In The Cocktail Workshop, Steve Erase and Adam Grasse start a journey to wipe out cocktail illiteracy in our lifetime. It is a noble cause. By: Dick Beach
Written by Staff on December 3, 2021
All images should be credited to:
Courtesy Running Press
The Cocktail Workshop
Photos are copyright @ 2021 by Quaker City Mercantile
Cover copyright @ 2021 by Hatchette Book Group, Inc/
RRX: Gentlemen, first, thank you very much. Much appreciated.
I’m speaking with Steve Erase and Adam Grasse about their new book, The Cocktail Workshop, which has a limited number of cocktails. It does some things that I think people will be interested in.
What was the inspiration?
SG: The inspiration was, I have a store in the Old City neighborhood of
Philadelphia. It’s called Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, named after the 1934 essay by Walter Benjamin. It’s a cocktail bar supply bottle store and a full bar. But it’s also what we call a cocktail workshop. We do tons of private classes and workshops for people to learn how to make cocktails.
We’re trying to wipe out cocktail illiteracy in our lifetime. That was the inspiration.
I teamed up with Adam because he’s such a wonderful writer, articulate, and was a great collaborator on this book with me. Adam, take it away.
AE: Thanks, Steve. I’ll try to live up to that reputation while we’re
doing this. I think one of our guiding stars for putting The Cocktail Workshop together was a cookbook by Mark Bittman called How to Cook Everything, I believe is the title of it.
That’s how we started on 20 classic cocktails. Drinks like martini, margarita, the Manhattan, the daiquiri. Really straightforward, essential drinks that you should know how to make. Once you’ve mastered how to make these basics, what can you do in terms of swaps, substitutions, homemade ingredients that just really help change up these essential cocktails.
RRX: Steve, you’ve been involved in many brands. Adam, you have written about all of this stuff. Have you guys known each other for a very long time, so this happened organically?
SG: Philly’s a small town. It’s a big city; it is actually a small town.
Anyone doing anything creative or interesting tends to eventually meet and know each other. We actually met through our literary agent. But I think we all moved in the same circles. Adam, I didn’t know you, but you knew everyone that we knew. It was destiny. Am I right?
AE: Yeah, I think that’s totally correct. Philly has such a small town
mentality and everybody really does know everyone. Or it’s like one degree out, particularly in the restaurant and food and drink space. Steve and I were connected by our agent – we share an agent. Yeah, it was a great setup.
SG: And he still chose to work with me. That’s the amazing part.
RRX: Even after all the stuff you heard about him.
AE: Exactly. It was just a really good opportunity and a relationship
that I think has real long legs and lots of stuff to come in the future.
RRX: Getting back specifically to the book, there is a credit here forecipes by Lee Noble. Is Lee someone you both know?
SG: Lee is my head liquid and mixology specialist who works here at Quaker City. He is a genius with recipes.
RRX: You show us how to make a cocktail, then, you’ve got one, two, three additional gimlets, and then a workshop on making stuff for the gimlet. That’s seriously breaking it down.
SG: The whole approach was to have each chapter a suite of four
cocktails. The classic and then the three levels of increasing complexity. In some of the chapters, we even have a fifth cocktail ’cause some of the workshops contain their own ingredient recipe
RRX: What would your pitch to a bar owner be to say here’s a way for you not only to be better at what you do, but also here’s a way because, let’s face it, at the end of the day, a bar has to make money. How can this assist someone in the business as opposed to the homeowner?
SG: I will let Adam answer that.
AE: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. When you think about who this book is for, it’s really for people across the spectrum of skill levels. There’s a saying in the beginning of this book, if you know nothing about cocktails at all, and you’re just starting out, this book is gonna show you how to create a base foundation.
Conversely, if you are a fairly capable bartender, whether that’s at home or out at a bar in the industry, this is gonna show you some really cool and interesting tricks and skills and techniques.
SG: But I also think it would then, as a bar owner, if you can do your own riff on the gimlet, you can charge more for it. Kinda feels like it’s customized or it feels like it’s curated. We walk you through in a very step-by-step way. We worked really hard on that.
A mixologist is where you can up your game and people will be willing to pay for the fancy $17 cocktail.
RRX: Outside the recipes and the confidence to do the cocktails, do you have
advice, or at least what I would call history, on how to actually curate yourself a really great cocktail party?
SG: Ooh, I sense Cocktail Workshop II.
RRX: Love it.
SG: I’ll let Adam answer that. I feel like that’s the next step, isn’t it, is once
you’ve mastered the cocktails, now you’ve got to throw the party. That’s not in this book, but it should be.
RRX: What are the ingredients to the cocktail party outside the cocktails?
AE: I would say food, certainly. Especially like picky things that can be out at
room temperature. Things that you can assemble in advance. Things that really lend themselves well to cocktails, whether we’re talking about marinated olives and big marinated beans, and seafood.
Music is also really important. I go to a playlist, which I think I shouted out in the book as part of the book, I love this playlist on Spotify called Kitchen Swagger. It’s like ’90s R&B, disco funk-type stuff. It’s really easy and chill, and a little lively. It’s the perfect background for a cocktail party.
We’ve been gifted a lot of things that are related to alcohol. It seems to be
an endless well of fantastic content. Where are you guys headed next with this? Do you have a plan for another book?
SG: Me and Adam actually have another book with Running Press coming out
that we’re working on together. It’s about my distillery in New Hampshire. The working title is White Mountain Cocktails, but it’s about the kind of stuff you drink when you go camping. You can talk about it more, Adam.
AE: Yeah, for sure. Steve had the inspiration for that. It’s wild drinks for wild
places. Whether that’s the White Mountains, which is where Tamworth is based and is our spiritual home for the book, and the stand-in for any wild place you might go to anywhere in the country, when you want to be outside camping, or boating around on a lake, or you’re renting a cute cozy cabin.
One example is a version of the dark and stormy we have, which is the bark and stormy. It’s made with birch syrup. Birch trees can be tapped.
RRX: Oh yeah, absolutely.
I end these interviews in an odd way. This isn’t necessarily related to the book, so I will ask this question and ask each of you to respond. In my world, people have things to say.
So, if each of you has a comment about something that you would like to say about your philosophy on something, whether it’s cocktail related or not is irrelevant, I’d like to hear what you would like to say to the rest of the world about how you see things.
SG: I’m gonna let Adam go first on that one.
AE: Wow. I will keep it in the scope of the industry. When I was first starting
out writing – this is early 2000s – I was tending bar. I tended bar for, I would say, probably the first five, seven years of when I was starting as a freelancer.
What I would like to say is that bartending is a great job. But it’s also a really
difficult job. I just want to say, treat the bartenders really well and tip them heavily, if you can. Don’t be a dick because bartenders and servers in general, especially now – and I hate that phrase now more than ever – people who are working the front of the house, whether it’s bartenders or servers, really need your kindness and respect. And your money.
SG: That’s great. Hear, hear. Cheers!
My turn. Well, I would say in this age of division and everyone hating each other, the one thing that we can all agree on is cocktails. What I mean by that is what I love about this category, and what attracts me to it, and why I think I’m good at it is I like to story-tell
I keep harping on about cocktail literacy. What I mean by that is it’s just such a fun thing to learn and be well-read and adept at. If you master these things, it makes you a more interesting person and it gets you off the hook. When you’re at a cocktail party or at a family dinner, or whatever, you don’t have to talk about politics or anything except good stories and good spirits. There you go.
RRX: Gentlemen, thank you. As I put it, thus endeth the interview.