We sat down with Christopher Sinclair of the Kasbah Lounge in Sacramento to chat about his work, Canadian rye whisky, Sacramento, and his drink for February’s Rye Not Canada? Box, the Leather & Lace!
S&S: How would you characterize Canadian rye whisky relative to the many other types of whiskey out there?
CS: Canadian rye is an old-school whiskey. It’s a spicy, peppery whiskey that translates well into cocktails.
S&S: What types of cocktails and ingredients do you think a rye whiskey pairs well with overall?
CS: Citrus on the sweeter end of the spectrum (i.e. lemon and pineapple) to contrast, but also spicy ingredients like peppers or cooking spices like clove and nutmeg.
S&S: That’s essentially the range of ingredients that we’re featuring in the box this month! We’ve got the full spectrum represented. Now, is there an ingredient or technique you’re currently fascinated with?
CS: I love watching any technique get executed and employed so expertly that it takes a watchful eye to even recognize that it happened. I think the largest sense that is often ignored in cocktails is the olfactory. Any presentation that can employ a clever and balanced scent into a cocktail experience is operating at a higher level.
S&S: Agreed! Is there any specific food you would recommend pairing with the Leather & Lace?
CS: Chocolate-covered strawberries fed by another’s hand.
S&S: How perfect. And what music do you hope people are listening to as they mix and enjoy it at home?
CS: “Entombed” by Deftones, “All the Time” by Jeremih, or “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. It really depends on your mood.
S&S: What are some characteristics of the Sacramento drinking scene these days?
CS: Sacramento likes to drink!!! The knowledge level of the average consumer keeps growing so quickly. Which is fun and challenging. It requires professionals to stay on top of their game. And those that do often garner the attention they deserve.
S&S: Sounds like a great place to get a drink! What are your regular spots in town?
CS: As far as my regular spots in Sacramento, I love B-Side. It’s a neighborhood bar that is DJ-focused and is owned by the Shady Lady homies. Which of course means I love The Shady Lady as well. I love Elixir as well, which is an old-school industry hub, I just have to be careful when I go because the owners are angel-faced devils. You can also catch me at Tank House—a BBQ joint—or Jungle Bird—the Sacramento tiki bar—pretty often.
S&S: Nice! And can you tell us more about the Kasbah Lounge? How did your journey lead there?
CS: Kasbah has been a staple of Sacramento for almost 15 years. But a few years ago, a couple of the employees bought the restaurant from the original owner and have been consistently improving everything about the business. It’s so hard to find any bar or restaurant outside of the tiki world designed in such a way to be transportive.
I had taken a few months off after leaving a toxic work environment, trying to find someplace unique and fun to work, and I had been pondering approaching them because I loved the restaurant and knew I could be of value to two people I admire, but they approached me first. They’ve both been incredibly supportive of my endeavors as well, in return.
S&S: So glad to hear how that worked out! A Middle Eastern–inspired bar program seems like a pretty underrepresented style. What are some elements or ingredients unique to the culture that you were most excited to play around with?
CS: Working in a Middle Eastern restaurant certainly has its challenges. Because culturally it’s not heavily cocktail driven, but Sacramento has become one, so finding the balance is a constant focus. But then also because drawing attention to some of the classic ingredients and attempting to allow the cocktails to be a gateway to those ingredients and vice versa.
I’ve come to fall in love with arak and raki as a spirit category. Learning to play with the anise-forward spirits, I’ve drawn a lot on the experiences of using absinthe in cocktails—the main difference being that absinthe still has a lot of mystique and a story that gets told again and again in pop culture, regardless of its accuracy.
Also we’ve played a lot with harissa paste and pomegranate juice. Two very popular culinary ingredients. We’ve also seen success with lebne (a tart yogurt). Our philosophy is to bridge the gap with cocktails and get people excited about trying new things in new ways. And that’s the conversation we try and have with our community.
S&S: Sounds delicious! Now, to journey to another culture, have you had any memorable travels through Canada?
CS: My great-grandfather on my dad’s side was Canadian. My grandfather purchased a couple plots of land about two hours north of Toronto in Huntsville for around a penny per yard when he was young. He built a cabin by the side of Toad Lake and then later my uncle built another cabin on the other plot when he was also in his twenties. I spent most of my childhood summers visiting and enjoying the northern lights. These are some of my favorite childhood memories.
S&S: How beautiful. And your Canadian rye cocktail seems tailored to the spirit of Valentine’s Day. What other drinks do you think are ideal for the holiday?
CS: I love Valentine’s Day! Any reason for people to find time to be intimate and vulnerable, but also confident and empowered, is a good day to me. So any drink that can help with that is probably a good drink for the occasion: Champagne, spicy margaritas, Pedro Ximenez Sherry, or maybe a nice Calvados spirit-forward cocktail.
S&S: We’ll take one of each of those, after a Leather & Lace! How about for wintertime—what are your perfect cold-weather drinks?
CS: For cold weather, I love the flavor of cooking spices and anise. I’ve been drinking a lot of that arak and raki lately and my whiskey neat. I’m also a huge sucker for boozy hot chocolates.
S&S: What’s the best drink you’ve ever had?
CS: I would have to say that the best drinks I have ever had are always paired with the setting and experience that I’m enjoying them. I’d have to put at the top of my list drinking pisco out of a canteen with my brother, while watching the sunrise from the Sun Gate on top of Machu Picchu.
S&S: Sounds amazing! Cheers!