There isn’t a cocktail – or an ingredient -- Sother Teague doesn’t seem to know when it comes to mixology. If he’s not stirring, melding or experimenting, he’s talking -- fast! – with most of the conversation revolving around his favorite topic: Bitters.
Asked why bitters enthrall him, he says: “My former career was as a chef. I have a tendency toward savory. Bitters and Amari are all relatively savory. It was a natural progression for me. I jokingly say ‘I used to be a chef, now I just make chilled soup!’”
And though other ingredients move him, at Amor Y Amargo in New York City (which incidentally translates to “Love and Bitters”), he’s set some pretty stringent rules. “No juice, nothing house-made and we don't shake drinks,” he explains. “The only sugar we use is cane syrup and only for Old-Fashioned's. But, every offsite event I do, I'm getting into as much of the off limits stuff as I can.”
For more information on Amor Y Amargo, visit amoryamargony.com
That includes sugar, syrups, and fresh ingredients like berries, ginger, herbs and infusions. “We only stir at AyA so I'm always shaking and swizzling and rapid infusing when I’m out and about,” he says. “Basically, techniques I don't get to use.”
“Think of it like this, I have a very specific sushi restaurant. So, when I get to cook Italian food, I really go for it,” he adds.
Though – all that will change soon. Teague has started a new project: A bar that will specialize in island style drinks and food inspired by the sea. It will open in NYC in late spring/early summer.
As for where he gets his inspiration? “Everywhere!” he says. “The most popular drink at AyA is called Di Pompelmo, which means grapefruit juice. I wanted to showcase that Amari can mimic many flavors and even textures. The drink has three types of grapefruit bitters in it so it tastes juicy yet it has no juice.”
The drink is an example of Teague’s attentive style, meaning each cocktail comes with a lot of thought behind it. “You can't just toss some ingredients into a glass and hope it works,” he stresses. “I'm also very against the idea of naming a cocktail prior to making it. But, the most special parts of a great cocktail aren't in the glass at all. For me, it comes down to ambiance, company, and service. They all play a larger role than you think.”
Photo courtesy of amoryamargony.com
With his chef background – he’s a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and spent several years as a journeyman cook under Southern stalwarts Ben Barker of The Magnolia Grill and Scott Howell of Nanna’s in North Carolina – he says his love of cooking translates easily to the bar. “It's a lot of the same mechanics,” he says. “There's a procurement of ingredients and construction of drinks just like making plates. The difference is that I get to deliver and be a part of the guest experience. That's what moved me out of the back of the house most.”
Recently, he started a new service model at AyA called 'Two Weeks Notice" that lets him flex his chef muscles. “We take reservations for a three-drink prix fixe that includes snacks and lots of delightful surprises,” he explains. “A $70 flat includes tax and gratuity.”
So far, it’s been a smashing success and a great way to enjoy AyA in a whole new light.
In terms of what he sees coming around the bend, he says punches seem to be on the re-rise. “Communal drinking is fun and social,” he says.
There's also a trend in reimagining old cocktails to make them better. “Menus are covered with Grasshoppers, Golden Cadillac’s, even the Long Island Iced Tea,” he adds. “All updated and fixed to be less sweet and more refined.”
“We're also seeing a lot of return to ingredients that we see in the wrong light due to youthful experience. Jägermeister comes to mind.”
The good news? “We’re moving away from sugary candy vodka like whipped cream or birthday cake etc.” he says.
He admits his biggest mixing challenge is Amari as the liqueur ranges from delicate to blunt. “You have to be very careful when mixing with them or they'll get lost or even worse, they'll dominate the drink,” he says.
The biggest secret: He doesn’t even drink cocktails. “I know I'm known for making them. But, in my considered opinion, no one is out there bottling a product and thinking ‘I've done it, this will go great with other stuff.’ Rather, they are thinking, ‘I've done it, please enjoy!’
To that end, he typically drinks things neat or simply on the rocks. “I try to enjoy the manors of the maker,” he says.
“Also, I drink like I eat. First to the season, second to the occasion, and third to the atmosphere.”
Teague is big into social media so to hear more about what he’s doing, follow him on Twitter @CreativeDrunk or at the bar @AmoryAmargo.