Measure for MeasureFebruary 8, 2011 By: Kelly Magyarics Night Club and Bar Magazine
Precision Cocktailing Makes for Seriously Delicious Drinks at The Franklin
Free pour, or be sure. Bar professionals behind the stick face that decision every time they mix a cocktail. While some consider certain drinks more forgiving if ratios are a tad off (a little more or less sweet vermouth in a Manhattan isn’t going to matter that much) and see other drinks requiring precision, for fear that the drink will be off-balanced or overwhelmed by individual flavors, some barkeeps opt for ultra-exact measurement.
“Our main thing is that we take our drinks seriously,” declares Al Sotack, bar manager of The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company in Philadelphia. “Our measurements get as small and precise as any bar in the world.”
Indeed, the Rittenhouse Square-neighborhood classic cocktail den, named for gangster Max “Boo Boo” Hoff’s Prohibition-era bootlegging operation nearby, is a Mecca for precision. A while back, staff discovered that what comes out of a so-called “standard” dasher with an orifice reducer (the official term for that small-holed plastic cap that prevents liquid from flowing out) can have a wild deviation with each pour.
Rather than shake and hope for the best, Sotack and head bartender Colin Shearn use bar spoons that measure down to the half-teaspoon, and turn to über-accurate Japanese bottles, as well. Three to four dashes out of these equals one average dash out of a bottle of Angostura Bitters, notes Sotack.
Strong components like Angostura, Peychaud’s, orange and celery bitters, as well as Absinthe, are best measured with the Japanese dashers, according to the practitioners at The Franklin. But lest they be seen as esoteric or persnickety, staff also employs classic dashers when appropriate. And bartenders shake 11 well-made, commercial bitters rather than tackle batches of what they call “ego-stroking” house-made varieties — they especially extol The Bitter Truth’s depth of flavor and consistent pour.
The drinks menu is ambitious and changes about every three months, though not particularly seasonally. Shearn says The Franklin creates its own reality: patrons can get a perfectly made refreshing Daiquiri in winter, or a peaty Scotch cocktail in summer. About 40 cocktails are broken down into six user-friendly categories including “Required Reading (classic concoctions) and “Easy Going” (approachable sips), rather than by base spirit, which was tried for a time but was found to ultimately discourage experimentation. “By grouping the drinks around a shared flavor profile, aesthetic, family or technique we can guide people to drinks they might have otherwise dismissed based on spirit or flavor preference,” explains Shearn. For simplicity, most libations are $12.
The Six-Inch Gold Blade cocktail on the “I Asked Her For Water She Gave Me Gasoline” section towards the end of the menu (where the most potent potables linger), mixes Jamaican rum, Amaro, Campari and Punt e Mes, Islay Scotch, and Angostura and mole bitters. Smoky, earthy, bitter and staggeringly complex, the drink evolves minute-by-minute, sip-by-sip. Blues Explosion’s blend of Tennessee Whiskey, grapefruit, maple and bitters served on one large hand-carved rock is a study in balance, though Shearn rather prefers the term “direction.” “You can balance a drink to the point of bland,” he says.
The serious attention paid to measurement is joined by another unwavering philosophy: the venue does not serve vodka. “Vodka is boring, and has no place in cocktails,” asserts Shearn. It also doesn’t jive with the pre-Prohibition liquid authenticity the bar strives to maintain. (Neither does tequila, staff point out, which does factor on the list.) But the vodka boycott is designed to get guests thinking outside the box, and bartenders are more than happy to educate and assist. Their job is simple: “The right drink, at the right moment, for the right person.” And that’s service beyond measure. NCB