November 4, 2015 / Rachel Eva
It had been in the works for a while, and we were eager to see what drinks had made the cut. With 51 cocktails to choose from, The Lion's Share just released the largest cocktail menu in San Diego. Touching all sorts of spirits and all ranges of complexity, the craft cocktail lounge & restaurant is opening its arms wide to all who imbibe--and after perusing the menu ourselves last week, we're pretty sure you'll find something to love.
Tye on Menu Concept and the BAR 5-Day Experience
Photo by Shawn Michael for Standard Spoon
The man behind the menu is The Lion's Share Bar Manager David Tye, who's been curating the collection for the past six months. He describes his intention for the menu was to hit the bell curve of cocktail tastes in San Diego. By providing many options, from easy, approachable flavors to more challenging, obscure spirits, anyone who walks in the door, whether beginning imbiber or seasoned bartender, should be able to orient to an area of the menu that speaks to their sensibilities.
In the midst of putting the finishing touches on the menu, Tye attended the rigorous BAR 5-Day Certificate Program in New York in September. Not only did he have to wake up before 8 am for 5 days in a row (something he hasn't done in a decade), but he faced 12-hour days of testing, tasting, and advanced memory recall that pushed his knowledge of distilled spirits and mixology to the limit. Working alongside some of the top bartenders, national brand ambassadors, and corporate mixologists in his class, and visiting some of the renowned high-end cocktail bars in the city gave him a refreshing perspective after the grueling hours of menu testing and creation in San Diego.
Tye said the experience helped to eliminate some of the crushing weight of self-doubt he'd dealt with in the past, and he's much more comfortable taking criticism. In fact, he observed that San Diego's bartending community is almost too nice and quick to complement. When a new cocktail is mediocre, he feels many peers shy away from offering honest feedback and constructive criticism. Sounds like he doesn't want manners to get in the way of the meat of the matter - so speak freely, my friends!
The "Kitchen Boss Lady" Cocktail is spritzed with coconut mist. Now doesn't that look like sunny southern California?
After returning from the BAR 5-Day, Tye reported he also felt more comfortable working with ingredients that he personally doesn't care for. Are you in love with Ancho Reyes? David can't stand it. But he can appreciate how to use it in cocktails for people who love that earthy, peppery spice. Two things you will NOT find on the new menu: Sherry Cocktails and Blue Curaçao. While Tye feels San Diego isn't really ready or interested in Sherry, he draws the line at blue drinks. In his opinion, San Diego should have a lot of light, refreshing drinks on menus - bring out the citrus, the ice, the tiki, and stuff with mint in it. We have basically summer all year long, and a daiquiri or a margarita is appropriate for our warm climate. But, in his words, "F*** Blue Curaçao."
Ok, it's a good point he makes about those refreshing cocktails. Cold, cement cities like New York should be stirring up dark boozy drinks all day, while we should be sipping something topped with a lime wedge when the weather warrants short sleeves. What else did David Tye bring back from his trip? An intense and immediate need to increase the efficiency of making drinks at the bar. After observing some of the high-end and high volume cocktail establishments in New York, he knew he needed to dial in the bar setup and work with staff on a new routine for building drinks.
We were curious not only why the menu was so large, but how the bar is able to navigate making all of those offerings, which require 115 unique ingredients (and a bit more memory recall!). Bar modifications included making more room for syrups, a meticulous color-coding and labeling system, and a bit of re-organization to set up a circular flow around each bartender's station. Bartenders build cocktails first by starting on the upper right with bitters and fruit, moving to the left where the syrups are lined up, and then down into the well for citrus, spirits, and liqueurs. While a few cocktails have some pre-batched components, surprisingly few of them have much make-ahead preparation.
OK, so tell us about the MENU already!
Alright, alright! Technically the menu consists of 49 permanent drinks. Number 50 is the revolving Homegrown Cocktail, a monthly featured recipe by a local bartender (benefits to charity too!), and 51 is Dealer's Choice. Not quite enough? Don't forget the $6 Happy Hour menu, a 12-drink list available from 4-6 pm which includes 6 classic cocktails not listed in the master grid. These guys have been busy.
"Mr Gnome It All" features locally distilled Old Harbor Gin. The strong cilantro notes in the gin pair well with the basil, lime and, of course, the green bell pepper cup (eating your cocktail vessel is encouraged here). Photo by Shawn Michael
The 49 featured drinks on the main menu are laid out in a 7 x 7 grid, so you can scan and select a column that appeals to you: whiskey, juniper, agave, tiki, fruit/grape, grain/sparkling, and more whiskey. The seven rows in the grid help a guest navigate through the menu by categorizing the drinks into 4 categories: House Favorites, 28 original Lion's Share recipes that make up the bulk of the menu, Classics, where you'll find the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (a tropical drink that pre-dates tiki!), Safe Bets with easy, approachable flavors (your French 75 and Pisco Sour are here), and the Research & Development menu, which highlights cocktails with more complex flavor profiles or that use obscure spirits and liqueurs, such as the coffee & cigarettes rum from New Zealand used in the "Hell of a Morning" cocktail.
Many of the cherished cocktails of The Lion's Share loyal patrons made the crossover to the new menu, including the all-time favorites Federal Buffalo Stamp (bourbon, lemon, ginger, maple syrup) and St. Elizabeth Sexy Party (bourbon, cinnamon, allspice, chocolate bitters), which occupy the coveted No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the book. David Tye's personal favorite at the moment is the Blank Shooter, which started out as a daiquiri variation, evoking a porch hangout in the humid south, with a refreshing tipple of peach and mint to make the afternoon pass more pleasantly.
Live within a day's drive of San Diego? We highly recommend taking this menu for a spin in person. If you've got to book a flight and bide your time, dream and drool a little over the full menu at www.lionssharesd.com, and in the meantime consider mixing up one of these menu favorites:
Yucatan: 1 oz Guanabana liqueur, 3/4 oz orange juice, 1/2 oz lime juice, plum bitters, shaken and strained into a chilled coupe glass and topped with champagne.
The Blank Shooter: 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye, 1 oz lemon, 3/8 oz cinnamon syrup, 3/8 oz honey syrup, 1/4 oz fernet branca, peach bitters. Serve in a chilled coupe glass with a lemon peel garnish.
Mr Gnome It All: 2 oz Old Harbor gin, 1 oz lime, 3/4 oz simple syrup, 3 basil leaves, shaken and strained into a green bell pepper vessel, and garnished with the best basil leaf you can find.
Kitchen Boss Lady: 2 oz tequila, 1/2 oz kiwi puree, 1/2 oz banana liqueur, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1/2 oz agave, shaken and strained into an old fashioned glass. Mist with Kalani coconut liqueur and garnish with a lime wedge.
"Cannon-Rider". Photo by Shawn Michael
Cannon-Rider: 2 oz Goslings Black Seal rum, 4 whole raspberries, 3/4 oz lime juice, 3/4 oz cinnamon syrup, 3 dashes absinthe, 2 dashes angostura bitters. Muddle & mix & serve in a chilled coupe glass with a lime wedge garnish.
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And... thinky pains... article end done. XOXO Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael.
All photos taken by Shawn Michael for Standard Spoon