7 of CT’s most innovative drink makers

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Creative, innovative and resourceful, these Connecticut bar professionals make magic in a glass with spirits, fresh juices, seasonal produce and sometimes a few unexpected ingredients. Meet seven of the state’s top mixology experts.

Beverage Director at Viron Rondo Osteria (Cheshire)

Dimitrios Zahariadis, beverage director at Viron Rondo Osteria in Cheshire

Caplanson Winter

Zahariadis has been a bartender for 27 years, first starting at his family’s restaurant when he was 19. Cocktails have come “a long way” since the mid-1990s, he says, and he began learning about craft drinks around the turn of the century, working in New York and Boston to study emerging trends. produce in large cities. Back home, he co-founded the New Haven Chapter of the Bartenders Guild of the United States in 2008, and opened the cocktail bar Highland Brass Co. in Waterbury in 2015, then resold it in 2019.

He is currently Director of Beverages at Cheshire’s Viron Rondo Osteria, but he is also an entrepreneur. Its Cocktail Chemist line of ready-to-drink canned cocktails is now part of the CoreBev spirits portfolio, with offerings like a nitro espresso martini, cranberry vodka soda and mojito. At Viron Rondo Osteria, one of the drinks he serves is an Island Old Fashioned, with Pineapple Plantation Rum, Fruity Coconut Liqueur, Bittermans tiki bitters, Luxardo Cherry and orange oil.

Favorite cocktail technique: “I love taking fruity, sweet, refreshing cocktails and turning them into sips…more of a robust rock cocktail.”

Jamie Oakes

Bartender at Millwright’s (Simsbury)

Jamie Oakes, bartender at Millwright's in Simsbury

Jamie Oakes, bartender at Millwright’s in Simsbury

Caplanson Winter

Oakes got his start as a bartender in casual settings, working in a pool hall, then for the Cursors group of sports bars. Her friend and mentor Khalid Williams brought her on board at the former Barley Vine gastropub in Bristol and introduced her to the world of craft cocktails. “He basically took a chance on me, and that’s how I started on this side of things,” she says.

At the famous farm to table Millwright, Oakes says she has the “creative freedom” to come up with whatever cocktails she wants to add to the menu, as long as they contain the freshest seasonal ingredients. Early summer drinks at Millwright’s included a blackberry mint shrub and a tea-based libation with tequila, Aperol, rhubarb and honey.

Another recent Millwright cocktail blended white miso and bourbon, while Oakes drew inspiration from pastry chef Kristin Eddy’s use of miso caramel in the dessert menu.

Favorite new product: Oakes is a fan of Connecticut-based Fruitful Mixology, which produces fruity liqueurs in flavors of mango, passion fruit, guava, clementine and apricot.

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Dan Reck

Bar Manager at Mecha Noodle Bar (multiple locations)

Dan Rek, Bar Manager at Mecha Noodle Bar (multiple locations)

Dan Rek, Bar Manager at Mecha Noodle Bar (multiple locations)

Caplanson Winter

Rek’s restaurant and bartending career spans several popular Connecticut locations, including Treva in West Hartford, Elm City Society in New Haven and Viron Rondo Osteria in Cheshire. Now he oversees multi-party cocktail parties Mecha noodle bar locations, and was part of the opening team for his new restaurant in Brookline, Mass., in late June.

Mecha’s Southeast Asian comfort food menu, featuring ramen, pho, baos and dumplings, lends itself to an Asian-inspired cocktail list featuring sake, shochu, matcha, yuzu and plum wine. But it’s not limited to that, says Rek, noting Mecha co-founder Rich Reyes’ Dominican heritage and his love of pisco and cachaça. Other drinks include tequila, mezcal, and tropical juices.

What he works with now: Pandan, a herbaceous tropical plant that Mecha uses in a Polynesian-style drink. “It’s almost like an amaretto, almond, hazelnut flavor, but it’s a herb so it has a vegetal note. We have to explain to people, ‘This is a really unique flavor, are you ready?’

Chelsea Solkowski

Bar manager at The Charles (Wethersfield)

Chelsea Solkowski, bar manager at the Charles in Wethersfield

Chelsea Solkowski, bar manager at
The Charles at Wethersfield

Lisa Nichols/Hearst CT Media

Solkowski began her restaurant career at age 16, working her way up as a waitress and waitress. She started out serving as a bartender in a banquet hall, making ‘easy drinks’, she says, and was cast in the role at a busy Thanksgiving party when a bartender failed to show up. .

