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11 Jun - The Art of Cocktails with Chris Raba

Los Angeles

Head bartender of Rudolph’s Bar & Tea, Chris Raba runs Freehand LA’s cozy cocktail bar. His passion for new flavors, thoughtful garnishes, and love for classic rock always has us ordering another round. We sat down with him to discuss the most popular cocktail and the sources of inspiration behind it.

Freehand LA: HI Chris! To start, I’d love to hear about Rudolph’s Bar & Tea’s concept in general.
Chris Raba: We are a bar and a tea venue, meaning we sell and serve tea (of course), but we also incorporate tea, and sometimes coffee, into our cocktails.

FH LA: Awesome. When you start to create a menu for RBT, what do you do to get inspired?
CR: Inspiration comes from lots of directions. Sometimes it starts with a flavor or tea that I am really into, build around it, and make that flavor the star of the show. Other times I think of a classic cocktail that I think needs tweaking. For example, the ‘If it Ain’t Broke’ is a take on a bramble cocktail. I take inspiration from a lot of classic rock songs, so you may notice a lot of song references in our cocktail names. Sometimes I try to imagine what drink fits with a song, for this next menu, ‘blood sugar sex magic’ from the Red Hot Chili peppers came to mind and I instantly new it had to be a Blood and Sand riff, which has to have edible glitter (for the sand)

FH LA: Ok—can’t wait. For the current early summer menu, can you tell us the most popular drink and a little bit about it?
CR: That cocktail is the ‘Aim to Misbehave’ and it is a mezcal sour variation. Mezcal has become very popular in the cocktail scene. The classic signature of mezcal is the smokiness but anyone who really loves mezcal will tell you the beauty lies beneath the smoke—what you smell and taste apart from the smokiness. So I wanted to create a mezcal cocktail where the smoke played a background supporting role to all the flavors and aromas that were the components of the cocktail. I use a yuzu juice spritz on the top of the cocktail, which balances out the smell and gives it levity. The pickled butternut squash, cut in the shape of our owl spirit animal, is meant to pair with the cocktail in the same way a spicy salt would on a mezcal margarita. It’s the slightly spicy contrast. The plum Capricorn syrup I use is very expressive — it is an herbal tea blend with lots of floral notes.

FH LA: How long did it take you to come up with this cocktail? It is so thoughtful and sounds tough to create.
CR: It happens in stages. It started with wanting to do a mezcal sour that was balanced, I also knew I wanted to incorporate plum and challenge myself to bring out those flavors and aromas. For me it is very important that there is no ingredient that is in there for its own sake. I want you to be able to smell, taste, or feel all ingredients. They should be there for a purpose and not just read well on a menu. I use a lot of resources; the flavor bible is one of my favorites. Then a lot of feedback from my staff, and paying attention to how the taste evolves throughout the drinking process.

FH LA: Do you have any advice for someone that wants to break into bartending and create cocktail menus?
CR: I would say you should 1) find all the bartenders or industry vets that are already doing that and ask them as much as you can 2) take inspiration from good food and chefs combining flavors and aromas in unique and interesting ways. They play with flavor and aromas all day, every day, they just use a different medium. 3) taste and smell as many things as you can. Keep experimenting and built up an index of flavors and how they play with one another