Summer Cocktails with David Kaplan
Never mind that drinking alcohol can dehydrate. Summer craft cocktails are loaded with other refreshing, electrolyte-packed ingredients. At least we tell ourselves that, repeatedly, while cooling down this blistering hot summer with offerings from our favorite downtown bars—among them, Death & Company, the 13-year-old brainchild of founder David Kaplan, which reopened on July 29 after a two-week renovation.
Fresh off winning Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Best New Cocktail or Bartending Book Award for Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions, Kaplan spoke with GrandLife about his favorite NYC spots to imbibe and chill out, and shared a couple of Death & Co. recipes to try at home. Don’t forget the coasters!
What can you tell us about the recent refresh of Death & Co., and what other developments and events are in the works?
David Kaplan: Every bar needs a refresh every few years, and this year we’re excited to redo some of the under-bar area, and the stainless to make it all a bit more efficient. We’re doing a couple of events through the rest of the summer: a Cocktail Codex Class at Vine and Dine in Big Sky, Montana; a Death & Co. pop-up at Comfort Station in Cincinnati; and a talk at the Decatur Book Festival. We’re also gearing up for the Death & Co LA opening, which is looking like it will fall at the end of September.
What makes a perfect summer cocktail in your opinion?
DK: There are summer cocktails for every situation or mood. If it gets chilly in the evenings, there are times when an Old Fashioned or an OF variation hits the spot. On warm summer days, I usually prefer something simple and refreshing; hard to turn down crisp rosé, frozé, a spritz of any kind, negroni sbagliato, or a frozen negroni for that matter, a paloma or margarita, or anything sessionable. There’s also nothing wrong with an insanely cold beer at the end of the day.
Are any ingredients definite no-nos as far as summer cocktails go?
DK: If it’s an up drink you want it to be crushable so you can enjoy it fairly quickly before it gets warm, otherwise summer drinks are best served on copious amounts of ice. If you’re prepping cocktails for outdoor get-togethers you want to thoughtfully consider the heat in relation to the final desired temperature and dilution of your serves. Nothing worse than doing a lot of work for drinks to die because you didn’t use enough ice, didn’t bring them down to temperature before serving, etc.. Dead drinks are sad drinks.
Do you have memories of the first summer cocktail you tried?
DK: I remember the first spritz I had. Low ABV plus something effervescent almost feels like cheating. Dangerously refreshing, so you have to remember there’s alcohol in there.
A New York Times article titled “The Aperol Spritz is Not A Good Drink” dished out some serious hate for the summer staple recently, which predictably whipped up a lot of controversy and online comments. Your thoughts?
DK: Such silly clickbait! The Aperol Spritz is perfectly bitter, sweet, and refreshing all at the same time. It’s everything you want in a simple spritz and it’s fairly bulletproof. You can order it almost anywhere and although it may range from good to great, it’s rarely bad.
Let’s talk Death & Co.’s summer cocktails: Can you name a few that have stood out since opening? Any key ingredients that make them special?
DK: Love Bug, with Blanco tequila, mezcal, pineapple, raspberry, lime, and egg white for sure. Also, our summer Old Fashioned—the Outrigger, with whiskey, bonded Bourbon, yellow chartreuse, passion fruit, vanilla, and bitters. I think the combination of pineapple and tequila in the Love Bug makes it incredibly appealing for a summertime cocktail. As for the Outrigger, bourbon is still seeing a lot of popularity, and so the addition of passion fruit and vanilla make it a particularly enticing summer Old Fashioned variation.
Besides Death & Co, where do you like to go for a perfect summer cocktail experience? By all means, mention a rooftop venue…
DK: There are so many great summer drinking spots in NY now! Sadly, I don’t get out enough, but these are some favorites that I sneak to when I can. The outdoor Gilligan’s at the Soho Grand Hotel, Grand Banks at the Hudson River Park’s Pier 25, Williamsburg’s Maison Premiere any time of year really, Bed-Stuy’s Diamond Reef, and the new DUMBO House is gorgeous.
Origin: Jarred Weigand, Death & Co., summer 2019.
1.5 oz Capurro Acholado Pisco
0.5 oz Clairin Vaval
1 tsp Strega
0.75 oz Lemon juice
0.75 oz Yellow Bell Pepper syrup (50bx)
Glass: Double Old Fashioned w/ Rock
Origin: Shannon Tebay, Death & Co., summer 2019
1.0 oz El Tesoro Blanco Tequila
0.5 oz St George Green Chile
0.75 oz Lime juice
0.5 oz Honey syrup
1 tsp Calamansi puree
Method: Shake, top w/ lager
Glass: Collins w/ KD
Garnish: Salt Rim, Lime Wedge
WORDS Lawrence Ferber