For many bartenders, discovering that their true passion lies behind the stick can be a surprise. Several of the bartenders we’ve talked to say that while they first started working in a bar to pay the bills, it quickly became their passion.
Bill Anderson, the bartender at Vie, followed a similar path. He was working as a bar back at Sepia under then-bartender Josh Pearson, who started to teach him about making and creating cocktails.
He had a lot to learn—when he started, Anderson thought a cocktail was just a beer and a shot or a gin and tonic.
“I remember one night we were closing the bar and Josh made me a cocktail called The Last Word (gin, green chartreuse, maraschino liqueur and lime juice) to help familiarize me with what craft cocktails were,” Anderson explains. “It was the most scrumptious cocktail I have ever consumed.”
From that first sip, Anderson started on the path to his own bartending gig, when he took over the bar program at Vie more than a year ago. Anderson's cocktails incorporate the preserved fruits and vegetables that have become a signature for chef Paul Virant's restaurant. The result is well-balanced and food-friendly cocktails that make Vie a destination for drinkers in the Western Suburbs and beyond.
We sat down with Anderson to discuss his approach to Vie’s bar program and why he thought whipping up a mushroom cocktail was a good idea.
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What were your goals when you took over the bar program at Vie?
It is a long bar and it can be hard to manage a craft cocktail program with 14 seats at the bar and another 80 seats in the restaurant all having a multiple-course meal. So, it was really reigning in the space behind the bar so that it could help to achieve the level of service that the people in the dining room and the bar are expecting.
Also, it was to couple this seasonal approach that Paul has with his food and bring it to the bar. I'll try to incorporate his preserves into the cocktails and “screw with time” through the canning process that Paul is so eloquently versed in.
What's your approach to making cocktails?
It is really reactionary. As I was working on one of my cocktails, the cognac-based Turning See-Through, I thought something was missing; the viscosity wasn't quite right and it needed something in the mid-palate. I saw one of our line cooks canning smoked apple butter and I snagged a jar. I added a few barspoons to the shaker tin and it really came together. The apple butter gave it depth and texture that really woke it up.
Whenever I am making a drink I will throw in whatever I assume will work and then start to tweak it by taking things out, changing volumes, etc. If a bartender says that they never made something that was disgusting, then that’s a liar right there. If you don't make really disgusting beverages, how do you know you've made a really delicious one?
What's your cocktail-making style in in three words?
Amicable. Fast. Delicious.
Your cocktails have very creative names. How do you come up with them?
The name doesn’t have to be about the drink but is used in more of a conceptual way. Like the cocktail Faculties Inverter, made with Templeton Rye, Cointreau, Aperol, lemon and sage. As I was developing it, I served it to a couple people at the bar. Every single person... said that they could drink four of them, be obliterated and not notice that it happened. Well, that’s the inversion of your faculties. It’s a catchy name.
My sister and her boyfriend were staying with me recently. He’s a Brit and he said a colloquialism to me that was, “well, Bill, that isn’t quite cricket.” Everything in cricket means something and is predictable, from the colors of the buttons to how the laces are tied. So, we put a cocktail on the menu that is called Not Quite Cricket. The description of it being that it’s a unique dealer's choice.
What was a drink you thought would be a hit but didn't catch on?
Paul brought me some dried candy cap mushrooms that he hadn't found a use for in the kitchen. The thing about candy cap mushrooms is that they don't taste or smell like anything when they’re fresh. But, as soon as you pick them and let them sit and dry out, they will start to resonate with this maple syrup flavor and smell. I used it to make a tincture where I had it macerate in a grain alcohol for five to six days.
I then made a riff on a Negroni called And Your Momma Too that had Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Campari, Cherry Heering and some of the candy cap mushroom tincture. I thought it was delicious. It had a rich, velvety texture with a slight bitterness. The two-dozen people that had it really dug it, but it was the underutilized, unsung hero on the menu. I took it off the list not too long ago.
Complete this sentence:
Malört is… delicious with a nice cold beer.