Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming up next! We sat down with Stephen Berry, manager of the bar program at Sacramento’s Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, to chat about his work and his cocktail for March’s Kiss Me, I’m Whiskey Box, the Tea & Honey!
S&S: What’s your specialty?
SB: I’d have to say tiki. Although anything whiskey related gets me excited. Tiki just appeals to my creative side. It really bugs me when people say it’s a fad. When you use fresh ingredients and quality spirits, it’s the ultimate craft cocktail. Plus, the possibilities for garnishes are endless. You can do some really over-the-top things. I guess tiki just gives me a larger palate to play with, so I find it to be the most intriguing.
S&S: Too true! Tiki garnishes are so fun and can get really crazy. And how would you say your recent sommelier training has influenced your cocktail-making?
SB: Tasting is important for a sommelier. So I think recognizing the subtle differences in the flavor profiles of different wines and describing those differences helps train my palate, and I think ultimately helps make me more aware when making and creating cocktails.
S&S: How would you describe the craft cocktail scene in Sacramento?
SB: It’s fantastic! Sacramento is smack-dab in the middle of 1.5 million acres of farms and ranches that grow more than 120 crops for markets here and abroad. We have truly become America’s farm-to-fork—and farm-to-glass—capital, taking the freshest ingredients, grown literally down the street, and putting them directly into your glass or on your plate. To me Sacramento embodies quality. Places like Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, The Kitchen Restaurant, Ella Dining Room and Bar, Localis, Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Company, The Red Rabbit Kitchen & Bar, and The Shady Lady Saloon make me very proud to be a part of the food and beverage scene in Sacramento.
S&S: You’re making us hungry! We think Kru must be a fascinating place to bartend—how does working at an upscale sushi restaurant influence the way you think about cocktails?
SB: Ingredients mostly. Things like yuzu, shiso, and sake are fun to toy with. Kru does an incredible Omakase tasting menu. Omakase means “I’ll leave it up to you,” essentially leaving your dining choices in the chef’s hands. So why not do the same thing with drinks, and do an Omakase cocktail pairing and leave your beverage choices in the hands of the bartender? This allows us to do the really crazy things we love to do and showcase the creativity of the bar team.
S&S: Sounds amazing. And speaking of the tasting menu, what’s your favorite sushi?
SB: We serve A5 Wagyu Nigiri covered in black truffle at Kru. It’s mind-blowing! I’m not sure if it really counts as sushi, but it’s mind-blowing!
S&S: Wow! Going back to our convo about tiki, we can definitely see that you focus on presentation and garnish quite a bit—can you tell us more about that and what inspires your lovely creations?
SB: Obviously, as a professional bartender, your drinks’ number-one focus should be taste, but a garnish influences that taste. A garnish is there not only to make a drink beautiful but also to influence your sense of smell and how you enjoy the drink. A simple mint crown can transform a drink from great to extraordinary. Garnishes can add depth and an extra layer to your drink by bringing your nose into play.
S&S: Absolutely true! And that is actually something that we are always trying to demonstrate to our subscribers. The vanilla-infused Angostura bitters on the surface of the Tea & Honey cocktail that you created for us really add another dimension, not to mention the scent of the sage! Is there an ingredient or technique you’re currently fascinated with?
SB: Right now I am really interested in foams and soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is a stabilizing compound that allows you to make a stable foam. For example, if you made a margarita and put a light and airy sea-salt foam on top rather than putting the drink in a salted-rim glass. It’s fun and opens the doors for so many other possibilities. Wow! That sounds really really nerdy!
S&S: No, that sounds amazing! We’d love to include that in one of our boxes in the future. A very cool technique, and we think that the use of egg white in your cocktail is another good one. Would you say that is what’s most unique about the drink you’ve created for us?
SB: I remember when I first learned how to make a sour using egg white, and it blew my mind! The fact that you could create such amazing textures in a drink was so intriguing to me. Hopefully it does the same for anyone who tries this drink for the first time.
S&S: Here’s hoping! What’s your favorite aspect of the drink?
SB: I think the simple idea that you can play Mr. Potato Head with ingredients. Like simple syrup. I mean, simple syrup is just equal parts sugar and water, but if you substitute the sugar for honey and the water for tea, you end up with a completely different flavor. Don’t be afraid to try new and add different things.
S&S: That’s right! And this is actually another idea that we try to show our subscribers, to embolden them to mix it up and try new things when they branch out to trying to mix their own cocktails based on what they’ve learned with our boxes. But coming back to your drink, as they mix and enjoy your cocktail at home, what music do you hope people are listening to?
SB: Anything by The Vandals.
S&S: And is there any specific food you would recommend pairing with your cocktail?
SB: I think anything fried would be great. The froth from the egg white would add a nice texture change, and the sweetness from the honey would help cut through any greasy aspects. I have a specific tempura-fried shrimp seasonal vegetable plate from Kru in mind that I think would hit the spot.
S&S: Yum! We’ll have to try that. And what do you do when you’re not working?
SB: I’m an avid rock climber. Climbing helps reset my brain. I have a bit of a restless mind and it forces me to relax.
S&S: Cool! What’s your go-to drink order when trying out a new bar?
SB: Always an old fashioned. I can instantly tell the quality of the bar by how they make their old fashioned.
S&S: Too true! This won’t surprise you to hear, but you’re not the first to tell us that.