Episode 025 - Chef Driven Cocktails

Matt Finarelli.jpg

What’s shakin, cocktail fans.

Welcome back to another episode of the Modern Bar Cart Podcast. I’m your host, Eric Kozlik, and today, I’ve got a great interview for you with a friend of mine, Chef Matt Finarelli.

See, one of the things that cocktails and great food have in common, especially in the home environment, is that they so often use the same flavors, ingredients, and techniques. So it makes sense that we should talk to a pro in the food industry to see what insights we can gain into our home home bartending projects.

Some of the things we discuss in this episode include:

  • How a boy raised in a traditional Italian-American household would later apply his technical cooking skills to mastering whimsical Thai flavors.
  • The essential techniques that every home bartender should work on when starting their journey into mixology.
  • Similarities between jazz musicians and expert chefs and bartenders
  • And, importantly, what drink to order when an Alaskan meteorologist is tending bar.

All this, plus a live cooking and cocktail demo mid-show where Chef Matt shows us how he balances flavors on the stove and in the glass.

Featured Cocktail - The Gin & Tonic

Today’s featured cocktail is an old favorite--the gin and tonic. And the reason I want to focus on this drink is because later in this episode, Chef Matt tells the story of how he learned to make the world’s best G&T.

Don’t worry--I’m not gonna to spoil that particular secret this early on--you’ve gotta work for it. So instead, I’m going to focus on some of the things you can do at home to kind of “jazz up” your standard gin and tonic.

Like so many classic cocktails, the beauty of this drink is in its simplicity: a clear spirit, tonic water, and a squeeze of lime. And so when you’re looking to put a new spin on something with so few moving parts, you need to get creative.

Change Up Your Gin

The first thing you can do is, obviously, mix and match your gin. Try something that’s not Beefeater, or Tanqueray, or Gordon’s. Not to say those aren’t amazing options, but what about something local? What about something less dry and more floral?

And, if you wanna go completely off the deep end, swap in a barrel-aged gin, just to see what happens.

Try Better Tonic

Yeah, the store brand, or Canada Dry make fine options, but what about something a bit more premium? Fever Tree and Q-Tonic are pretty widely available steps up from the stuff that usually comes in a plastic bottle.

Betray Your Lime

And what about citrus? Is there an angry god waiting to smite you down if you opt for grapefruit or lemon instead of lime? Probably not. Yes, you’ll draw fire from a few purists, but who cares? This is your show.

Up The Garnish Game

Finally, and I think this is where a lot of folks take the opportunity to get truly creative--think about garnishes and the method of service. What kind of glass are you drinking from? How much ice is there? What would a nice fresh sprig of mint, or basil, or cilantro do for the flavor profile? How could it spice up the visual presentation?

These are a few great places to start when you’re in the market for a new spin on the Gin & Tonic, but if you’ve got some other ideas, feel free to shoot us and email, or tag us on Facebook or Instagram so you can strut your stuff.

Lightning Round Questions

Favorite Cocktail

The Negroni

Favorite Spirit


Cocktail with Anyone, Past or Present

Ernest Hemingway

Influential Books/Movies

Big Night

Advice for New Home Bartenders

Make sure you have a few basic cocktail tools to get started - a shaker, a muddler, and a bar spoon - and then pick up the rest along the way. Don't spend a lot of money, just let your bar and your bar equipment grow and evolve alongside your own skillset.