UPDATE: THE COCKENTRICE HAS CLOSED.
Meet the beverage director at Krog Street Market’s The Cockentrice.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Cole Younger Just was named “Bartender of the Year” by Atlanta Magazine in 2015. He is now working as beverage director at The Cockentrice, which is located inside Krog Street Market in Atlanta, Georgia.
During a recent visit, I was impressed by the cocktail menu and then blown away—figuratively yet in the best possible sense—by the “Milk & Honey (Bee’s Sneeze)” cocktail that I ordered, sipped and savored. I wanted to learn more so recently talked to Just by phone.
Your cocktail menu has some interesting elements like ‘milk washed gin’ and ‘extra virgin olive oil washed vodka.’ Tell me more, including how and why?
It’s a fat washing technique I first saw many years ago in New York; people started doing bacon washed bourbon and it’s similar to the technique we employ. For the EVOO washed vodka, we take a nice local vodka and Georgia olive oil and put them together, add some sea salt and whisk it on and off every 15 minutes for one or two hours. We then take that and pop it in the freezer and what will happen is the olive oil floats to the top and freezes so we can scrape off that fat and we’re left with a vodka that has the essence and flavor of olives without the overwhelming quality of a dirty martini.
The milk washed gin I do a similar technique. We found this distillery that used to be an apiary in Vermont and they have a gin that’s unique in employing only two botanicals: raw honey that they make and juniper. With only two botanicals the flavor is essentially whatever the bees have been munching on that has been growing on the property. That’s what the profile is and I thought it was unique. We use their raw honey in the “Milk & Honey” cocktail. For the milk wash, we take gin and milk in a four to one ratio, mix it together and let it sit 20 to 30 minutes, then much like making pressed cheese we will break the curd from the whey with a citric acid mixture. To fully break takes an hour or so then we strain that through a coffee filter or centrifuge to separate the curd from the whey in the gin. It gets slightly opaque in color and we’re left with a gin infused with whey and what that does is provide the same silky velvety mouth texture not quite as intense as egg white. The cocktail also has lemon, raw honey and a lavender garnish.
Why bother with all of that?
I’m trying to put out the best product that I know how to put out and I wanted to showcase those ingredients without adding too much to a cocktail. A lot of times there’s a shotgun effect of putting 16 ingredients into a drink, I like limiting myself to three because with so few ingredients you need to employ good technique. We want a good product but I don’t want it to take 15 or 30 minutes to make a drink. With three ingredients it increases efficiency and showcases products.
You’ve said that you’re not a big fan of the word ‘mixologist.’ Why not?
That word was well intended and had a great pedigree to elevate what we do, but personally I’ve experienced a bit of going to different places around the country and the word has been bastardized at this point. It’s misused and misemployed. The craft of bartending is more important than the other stuff.
What’s your background?
I started many years ago at a bistro that was chef owned and operated. I’ve done everything from bus boy to whatever. I started bartending in 2000—essentially, somebody didn’t show up for a shift and the general manager said, ‘Hey, want to give this a shot?’ I said sure. Those days of bartending were very different than now. It was all liquor mixer drinks, flavored vodkas and a soda gun. As long as you could make a cosmopolitan and an apple martini, you could get by. Cocktails were slightly frowned upon. The industry has changed. I used bartending to put myself through school, it was not a career choice at the time. (I graduated with a philosophy major from Georgia State.) I have this profound affinity to cook, always enjoyed it a lot. I always thought I should hang up bartending and work as a line cook, but the money aspect was heavily skewed in favor of bartending so I did not find it financially viable to do that. In the past eight to nine years, the kitchen aspect has come to the bar. I’ve worked in different environments from night clubs to fine dining learning how to actually tend a bar. It’s a natural fit for me.
What’s your biggest challenge?
There are several aspects that tend to be challenging. More times than not it’s finding glassware. That is as simple as it can be stated, but when you’re out of glassware everything stops. Another is learning how to take care of yourself and manage time appropriately. I’ve seen burnout happen to so many people. It’s the nature of what we do, long hours and incredibly high stress. People deal with it in their own way and can be self-destructive so learning to manage that in healthy ways is a big challenge. There are big movements across the country and world to try and help. It’s the only way to maintain sustainability in our industry.
What makes the bar at The Cockentrice different from other bars around Atlanta?
The experience that we strive to provide each and every night and day. We hope to expose people to new flavors and techniques, if they’re open to trying them. We want people to feel like a guest in our home so we’re not standoffish. We embrace hospitality. Not to say that other bars aren’t doing it well, but it’s what we strive to do.
How often do you change the cocktail menu?
At any given time there are 12 to 15 cocktails on the menu. There are our signature drinks that people come back for and those five or six or seven that stay on the menu as standards, and there are drinks that are rotated in based on season. At least every two weeks or so there are three to four new drinks on the menu, but the signatures we leave alone, though they may change slightly since it doesn’t make sense to serve a frozen cocktail when it’s 20 degrees outside. That’s the methodology that works best for guests and for our staff.
Do you have any experiments in the works?
Yeah. I’ve got a centrifuge on the way. We’re going to centrifuge juice as a new clarification technique. We have a refractometer to test pH. We’re playing with different fermentations of juices and dialing in on how to make acidity jump up in something and how we achieve that with different things. More geeky science-y stuff. We’re really trying to strike a balance in cocktails and how we manipulate ingredients. We just got all the gadgets to do forced carbonation so we can carbonate our own beverages like a French 75 which is made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and Champagne. We could use a flat wine and add CO2 in the bottle so it’s ready to go, a cocktail in a little 200ml/3-ounce size bottle to serve with a glass.
– Photo Credits: Cole Younger Just by Tomas Espinoza; The Sultan courtesy The Cockentrice; menu and Milk & Honey © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.