By Laren Spirer
Don't let Brian McGrory's charm, Scottish lilt, and good looks fool you -- he's a man on a mission. His mission? To get you to love gin. As the Beverage Director at Double Crown and Madam Geneva, Brian has one of the city's most extensive gin list at his disposal, as well as several other tricks up his sleeve.
How did you get into the cocktail business?
I got into the business by default. I was in San Francisco during the whole dot com crash and I couldn't get any work whatsoever. I was unemployed and ended up bar backing at this great music club called CafÃ© Du Nord for about eight months. We had the most amazing old school bartender who was so into classic cocktails, his bitters, and little mixtures. He actually taught me everything - all the basics of bartending. It wasn't this huge luxury establishment, but it was an institution. He was very passionate about freshness and balance and drinks tasting how they should be - sugar/acid balance and presentation and all that.
How would you generally describe your personal cocktail style?
I generally like to take classic cocktails and modify them a little bit. I'll sometimes give it a new ingredient, a new fruit, something that introduces new flavors and characteristics to someone's palate.
Tell us about your cocktail philosophy behind the drinks at Double Crown, which focuses on the British influence on Asia and the Far East? What key ingredients do you use?
The whole English thing is very important to what Double Crown is about, and gin is the core ingredient base of most of our cocktails here. For me, I was never a gin fan. I used to hate it. Now I think it's one of the quintessential white spirits - great for cocktails, it adds so much depth and gets the palate thinking. The joy you get from drinking gin has such a great, long history. We pair a lot of ingredients that were introduced to the colonies and traded there - teas, spices, coriander, turmeric, mangos. If you do something a little bit different, people tend to remember you more because you're making that little extra effort.
So what do you do that's a little bit different? What are your signature drinks and customer favorites?
Our signature is our Gooseberry Smash. We've got a classic drink with gin and lemon, and we use Plymouth gin, which has great botanicals, on the rocks and top it off with a red chili foam, so you get this sweet, spicy taste. As the foam integrates into the drink it's constantly changing so it starts off sweet and spicy, but by the end it's nice and dry and tart. I also like to make my own ginger beer and sodas. We also have our jam drinks - we make our own homemade jams, served in a little teaspoon alongside gin and lemon over crushed ice. It's a different way of presenting the drinks which is memorable.
People love the jam cocktails, the foams. People actually love our drinks with gin - we do offer our cocktails with vodka, but we steer people to have them with gin. We do a great gin gimlet here - Plymouth gin, fresh squeezed lime juice, and sugar - very simple, and people absolutely love that drink. We make one that's right and they love it.
Tell us a little bit about your do-it-yourself Bloody Mary.
This came from Adam [Farmerie], the owner, wanting a way to create energy during brunch and have people moving about the room. People get vodka with ice and then they can add all these great ingredients, pickles, peppers, spices, and they can play about and make their own Bloody Mary. People seem to love the fact that they can get up and make their own, but they then also realize that it's quite hard to make a good Bloody Mary!
When you're not working, where in the city do you like to go for a drink? Any particular cocktails? Other favorite food/drink spots?
I go to a few places for inspiration. I love Death and Co. and Tailor - the guys there do an amazing job. Every time I go there I am amazed at the stuff they actually do. Generally, I'm a local bar guy. I live in the West Village so I go to the Rusty Knot, The Spotted Pig, eat at Mary's Fish Camp, Blue Ribbon Sushi. I often end up coming to Double Crown with my friends.
If you could only have one cocktail for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I've got to say a gin gimlet. It's a classic for a good reason - it withstands the test of time and is a solid, good drink. Plymouth is the original gin to use for a gimlet. It's such a refreshing and tart drink.
Madam Geneva is sort of a lounge within Double Crown, named after a spirit, no less. Tell us a little about the name.
Madam Geneva was the slang name for gin. We have one of the most extensive gin lists in New York. We've got some saffron gin that nobody else has, the new Beefeater gin that's coming out, 24, and other obscure gins, cult gins - Distillary 209, the Old Thom, Whitley Niell.
Do you collaborate with the kitchen?
Yes, always. I think today the bar has to become a kitchen. It's all about freshness. It's good to work with the chefs, develop consistency with the menu, and Ryan [Butler], the pastry chef, who I work with a lot comes up with all of these great ideas and ingredients and we can play around with stuff. Definitely, the kitchen and the bar should always work together.
Do you find that your customers are educated enough about cocktails to ask for pairing suggestions?
Generally they are, but general rule of thumb for me is that for cocktails and pairings you want to make sure you have a lot of acid in your cocktails or you're going to just get clashing flavors. Generally drinks with a lot of lemon or lime juice are best paired with food.
Are there any liquors or bar ingredients you're using that are particularly hard to get or unique to your cocktail program?
The saffron gin, we used to get it sent from the UK - nobody else had that. Otherwise, things like gooseberries and rhubarb - both very English. We've tried to use a lot of ingredients from Asia, but they've been hard to incorporate into cocktails. We used to get mangosteen - it was too expensive to use and still be profitable.
What drink do you wish people would order more often?
People should really embrace gin and get into it.
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