October Bartender of the Month: Russell Davis
Name: Russell Davis
Establishment Name: Rickhouse in San Francisco
Recent Gigs: After nine years of bartending, including working in college bars, hip-hop nightclubs, country-western bars and trendy speakeasies, Davis was motivated to continue on his cocktail journey out West. However, before Davis moved to San Francisco to work at his current position as bartender at Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse, he honed his craft in Austin, Texas, working as head bartender at Carlos'n Charlie's Restaurant on Lake Travis and taking on the role of bar manager at Péché in Austin.
What’s in the Shaker: “As far as spirits go, I am really liking a few craft brands that I continuously see myself picking up and using. Diplomático rum is my go-to rum for a daiquiri, and it's life-changing. WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is another favorite spirit of mine to use, especially in classic rye drinks like Sazeracs. Ransom Gin is an awesome one that I keep going for. Dulce Vida Organic Tequila is one that you should start seeing pop up in the next couple of years as well and one that I love. I use Dumante Verdenoce Italian Pistachio Nut Liqueur for my sweet tooth. Also, I love what’s happening with Irish whiskey, especially what’s coming out of the Cooley Distillery.
As far as techniques are concerned, I've been experimenting with creating room-temperature cocktails. After looking into the history of ice production and use, I feel like there are some classic cocktails that may have been originally made without the use of ice. It also seems to very much change the feel of the drink. Take an Old Fashioned, for example. Next time you make a classic Old Fashioned, omit the ice and add a half ounce of room temperature water for dilution purposes, and you will feel like you have discovered a totally different drink. Nitrogen cavitation (using nitrogen pressure in a cream canister to instantly infuse ingredients) is another technique I'm playing with. I've been getting small rods of American oak and charring it to replicate the inside of a barrel. I put that into my canister combined with a built cocktail (like a Martinez) and infuse them together. It's almost like I'm trying to do an instant barrel-age cocktail, but I'm still working out some of the kinks; age does impart a flavor that you just can't replicate.”
What You’re Sipping & Why: “Green Chartreuse. I love it. I have been pairing it with a simple root beer, but it has to be a good root beer. It’s not to cancel the flavor out, I just find that the root beer is very complementary to the Green Chartreuse, and all of the flavors that are in root beer seem to naturally be in Chartreuse. Just try it. You can also find me drinking mezcal lately, as well. It’s like the wild man's scotch.”
What You are Dancing to While Mixing: “My customers catch me singing to myself all of the time. Someone once Yelp-ed me as the bartender who was singing 'Everyday I'm Hustlin'' [by Rick Ross] to myself under my breath. I always have music going on in my head, and it really helps my groove when I'm bartending. Watching a good bartender move is like watching a well-trained dancer. I know it’s cheesy, but '80s rock and roll always gets me going. I've met tons of famous people and am never phased by it, but if Bon Jovi ever walked into my bar, I would freak out, and I have no problem admitting it.”
Quirks & Quotable: "The bartender is the aristocrat of the working class, he can make all sorts of moves if he is smart." — Douglas Coughlan
“Always remember to have fun and take things seriously but not too seriously. This industry will chew you up and spit you out if you do not find the proper balance. Have a life outside the bar and don't compromise yourself. Once it quits being fun, it's time for a change.”