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The Bristol's Jason Ackerman Talks Cocktails

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[Photo: The Bristol]

If you're looking for a refreshing, natural way to drink this summer, GREY GOOSE® Pressé has your answer. Inspired by fresh ingredients, GREY GOOSE Pressé is a delicious collection of cocktails that keeps things simple, marrying your ripest local fruit with the smooth taste of GREY GOOSE vodka.

Jason Ackerman, who runs the drink program at The Bristol, knows a thing or two about fresh, quality ingredients. After cutting his teeth with chefs like Marc Murphy at Landmarc Tribeca and running the bars at Shaw's and Tokio Pub in Chicago, he finally landed his dream job at this Chicago hotspot. Following the lead of the restaurant's nose-to-tail approach, Ackerman's drinks, with the help of head mixologist David Wilhite, are equally as conscious of ingredients. Find out about his favorite summer ingredient right now, as well as plans for a seasonally driven cocktail menu at The Bristol.

Do you see the demand for locally sourced ingredients in dining translate to the bar program?
Absolutely, but I think it's just starting to gain momentum. First we saw a rebirth of the classics, then a focus on the techniques, then obscure recipes were unearthed and either made in house or hit the market again. With how conscious Chicago consumers are about the source of a lot of what they buy, it's natural to want that in-house process to be as locally focused as the food. The golden age of cocktails saw bartenders doing a lot of their own bitters, liqueurs, tinctures, and syrups, but I assure you they were not getting their ingredients from very far. I love that it's coming full circle to that.

Do customers ever ask you where your ingredients come from, or do you find that is just not on the minds of drinkers?
I think it depends on the drinker, honestly. If the drinker is really interested in the cocktails in that "cocktail geek" kind of way of course they're going to be curious about what goes into making the cocktail and ingredients. Also, if you go to a place that focuses on being farm-to-table there's a natural tendency to ask if they're also farm-to-glass. I personally like the approach of working to be as farm-to-glass as possible but keeping that as "back-pocket information". Sure we can tell you what's in every part of everything we make and where it comes from?if you ask. We just want people to enjoy an evening with friends and family, eat some great food, get a little loose with some great drinks, and have fun.

How often do you change the menu? What seasonal ingredients do you try to rotate in when summer strikes?
Since I began working at The Bristol last October our house mixologist, David Wilhite, and I haven't changed much. We've added a cocktail here, switched a cocktail there. Very soon we're rolling out a new menu that is focused on highlighting seasonal and as many local ingredients as possible. We're still working on how many menus that means a year and when exactly we'd like to transition to each season.

What's your favorite ingredient right now?
One word: peaches. Last year we had amazing peaches from Mick Klug Farm in Michigan that we featured in our Peach Smash. It's a really incredible cocktail, very approachable, and simple but interesting. We're playing around with the peaches we're seeing now, but we're really excited for them to really come into season and hit the farmer's markets. Expect to see the Smash back this summer.

For you, what makes a well-balanced cocktail?
Of course, it has to have just the right amount of sweet, tart, savory, and all that. It also has to get play well with others on the playground. I love that analogy. A well-balanced cocktail has flavors that not only work well together but also bounce off each other. Maybe they're fighting for the spot light, maybe they're holding hands and skipping, or maybe they're play fighting. I know it sounds silly but I believe that a major part of the well-balanced equation is if a cocktail can "play" like that. Plus it's more interesting.

Here now, Jason Ackerman's favorite GREY GOOSE vodka recipe:
muddled Michigan blueberries
Thai basil
lemon juice
clover honey syrup

Shake and double strain over crushed ice. Throw a sprig of basil on top, lay back in the lounge chair, enjoy sun. Repeat. Several times.