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One of L.A.’s best bartenders wants to help you drink clean—or ditch booze entirely

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

Maybe you’ve sworn off booze after one too many margaritas, soju shots, tallboys, mescal flights, wine tastings or can release parties. Or maybe you’re looking to add something healthy to your drinking regimen—you know, to mentally excuse the onslaught of alcohol your liver’s about to process. Maybe you never drink, and you’re simply looking for something sans booze that’s made with all the care that cocktails tend to receive. Whatever your sipping situation, Gabriella Mlynarczyk is here to help.

An industry vet with more than 20 years of experience, Mlynarczyk’s seen the ins and outs of some of the world’s best bars in London, New York and here in Los Angeles, currently heading up the program at Accomplice—recipient of Time Out L.A.’s 2018 Bar of the Year award. She’s recently added “author” to her list of accomplishments, and her new book, Clean + Dirty Drinking, includes both a boozy and non-alcoholic version of every recipe, plus handy guides to healthy ingredients and how to stock your bar. We caught up with Mlynarczyk to learn just where we can snag some of the best cocktail ingredients in town, how healthful “healthy” cocktails really are, and how we can get our drinks to look and taste as great as hers.

Photograph: Courtesy Gabriella Mlynarczyk

Are “healthy” cocktails the most L.A. concept, or are you seeing them elsewhere?

You know, I’ve started to see some of it kind of popping up in New York, but it’s definitely an L.A. and California-centric theme. I worked in New York for a long time, too, and originally, classic cocktails were the be all and end all. I think they’ve started to realize you need to have a little bit of a mixture so it’s not just about strict, classic versions of cocktail making. I think New Yorkers tend to be a bit stubborn in their vision of what they want, and I think it’s good that they’ve opened up their perspective and have drinks popping up on menus that are a little bit different.

You love to incorporate at least one healthful ingredient in all of your drinks, but does the addition of something like kale or turmeric really offset any of the harm from the alcohol, biologically, or is it purely for peace of mind?

I’m not sure if it really does offset some of the harmful effects of alcohol, but I think—for my own peace of mind—I want to know that whatever I’m putting in my body has something that’s good for me. The hope is that it does offset some of it, but I don’t know. I would need to do a real study with a chemist or a doctor to give a more informed answer.

But you do have a fairly comprehensive section on the health benefits of some of your ingredients, such as English peas. It feels like the book is part recipes, part lifestyle guide, without forcing “no drinking” down the reader’s throat.

Yeah, I want to give people options, because I think there haven’t been that many options for people who wanted to go low ABV or no ABV. There are options in there, and obviously you can use different ingredients than the ones listed, to make your own versions. It doesn’t have to be peas, it could just be nasturtiums, if you want—whatever you can get your hands on. I’m just trying to put together building blocks so people can go ahead and start playing around. You get cocktail books so often and they’ve got this very rigid recipes, and you can try something and do it five times and then it’s like, “Now what?”

You have a lot of options in there, including urban foraging. What are a few of your favorite L.A. spots to pick up some botanical or underutilized ingredients?

Temescal Canyon, usually in the spring, is great to go and just raid. [It’s got] all sorts of things, especially nasturtium—just a plethora. Just go on a hike up there. I actually don’t do a ton of picking, myself, because I hate bugs, so usually I get a lot of my botanicals through the farmers’ market.

And I could camp in Mitsuwa. They’re just so polite; I’ll usually stand in an aisle for an hour, just asking store attendants about ingredients because all of the packaging is in Japanese. I love Japanese food in general—the flavors are so inspiring, so I go to Mitsuwa and kind of rummage around in all those shelves and also in the produce department. Also Samosa House: They have a lot of English ingredients they import, but they’ve also got a lot of amazing products from India, too. We get our mango purée from there.

Photographs: Courtesy Chronicle Books/Grant Cornett

 Left: rose geranium and rhubarb "Pimm’s"; Right: avocado and cilantro with tequila

You also detail spirits a home bar should stock; what are a few products you’ve discovered and loved recently?

Oh there’s so much. There are so many ingredients that keep getting added to the market. There’s one I’m staring at right now, Edinburgh Gin: They create amazing gin, but they also do a rhubarb and ginger liqueur that’s beautiful; an ounce of that topped with prosecco is mind-blowing. ITALICUS is fairly new and we’ve got that in some stuff in Accomplice right now, like the Stable Genius [cocktail]. Bobby’s is a gin from the Netherlands, and uses a lot of Indonesian ingredients to infuse it, rather than the regular gin botanicals. And Nikka Coffey Gin—I would bathe in it if I could.

You’ve written an extensive guide to bar tools everyone should own, but if you could recommend just one item, which would it be?

A really good strainer. If you get a regular Hawthorne strainer, the coils are really loose, so you need to have a CoCo strainer, which is like a mini sieve—and then you have to do the double strain thing. But if you get something like a Koriko strainer that’s got really tightly-wound coils, it actually prevents a lot of stuff from going into the glass. I think people just use whatever they find or comes with a set, but if you invest in really good tools, it makes a difference.

Every recipe in here features an alcoholic version as well as a non-alcoholic take, including a number of detailed swaps, not just “remove alcohol.” How long did this book take, considering you had to recipe test two formats for each drink?

They’re drinks that I’ve been tinkering with for the last two years, and usually when I start making a cocktail, I’ll actually make a non-alcoholic version first; I like to start with base ingredients before I add any alcohol to it. I think it was just making sure that all of the pieces [of the book] fit together that took a lot longer than I anticipated.

Accomplice makes some of the most visually arresting drinks in the city. What's one thing people can do to take their aesthetics game to the next level?

I think being really pedantic about the way your garnish looks is really the one thing that will up their game. Making sure that your mint is fresh-popped from the ground is important; make sure it’s voluptuous and green and perky and beautiful. Just being pedantic about perfection, like a lemon twist in a martini—it’s the simplest thing: Make sure the edges are nice and straight, even take a pair of pinking shears and give it a nice zig-zag edge. Just make sure those garnishes are perfection.

Clean + Dirty Drinking is out now, available locally at Accomplice, Now Serving and The Last Bookstore, among others, and online through Chronicle Books and Amazon.

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