Fantastic. Alba, it’s been a blast.
T: Thank you so much for making the trek up here to Flatiron District or wherever we are. I never know what this area’s called, New York. It’s been wonderful having you here in the studio. Thank you.
A: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
A: Cheers to you.
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.
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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.