Blacktail part 2

Not your random drinks - Blacktail part 2

19 Feb. 2018
Now that you know quite a bit about the concept behind BlackTail at Pier A, it’s time to discover the drinks, don’t you think?

In part 2 of our feature on the new Cuban-flavoured project from the good people behind the Dead Rabbit, Bar Manager Jillian Vose tells us about the philosophy behind the drinks.
But first…
...a little bit more about the menu. Sean told us about the exciting story it tells (an Irishman’s trip to Cuba to meet another Irishman). Visually, it’s also a stunner. Each double page features fantastic artwork and a chapter of the story – with titles (‘The day begins at the Sevilla’ or ‘Where everyone is drinking and not a soul is drunk!’) borrowed from Basil Woon’s ‘When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba’. Realistic at the beginning, the paintings get more surreal as the hero drinks his way trough Havana.
Not your random drinks
“I worked on the drinks with Jack McGarry and Jesse Vida, who’s going to be our head bartender. We’ve divided the 40 drinks in five different categories: highball, punch, sour, old-fashioned and cocktail”, explains Jillian. And although ingredients are listed, “they have more ingredients than it says. Our Southside and Mojito, for example, list mint, but what we’re really using is a Malawi mint tea infusion and a mint syrup”. Since BlackTail is such a big place, the team hopes clients will order a lot of higballs – meant to be, after all, one of the big trends. “They’re not just random highballs, though. Our Rum & Cola, it’s cola cane syrup, bitters, Fernet Branca, rum and champagne stirred together”. It’s a rum & cola, but it’s not your typical rum & coke.
No purists
At BlackTail, the name of the drink is “a basic statement, we’re using the classic drink as a template. I’m not such a purist. We’ve evolved from that. Make the drinks taste good is the bottom line”. That goes for all the cocktails. The Nacional, for instance, has banana and yuzu. “It’s as close to a Nacional as we can, but with different kinds of sweeteners and bitters and modifiers. In our El Presidente, we’re incorporating ancho chile and mezcal and sweet vermouth. We really looked at the classics and asked ourselves ‘how can we make them as good as can be?’”
The Daiquiri, three-way
Constante Ribalaigua had four then five Daiquiris at Floridita. At BlackTail, they’ll start with four: the classic, the de Luxe (with Banana), the Havana Beach (pineapple) and the Strawberry Daiquiri. “The Daiquiri is the quintessential cocktail, right? We wanted to make drinks that people might find kind of funny, and make certain flavours perfect. I honestly think those are going to be some of our most popular drinks because when you see the colour, when you see the froth on top of the glass, people will ask what is that and you’ll tell them it’s a strawberry daiquiri and they will go ‘wow’”.
Beyond rum
Cuban bartending was not only about rum, and BlackTail will also offer different options. “It’s not only Cuban cocktails. It’s classic cocktails in general within that timeframe. It’s important that a menu has a balance of flavours, something for everybody. Rum in general is about 45 to 50% of the menu”. Some of the drinks we’ve been told about include reinterpretations of the Champs-Elysées, the Alaska or the Alexander.
Real Cuban spirit?
We had to leave the toughest question for last: a Cuban bar in New York, but what about Cuban rum? “As you know, we can’t get Cuban rum in the States. So what we did is pick up four rums that have Cuban characteristics and blend them together. Our house blend is our interpretation of Cuban rums”. Until, we hope, the embargo is lifted. In the meantime, we get the sensation that, as is the case in many US bars, if you ask kindly, a bottle of Havana Club might just be found in one of the cabinets. Just don’t tell anybody…

François Monti