Ask a Bartender: 16 Questions with Colin Bryson at Dutch Kills

Staff Writer
From Long Island City's hottest bar, Bryson talks Campari, pineapple Daiquiris, and why Dutch Kills stands out

Colin Bryson

Colin Bryson of Dutch Kills.

With only two years behind the stick, Colin Bryson is impressive.

Partially because he splits his time tending bar among three popular locales: Dutch Kills on Thursdays and Saturdays; Sweetleaf Cocktail Bar on Wednesdays and Fridays; and GoldBar on Tuesdays.

But, really, because the 25-year-old barkeep is noticeably skilled and knowledgeable for his age.

Bryson seems to love learning and is ever honing his craft, all in effort to make this cocktail even more amazing than the last, while not becoming overly serious about it. (Bryson admits his growing suspender and tie collection might be the best aspect of his career, and women who order Negronis can make his heart flutter.)

In between his three jobs, Bryson made time for our questions at The Daily Meal.

The Daily Meal: So, what turned you onto bartending?

Colin Bryson: I suppose I’ve always had an affinity for drink making. But, my first drink at Dutch Kills changed my entire perspective on the trade. Before, drinking was associated with lurid debauchery. Dutch Kills opened my eyes to a style of drinking that I could be proud to advocate, one that was defined by cordiality and quality craftsmanship.

TDM: Wow. That must have been some cocktail. Do you remember it?

CB: My first cocktail at Dutch Kills was an Old Fashioned, I think, but the cocktail I remember going bananas over was The Chocolate Cocktail. It's a classic — tawny port, Yellow Chartreuse, sugar, egg yolk, grated nutmeg, shaken and served up.

TDM: What sort of input do you have in the beverage program there?

CB: It’s really a team effort. What people understand the Dutch Kills "menu" to be is a combination of whatever seasonal libations Richie has chosen to highlight in written format and whatever we choose to highlight for our bartender’s choice requests. We all have original cocktails that are served, and we all have our favorites for the bartender’s choice scenario.

TDM: How do you feel about the term "mixologist"? Do you consider yourself one?

CB: At this point, I think that griping about or refusing this title is just as pretentious as demanding it. So, how about we say this, I’m going to keep making drinks so long as people are ordering them, and folks can give it whatever name they fancy.

TDM: Which of the Dutch Kills cocktails are your favorites? What are guest favorites?

CB: If we are talking about the current menu, mine would be the Dr. Funk, a Donn Beach cocktail from the 1940s [fresh lime juice, house-made grenadine, Gosling's Black Seal Bermuda rum, absinthe rinse]. Surprisingly, our guests’ favorite seems to be the Satan Cocktail, which is an incredibly boozy Manhattan variation with Peychaud's bitters, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, bourbon, absinthe rinse. I guess it goes to show that the palates of the average drinker are really becoming more sophisticated.

TDM: How does the Dutch Kills beverage program stand out from other New York City spots?

CB: A multitude of things, but ice is the most relevant. Dutch Kills is one of three bars in the world that has a Clinebell machine in house. So, what that means for people that don’t know is that all of the ice that is used in our drink making process — with the exception of crushed ice — is frozen at the bar in 300-pound clear blocks and cut by hand for service. Our paramount goal is to control water content in a cocktail as specifically as we control our jiggers. This produces a cocktail that is as cold as possible and vibrantly full of flavor.

TDM: What are your favorite watering holes and why?

CB: The newly opened Attaboy and The Beagle. Attaboy, [because of the] presence behind the bar. It’s a clinic. The Beagle, [because its] sherry selection is outstanding. Great hospitality behind the bar, as well.

TDM: What are a few of your favorite cocktails to make? And why?

CB: Pineapple Daiquiris [fresh lime juice, fresh pineapple juice, white sugar, white rum] — my co-workers love to drink them. Old Fashioned [Angostura bitters, white sugar, bourbon, garnished with a lemon and orange peel] — I take a lot of pride in this drink. I think it’s one of the few drinks that requires a bit of finesse. You can’t measure the size of your sugar cubes, and dashers (for bitters) are inconsistent, as well. It requires a degree of eyeballing that you need to pay attention to and understand. Mai Tai [fresh lime juice, house-made orgeat, curaçao, Jamaican rum, a float of dark rum, garnished with mint, a lime wheel and a dusting of powdered sugar] — I just think people forget how good this drink tastes. It tastes really good.

TDM: What spirit is sexiest to you? Why?

CB: Campari. Every time a girl orders a Negroni, I fall in love a little bit.

TDM: For you, which spirit is the most versatile?

CB: Aged rum.

TDM: What’s your favorite classic cocktail?

CB: The "Harvard." It is simply a cognac Manhattan; however, I like mine served on a rock, in which case it is called a "Flushing."

TDM: When brainstorming a new recipe, what’s one aspect you’re particularly striving for?

CB: I want it to be unique. When somebody gives me very specific bartender’s choice guidelines and I am stumped on what to give them, I make a little note in my head to work on a cocktail that fits that criteria. However, some people make the mistake of thinking unique cocktails have to be complicated, and that is not true. Simple cocktails can be unique, as well. It just takes a little more work.

TDM: What are your favorite herbs, bitters, etc., to use in your libations?

CB: A wise man once told me, "If your cocktail doesn’t taste good, just put Peychaud’s bitters in it."

TDM: You also work at a couple other bars, Sweetleaf and GoldBar. What's it like to work at three different bars?

CB: Working at three bars is great. It breaks up the monotony. I'm almost always excited to go to work because it always feels like I haven't been there in a while. There is so much to learn from working with different people, as well. Everyone has their own style, and I like taking bits and pieces of everyone's game and using them to elevate the level of hospitality I can give.

TDM: For guests, what makes Dutch Kills worth the trek to Long Island City?

CB: The diversity of the crowd. Dutch Kills is a bar where anybody can have a good drink for a good price and feel at home. With most bars in New York, you can anticipate to a certain degree what kind of folk you’re going to run into, depending on the spot. But the crowd at Dutch Kills is completely unpredictable: On any given night, there might be a gentleman in his 70s, wearing a bowler hat, drinking a Manhattan at one end of the bar, and at the other end, a girl in her early 20s that doesn’t know what a Manhattan is. That is not an exaggeration. That happens. A lot.

TDM: What’s the best perk of your role?

CB: My suspender and tie collection is starting to look real good.

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