Shaking, the foundation
Lessons on crafting perfect cocktails from The Revolving Door’s ace bartender
Jason Kindness developed a pun-filled cocktail menu so intriguing that customers seated at the bar at The Revolving Door in Newport couldn’t help but ask him questions. But what’s a friendly bartender to do when it’s so busy he can’t answer all the inquiries about the “50 Shades of Earl,” made with Thomas Tew rum, smoked Earl Grey tea, wintergreen bitters, and honey, or the bestseller “Malt Whitman,” with bourbon, black walnut bitters, cherry brandy, and maple syrup?
Kindness wants people to ask questions and learn about mixology. So he has developed mixology 101 classes where the curious can learn how to make their own craft cocktails.
“I think a major problem in the craft cocktail scene nowadays is there’s a pretentious vibe that makes people nervous about stepping up to a bar and asking, ‘Hey, what is that? Orgeat?’” said Kindness, The Revolving Door’s beverage director, correctly pronouncing “or-zhat,” the almond-based syrup among the ingredients in the “DeWolf of Thames Street” (along with aged rum, coconut, mint, miso and citrus.) “We really focus on hospitality and being an approachable venue for people to come and explore the world of cocktails.”
So while the kids celebrate summer, class is in session every other Saturday afternoon at The Revolving Door. The lower Thames Street restaurant and bar takes its name from its visiting chef concept: Every two to four weeks, a different chef presides over the kitchen with guest chef Michael Summers from Louisiana taking over for June. Playing off Summers’ Creole influenced menu, Kindness created cocktails such as the “Hurricane of ’38” (Thomas Tew rum from Newport gets a kicks with passion fruit, cayenne, curry and citrus) and the popular “Bee Arthur” (gin is harmoniously sweetened with citrus and Louisiana caramelized honey infused with lavender, hibiscus liqueur and citrus).
Kindness gives his students ample time to ask how and why he does what he does with such seemingly odd pairings (curry? miso? lavender-infused-what?) while they eat lunch, learn, mix and taste. All the while, Kindness offers secrets garnered from 15 years of bartending experience. Students head home with a new set of bartending tools, fully equipped to impress friends with their own signature cocktails.
I met Kindness for a one-on-one tutoring session on a recent afternoon. I sat at the bar like a teacher’s pet, taking meticulous notes as he introduced the spirits and our tool kit — a metal Boston shaker, a Hawthorne strainer and a long, skinny bar spoon. (Tip: Stir drinks that want a less intense rendezvous with the ice to invite a chill but limit dilution.)
The flavor profile of my perfect summertime drink would probably be gin, not too sweet, I told Kindness. Maybe with something savory?
“I have a great idea,” he replied. “The first craft cocktail that I really mastered was the Basil Gimlet, which is a gin cocktail. Beautiful, very approachable, well-balanced cocktail. Very easy to make.” (Kindness put his own spin on it while working at the Boat House in Tiverton, where he got his start crafting cocktails in Rhode Island six years ago.)
He grabbed a paper bag out of the fridge and pulled a few of the brightest sprigs of basil out of the bag — a storage trick to keep them fresher, longer — and placed them in my hand. I tossed them into a shaker. Next we added three ounces of Ford’s Gin, created by former bartender Simon Ford who wanted to make a cost-effective gin for mixing that didn’t slack in quality.
Aim for precision, Kindness said. With more powerful flavors, even a splash can make a difference. So I carefully filled the two-ounce side of the jigger (a metal double-sided measurer with a one-ounce cup on one side and a two-ounce on the other) with gin and poured it into the shaker. I then started pouring gin into the two-ounce side again. That’s when Kindness kindly reminded me to only fill halfway, as I only needed one more ounce of spirit. There goes accuracy! I should’ve flipped the jigger over and used the one-ounce side instead. A heavy hand is perfect if your goal is to get sloshed, but if you’re striving for a specific taste, avoid doing what I just did.
We’re going to take three-quarters of an ounce of fresh citrus mix, he said and pointed to the pre-made mix, then paused me to correct my grip. Holding the container near the spout rather than around the body allows for more control and greater accuracy.
“Since we have our citrus element … we need a little bit of a sweetening element,” he said, noting there’s already a little bit of sugar in the Revolving Door’s housemade mix. We could use a bit of simple syrup. But Kindness had a better idea: “We can use our honey that’s infused with lavender instead.”
I poured a little less than a half-ounce of the syrup Kindness made for the “Bee Arthur” using the local honey that Chef Summers brought with him from Louisiana. (Tip: Honey may stick to the jigger and not mix well once it gets cold and hardens, so it’s best to create a syrup, something Kindness will teach in his Mixology 202 classes launching in July).
We added a big scoop of ice to the shaker and a scoop to chill the martini glass. Kindness added soda water to the glass to agitate the ice a bit more. Then it was time to shake.
Smack that ice
Following instructions, I put the top on the shaker and gave it a quick smack to make sure it was tightly sealed.
“Now you’ll want to get as many answers out of that basil as possible. He’s holding all these secrets and we want to know them all, so in order to do that, we’re going to whip this [shaker] back and forth,” Kindness said, modeling the shaker dance he has down, a groove that looks like he’s practiced in the mirror more than a few times (but swears he hasn’t).
I laughed as I moved the shaker up and down over my shoulder in a frenzy.
With an encouraging smile, Kindness said you really want to smack the ice from one end to the other. I tried to emulate his groove but looked less like a suave salsa dancer shaking maracas and more like the shaker was struck by lightening and I was quivering frantically in response, electricity pulsing through my limbs, sweat beading on my forehead. Kindness let me feel cool with him behind the bar, even saving me from embarrassment when I struggled to open my icy cold shaker. He showed me the sweet spot to hit with the heel of my hand, and voila, the top easily slid off.
Using the Hawthorne strainer and a sieve, we double strained the concoction into the chilled glass, leaving behind the lavender buds and herbs. (Tip: Double strain whenever you muddle berries or herbs to keep floaters out of your drink and avoid the embarrassment of bright things in your teeth.) We steal a quick taste, and satisfied with the perfect, palate-cleansing balance of floral and herbaceous notes, we garnish the cocktail with a basil leaf.
I take another sip and smile. Nerves settled not by the liquor but by how much fun I had shaking it up behind the bar. That’s the thing about Kindness, he lives up to his name.