To Charles, she thinks the components of the cocktail should be “sweet, bitter, sour, and a little watered down,” and she watches what’s in season, consulting a cookbook to see what flavors go together well. Her cocktails typically feature a wide range of base spirits, and she often comes up with their tongue-in-cheek names before the recipes are even complete. (Oakes is a fan of his Bad Habit Rabbit mezcal drink, with carrot juice and corn liquor.)

The TikTok effect: Solkowski can tell when a cocktail has been popular on social media sites once several customers start coming in and asking for something specific. “It’s almost predictable. If I see a million likes on a video on a Boulevardier, I’m like, “Let me have some Campari.” ”

Alfie Gonzalez

Bar Manager at ATC South St. (Litchfield)

Alfie Gonzalez, bar manager at ATC South St. in Litchfield

Alfie Gonzalez, bar manager at ATC South St. in Litchfield

Lisa Nichols/Hearst CT Media

Originally from Mexico City, Gonzalez traveled to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics and ended up staying there. He took a job as a bartender at a Mexican restaurant and found himself in a bartending role when a colleague didn’t show up one night.

With Brexit impacting his work visa, he brought his bartending ability to restaurants and bars in western Connecticut, and eventually became co-owner of Brinx Kitchen & Bar in Torrington in 2019 – later selling it to new owners.

To ATC South Street., the menu focuses on tacos and burritos, but cocktails go way beyond margaritas. Gonzalez has a Painkiller, Corpse Reviver, and old-school mezcal on his roster, and he loves creating custom “dealer’s choice” drinks for guests based on their favorite spirits and flavor profiles. “We wanted to strike the balance for gin lovers, bourbon lovers, and we wanted to have [drinks] for everyone,” he says.

Signature drink: ATC’s ‘South of the Corner’ with Litchfield Distillery vanilla bourbon, mezcal, elderflower, lemon, berry syrup and prosecco.

Jade Ayala

Beverage Director at Oyster Club and The Port of Call (Mystic)

Jade Ayala, Beverage Manager at Oyster Club and The Port of Call in Mystic

Jade Ayala, Beverage Manager at Oyster Club and The Port of Call in Mystic

Idlewild Photo Co.

Ayala got her start at the former Firebox restaurant in Hartford, which was an early model of farm-to-table dining in the state. “I just learned from the bartenders there. Everything I learned was self-taught,” she says.

Ayala oversees the bar program at oyster club restaurant and its seasonal outdoor tree house, as well as the new nautical theme Port of call and its basement bar, Dive, just next door on Water Street. “I always tell Oyster Club that cocktails are your first course, basically. I like to make them tasty, I like to make them interesting, with different mouthfeel and complexity that way. It’s like something you serve on a plate,” she says.

Most surprising ingredient: Port of Call’s ‘Organic Woodland Matter’, an ‘umami and salty’ Manhattan, incorporates Rittenhouse rye whiskey and a mushroom vermouth created by Ayala. “It’s earthy, it’s savory, but it’s still kind of my style. It was a little out of the way, but that’s all you recognize in a Manhattan.

John Meyer

Beverage Director at Rosina’s (Greenwich)

Juan Meyer, Beverage Manager at Rosina's in Greenwich

Juan Meyer, Beverage Manager at Rosina’s in Greenwich

Lisa Nichols/Hearst CT Media

Meyer got his start as a bartender at country clubs in Florida and eventually made his way to the Northeast, where he worked for Fairfield County spots like Barcelona wine bar, The propagation and Eastend.

He relishes the social aspect of the bartender. “It’s face-to-face with customers…establishing regulars, good relationships with people,” he says. To by Rosine, he oversees a bar rich in Italian wines, aperitivi and amari. Meyer’s menu goes beyond natural Italian influences, however, with the best-selling tequila-based Rico Tubbs and Chiquita described as a “triple banana daiquiri” with banana rum, mashed banana and banana cream. “It’s very well balanced,” he says of the fruit trio. “Actually, it works very well.”

What he drinks: “My favorite cocktail is probably the Singapore Sling. If I see that on the menu somewhere… I’m a huge cocktail lover, I love tiki drinks.

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