Holiday gatherings call for dialing up your skills in the craft-cocktail realm. For insight on creating tasty concoctions with locally distilled spirits, we turn to The Parlor’s master mixologist, Joe Glashauser.
Winter’s first howling salvo lashes at the windows this month, ushering in the holiday cocktail season, and inside The Parlor, summer’s gin punches are long forgotten as the cocktail crowd turns to the caramel comforts of whiskey. Bar spoons click and spin as they stir amber drams with bitters and vermouth to make Manhattans and Ol’ Fashioneds (recipe here), welcome potions against the cold. Skewered cherries and chilled coupes suddenly freeze in mid-air as every head swivels to witness a fire on the bar.
The arsonist is Joe Glashauser, the Parlor’s head barman, his formidable Norse beard and fast smile illuminated behind a blue cone of flame as he torches wood chips perched over a glass of maple syrup–infused bourbon. This is step two in the making of a Smoke Stack, one of the bar’s flashy signature drinks. “Nothing beats winter like your own personal fire,” he jokes, capping the flames with a pint glass to give the cocktail a quick bout of smoke infusion.
(Get the Smokestack recipe here and check out this video to see how Joe makes it).
Formerly an aerospace machinist in the Motor City, Joe followed a girl north to Traverse City and then on to New York, where she studied at The Film Academy, and he refined his cocktail chops at The Garage, a historic jazz and martini spot in the West Village. Returning to Traverse City in 2014, Glashauser met with owner Rob Lindsay, and the two set out to refine a drink program that has made The Parlor a Traverse City go-to for craft-cocktailing.
Framed by towering shelves of spirits interspersed with housemade tinctures, infusions and experiments (yes, that is bacon floating in bourbon), Joe Glashauser turns to whiskey as the preferred canvas for his creations. “No two whiskeys are the same,” Joe says, surveying a score of amber bottles behind the bar. “Each style and bottling has its own personality, and when creating a new cocktail I consider an individual whiskey and build the other flavors around it.”
These other flavors might include amaro or absinthe or even wheat beer. Joe’s mindful, deliberate approach to mixology is symptomatic of the cocktail renaissance that started as a cornerstone of hipster-driven “craft culture” and has since spread far beyond the borders of Brooklyn and Wicker Park. “For me, it started with Amy Stewart’s book, The Drunken Botanist, which led to research on Prohibition-era cocktail recipes and bitters and sent me down the rabbit hole,” Joe says. He reveals this while measuring a shot of rye for a Horsecar, his take on the perfect Manhattan, wherein orange bitters along with the herbal influence of dry vermouth and the vanilla saffron sweetness of sweet vermouth bring new dimension to the peppery whiskey. “It’s not so much gin and tonics or jack and cokes anymore,” Joe reflects, “people are seeking out drinks with interesting and complex flavors.”
Flavor chemistry is the driving force behind any well-stirred whiskey cocktail, and each satisfactory sip belies an understanding of the base whiskey and the layers of auxiliary flavors that best harmonize with it. “Most classic whiskey cocktails are built around bourbon or rye,” Joe says, methodically stirring. “Bourbon is smoother and seemingly sweeter, with more obvious caramel and vanilla, while rye has more of a spicy bite and pepperiness. Flavors like orange, aromatic bitters or lavender play well with bourbon, and rye really likes lemon or citrusy aromatized wines like Lillet Blanc.”
Historically most of the bourbon and rye market was dominated with big Kentucky-based brands like Jim Beam or Dickel. Joe calls Kentucky the “god state of whiskey,” but an exploding demand for handcrafted, small-batch spirits has enabled a culture of micro-distillers making regionally distinct whiskeys, with four local distilleries in Traverse City alone. “The local stills are making some really high quality product,” Joe says, mixing Northern Latitudes Deer Camp Bourbon with Michigan maple syrup and tawny port for a Second Circle. “We continually develop new drinks to incorporate more local whiskeys into our program.”
Three drinks in, the martini shaker has yet to make an appearance. “Putting whiskey in a shaker is big no-no,” Joe says, testing the balance of his drink with a cocktail straw, “shakers will typically bruise and over-dilute whiskey. It’s always better to stir. When it comes to cocktails, technique and ingredients go hand in hand, so it pays to do a little homework.” Joe’s drink making is an active process and he constantly tastes and adjusts until he’s satisfied with proportions. Too many dashes of bitters can give the drink an astringent edge. Over-stirring will water down its flavor.
While whiskey cocktails typically reach their platonic ideals in the hands of skilled mixologists, there’s nothing more fun than practicing Manhattan mastery in the safety of one’s own home. “I’d encourage everyone to get comfortable with a few of the classics and then start experimenting,” Joe says, swirling bright green anise-scented absinthe to coat a lowball. If you like whiskey drinks, Manhattans and Ol’ Fashioneds are the gold standard, but for Joe, it’s all about the classic New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. Like blood in the snow, bright red Peychaud’s Creole Bitters splash over a stark white sugar cube before suffusing an amber splash of Civilized Rye, and the drink comes to life.
Bourbon-flushed and exiting The Parlor into a December blow, there’s warm comfort in Joe’s trove of whiskey cocktail recipes and the not-so-daunting task of drinking our way toward mastery.
The Well-Stocked Whiskey Cart
Bottles of brown liquor aside, there’s a requisite kit to smoke, swizzle and sip whiskey like a pro. The Parlor’s Joe Glashauser blueprints the perfect home bar cart with this handy checklist.
- 1 bar spoon
- 1 muddler
- 1 paring knife
- 1 citrus juicer
- 1 fine strainer
- 1 butane torch
- 2 Boston tins
- 2 pint glasses
- 4 lowball/ol’ fashioned glass
- 4 Collins glass
- 4 coupe
- 1 118 ml Angostura Bitters
- 1 148 ml Peychaud’s Creole Bitters
- 1 148 ml Regan’s Orange Bitters #6
- 1 750 ml Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- 1 750 ml Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
- Maraschino cherries
- Sugar cubes
- Simple syrup
- Wood chips
These whiskey craft-cocktail recipes are featured in the December 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy here!