A few weeks ago, I had an idea: I was going to make a cocktail using DRY lavender soda and gin. As soon as the subtle lavender flavor touched my tongue and mingled with the sharp tickle of carbonation, I knew it would pair amazingly well with gin.
And then I went to Gadsby's Bar American and Chad Spangler made me a real drink. Ironically, it was also lavender and gin based.
Chad's version was, to say the least, much more sophisticated than my idea had been. Gin, honey, and lemon, topped off with a lavender cloud. What's that, you say? Oh, just a bath of water, lavender essential oil, and protein stabilizers made frothy with the clever use of a fish tank pump.
Before I took my first sip, Chad encouraged me to smell my drink. That concept seemed strange to me, despite the fact that as a foodie, I know that a large part of a tasting experience involves the sense of smell. But to smell a cocktail? Won't the alcohol fumes make you cough? Apparently not when it's a well-made cocktail. Go figure.
It was heavenly. Light and floral, but not cloyingly so. A hit of acid from the lemon, a smooth sweetness from the honey. It was just perfect. And of course it has me rethinking how I'm going to make my own lavender-gin cocktail.
Gadsby's is one of the first collaboration projects from the restaurant group that includes Chad and Chef Robert Gadsby. I'm pretty sure you already know I kinda sorta absolutely dig that place. But back to Chad. To put it simply, he's kind of a big deal.
And not to trivialize his work at all, but he's really, really good looking. As in Bradley Cooper good looking. As in when I was standing between him and the Sous Chef the other night, I lost my senses for a moment. Just a moment, though. I got it back. Except for any time he shook the cocktails.
Chad took us on an interactive and educational journey. He talked about Prohibition - how before alcohol was outlawed, bartenders were seen as the aristocracy of a restaurant. Bartending was a trade that people studied for years to perfect. After the days of Prohibition, newly-hired bartenders (the old pros were long gone by then) found themselves behind a bar, holding tools they knew nothing about - and until recently, true bartending has become a bit of a lost art. The days of quick fixes and artificial sweeteners and neon-red cherries were the norm up until recent days, with a new crop of bartenders, including Chad, embracing the artistry and passion and science and creativity that truly put the "craft" in the term craft cocktail.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice. Painstakingly-brandied cherries. Smoke-infused Manhattans.
Art in a glass.
All throughout his talk, Chad was mixing drinks for us to sample. His movements were smooth, precise, and practiced. His knowledge was extensive, and he delivered the lecture with the same zeal that I see in the Sous Chef when he talks about plants or in myself when I fit Haagen-Dazs into a healthy lifestyle.
Raw, powerful, heart-bursting enthusiasm.
Chad's passion for bartending echoes a similar passion I've seen in Chef Gadsby's approach to food. Gadsby's Bar American is a bit of a rarity in Columbia, in that the chef truly engages with the food. The bartender truly engages with the cocktails. I can only think of a handful of other Howard County restaurants where I've had a similar experience.
You can taste the passion here. On the plate. In the glass.
Go see for yourself.