What’s the difference between a good drink and a great drink? The right tools. Learn from three master mixologists on the secret weapons they keep in their bar arsenals. You’ll be inspired to refresh your in-home bar cart and bundle up for a sojourn to your choice barkeep.

By Andrea Bosco
Photographs by Cayla Zahoran + Michael Fornataro

ERIKA CLARK

Bar Manager of Kaya

Given her experience and zeal, Clark is as well-rounded as the cocktails she creates.

Erika Clark, Kaya Pittsburgh, Strip District

Erika Clark, Bar Manager of Kaya

VITAL GADGETS

  • “I love having a spray bottle behind the bar. It’s super helpful. With all of our martinis, comes a spritz in the glass. It’s a way to incorporate a really nice, flavorful bitter without the potency. You get more of the aromatics than anything. In our bourbon cocktails, we spray the glass with 16-year Lagavulin Scotch, which has big peat and lots of smoke.” Above, you see lemon bitters, and Wigle Whiskey’s organic lavender and rosemary bitters.
  • “The white European style peeler is a chef’s tool. That is how you get beautiful wide twists from your fruit. I use it for oranges. The other is a super cool, new toy I got from Microplane. I’m jazzed about it! It’s a three-in-one tool with a bottle opener, a fine zester, and a super sharp twisting tool. It literally cuts through the rind of a lime like a hot knife through butter.”
  • “This badass muddler has teeth on the bottom. It helps when making Tiki drinks or an Old Fashioned because it grinds up wedges of fruit. This swizzle spoon is designed to stir rapidly by just spinning the ice in the glass, not moving the ice, so you’re not watering down the drink, you’re just chilling.”
  • “The measuring jigger starts at ¼ of an ounce and measures up to 2 ounces. If you mess up measuring, it can throw off the balance of the cocktail. Some cocktails are forgiving, others are not.”

INTEGRAL INGREDIENTS

  • “Fever-Tree tonic water is a great tool. It’s a really good tonic water and not that Schweppes nonsense. It’s one of my super sneaky tricks.”
  • The Instant Crush, named after the Daft Punk song, is habanero-infused tequila, Aperol, Yellow Chartreuse, homemade simple syrup of tamarind nectar, and fresh orange zest. “I top it with a little sparkling because the bubbles cut through just enough to brighten it up.”
  • Made with Berentzen Wild Cherry Schnapps, the Cherry Spritz comprises Luxardo’s Maraschino cherry juice, sparkling bubbles, a cherry twist, and Clark’s now not-so-secret cherry shrub, made from the last batch of Rainier cherries last spring.

behind the bar at Kaya Pittsburgh, Strip District

Clark’s vital gadgets.

Kaya Pittsburgh's Instant Crush Cocktail

The Instant Crush & the Cherry Spritz. Clark suggests these concoctions for a “sweet and spicy” Valentine’s Day at Kaya.

Kaya, 2000 Smallman St., Strip District. 412.261.6565. bigburrito.com/kaya

NICOLE MARSHALL

Cigar Bar Bartender of Cioppino

Marshall has tended bar for 18 years — four of the last at Cioppino — and can assemble a beverage to appease all palates.

Nicole Marshall, Cigar Bar Bartender of Cioppino Restaurant, Strip District, Pittsburgh

Nicole Marshall, Cigar Bar Bartender of Cioppino

KEY TO MY HEART

  • One of Marshall’s bar essentials is a wine key. “Wine complements cigars.” The bottle shown below is the 2011 Cigar Zin, a rich, lush, well-structured wine that’s hearty with exotic fruit characteristics. The varietal boasts notes of deep black fruit, some spice, and a tinge of black pepper.
  • “Manhattans are very popular with cigar smokers. Sometimes I feel like I make 30 in one day.” Marshall mixes bitters with Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for the perfect pour.
  • “My cigar cutter and my lighter are two things I use a million times a day.” There’s a method to making the classic cut and Marshall has it down. “In the Cigar Bar, we have the best clientele. It’s different than any other bar. Five guests who don’t know one another are friends by the end of the night.” That’s Pittsburgh!
Behind the bar at Cioppino, Strip District

The “Romeo and Juliet” is prepared with Grand Marnier, Chambord, a dash of peach schnapps, a splash of cranberry juice, and a splash of ginger ale. It’s garnished with three Maraschino cherries and an orange spiral garnish. “It’s the perfect match for Valentine’s Day, and something either party can enjoy.”
TIP: Marshall says to add tequila for a boozier bite. She pairs it with the Romeo Y Julieta cigar, which Marshall says is a cigar many women go for, as it has a lighter-bodied profile.

Cioppino, 2350 Railroad St., Strip District. 412.281.6593. cioppinoofpittsburgh.com

JENNIFER WELSH

Bar Manager of Perlé

Welsh assisted in the opening of Perlé and hasn’t looked back. The opportunist returned to the high-volume nightlife scene to construct craft cocktails with a Champagne spin, unique to the Pittsburgh bar scene.

Jennifer Welsh, Bar Manager of Perlé, Market Square, Pittsburgh

Jennifer Welsh, Bar Manager of Perlé

POP, FIZZ, CLINK!

  • “We use a wine sealer to keep our Champagne fresh, especially because we do about 13 to 14 bottles by the glass. It puts CO2 back into the bottle. They’re able to hold a lot longer than they would without.”
  • “A lot of our cocktails on our specialty Champagne list have a lot of fresh juices in them. We constantly use a juicer to make those drinks.”
  • “We have a lot of requests for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, and when it comes to whiskey, I prefer not shaking it, but stirring it.”
  • “We use the filter hand-in-hand with the juicer to remove some of the larger particles, like lemon and lime seeds. In conjunction, we use the peel for zesting.”
  • “The jigger is really a basic tool, but I’m really big into using them. I believe in getting the recipes down. If you have something a little off, it’s going to throw the entire drink off. Whenever I am making a cocktail, I like to use the jigger every time.”
  • “Since we do a lot of whiskey-based cocktails, we use a lot of bitters. We also make some in-house — this winter, we did a cranberry-orange-cinnamon bitters. The Fee Brothers’ bitters provide a really large range.” Pictured below are Black Walnut Bitters and Aztec Chocolate Bitters.

A VAST VARIETY

  • Designed for whiskey drinkers, the Manhattan Noir Champagntini is Welsh’s spin on the bar’s Manhattan Noir, offering black cherry notes and a pretty orange-pink hue.
  • A top seller, the Rose Bud is made with St. Germain, grapefruit juice, and rosé Champagne, and is nicknamed for Welsh, so it’s a personal favorite.
  • The cordial-based Kir Rosé is made with Courvoisier cognac and rosé. “It’s sort of X Rated meets Hpnotiq. Topped with Champagne, it’s simple, basic, and pretty smooth.” Garnished with a raspberry, this cocktail is a good go-to for male customers because of the cognac, says Welsh.
  • Backed by an admirable love story, this $400 bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’or Brut ’99 was designed to win a famous opera singer’s heart. Black pearls decorate the vintage bottle, one of the highest-ranked among Champagnes.

Behind the bar at Perle, Market Square, Pittsburgh

Welsh’s tools for mixing success.

Behind the bar at Perle, Market Square, Pittsburgh

Perlé’s Manhattan Noir Champagntini, Rose Bud, Kir Rosé, and Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’or Brut ’99.

Take a walk down lovers’ lane and spend Valentine’s Day at Perlé. The Lovers Lane of Champagne & World Tour Tasting features six Champagnes and Veuve Yellow Label.

Perlé, 25 Market Square, Downtown. 412.471.2058. perlepgh.com
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