Alice and I are big fans of traveling and exploring the world — you can’t always drink at home. It is good to go out and make new friends, try new drinks, eat amazing food and see what adventures the world holds. One of those new friends we made was Alberto, the Mixologist and Bar Manager at the S.Y. Kitchen and I tell you what, he knows his cocktails.
We had the chance to sit down with him, chat about his cocktails, the philosophy that he employs when putting together a drink and find out a little bit about what makes him tick.
The first thing you’ll notice about Alberto: he’s Italian. It’s not in that way that Mario is Italian, i.e. stereotypically; but he’s Italian in the amazingly engaging and charming way.
When you’re chatting, he has a way of making you feel like you’re the center of everything — a skill I’m sure he picked up while working in various countries, cities and locations throughout the world (such as spots in Mexico, LA and London).
If you get the chance to meet him at the S.Y. Kitchen, the second thing you’ll notice is the fantastic array of jars and elixirs he has setup behind the bar. “We source as much as we can locally and make as much as can in-house,” he proudly told us.
That local first ethos works especially well in a location like Santa Ynez, where you’ll find farms and wineries in abundance down every street. In fact, he commented, “We get everything except the pineapple locally.” Which makes sense, California isn’t a hotbed of pineapple production.
While all of this did impress us (knowing where your food and drink comes from is important after all), we were there to try some cocktails. When I asked him to make a cocktail, with the simple direction of, “Just make something that’s speaking to you currently,” he whipped up a Fig Daiquiri.
True to form, he prepared the figs in front of us, went through all of the ingredients as he made the drink, talked us through why he removed the skins on some figs, left some on, the delicate art of properly muddling, the thought behind how much ice he used — he left absolutely nothing to chance. Including, but not limited to, when he garnished the cocktail with a fig that he then brûléed, “So you can get a total sensory experience.”
With as much thought and care that went into the final drink, it didn’t surprise either of us that it was damn good. Citrusy, refreshing, lightly figged — it was an ideal cocktail for a warm August afternoon.
Then, as if to top himself, he wanted to show us something extra special. Making a tasty cocktail with ripe figs, freshly squeezed lime juice, pineapple puree and gin isn’t the most challenging thing in the world — don’t get me wrong, it can go very wrong, which it didn’t, but you’re working with exceedingly tasty flavors to start.
He then whipped up a mezcal cocktail, which had his favored pineapple puree in it and parsley (!).
Yup, there was parsley in the cocktail.
Oh, and the garnish on that one? Smoked sea salt with a small leaf of parsley.
As if making a cocktail with mezcal and parsley that tasted fantastic wasn’t enough of a trick, when he added the smoked salt, he only did it on half of the drink. “This way,” he explained, “you can try it with it and without. Then, if you like it, you can drink from the side that has the salt and if you don’t, drink from the other side.”
As someone who always takes his Margarita without salt, I fully expected to favor the side sans the salt. I was, however, shocked at how the smoky, salty flavor really complimented both the mezcal and parsley flavors that were in the cocktail.
We like to think of ourselves as cocktail evangelists spreading the good word about tasty drinks whenever we can. Part of that is hoping to enlighten people to consider about what goes into your drink (more booze doesn’t always mean better) and why to add what is in there. Also worth thinking about is seasonality, drinking a Hot Toddy in the middle of summer doesn’t always work and while I’m a fan of the Peno Blast, when it’s cold out, that’s not really what I’m feeling.
The next time you’re in Santa Ynez and you’re looking for a tasty cocktail, swing by the S.Y. Kitchen, seat yourself at the bar and tell Alberto we sent you. You’ll be in for an amazing drink that’s super local, hyper seasonal and, above all, tasty.