On The Rocks - The Bone Collector - Alfredo Aguilar
One of the reasons I began this blog is to highlight the hidden creativity found in the Tucson food scene. I bet there are still some people that have never thought about cocktails being an art. They might think of them as just typical drinks on a menu that anyone can make, so they become ordinary, expected and not worth a second thought. That is definitely not the case, and that is the main topic of my conversation with Alfredo on this instalment of On The Rocks.
Alfredo said to me repeatedly throughout our time together, "I only have so much space to make a statement”. If you really think about it, chefs have a whole plate to wow you with and bartenders usually only have a small glass to really impress you. There's only so much liquid you can pour in there, right?
We settled into our seats and the questions began.
Why should people care about your craft?
People should care about my craft because I do. There's nothing that just I create, it's all a collaboration between me and my chef. We are like a partnership that I wouldn't trade for anything. Everything in this restaurant and everything that comes out of that bar we care about, and I think that's what lacks in what some people are doing. We care about it so much and I just hope that people appreciate that.
Do you feel like mixology/craft drink making is underrepresented in Tucson?
Not at all. Actually, I feel like it's kinda overrepresented and I actually do not like the “M” word. Even though it's part of my job title I'm not a fan of the “M” word; it's kind of pretentious to me. I definitely don't think it's underrepresented or under appreciated but, I feel like there's a pretentiousness that kinda goes along with it that people don't take the time to enjoy it for what it is. You can do something that's really simple and it can be amazing, you know what I mean? Just to put your heart and soul into it. Not everything has to be like 30 steps.
What are 1-3 things you wish your customers knew?
In general, I wish people in the industry or at the bar in a restaurant would understand how much goes into what we do. Whether or not you were amazed by what you had or it wasn't what you expected or whatever, I just wish people knew how much of us goes into everything that we do. I wish people knew how much passion goes behind what we do. It's not an easy career. The hours are horrible. You have to take things from people, whether you agree or not, and the only way that you can survive in an environment that way is if you love what you do, and you enjoy the times that you really make people happy. So every time we make someone really happy that outweighs the one time that somebody may not have had a great experience for whatever the reason.
What's the worst and best part of your job?
The best part of my job is having a creative outlet. I need that. I need to be pushed and challenged and being able to just create something new, something that wasn't there before, is amazing. The mentorship that I have in Chef Gary and in the company I work for is amazing because I'm always learning; there's so much room for growth. And honestly, I think the worst part of my job is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's just a lot of pressure to continuously create things that people are going to love and enjoy. It weighs on you after a while to have people that never created anything in their life (drinks) judging you for creating things. It can get to you sometimes. So I would say that's the only downfall to this job, but the benefits outweigh the negative by a lot.
Where do you get that inspiration from?
Inspiration for me comes from everything in life. I'll taste something new somewhere, so I'll experience a flavor combination I've never experienced before. I'll walk by our little herb garden over here, and I'll see these herbs and be like how can I use this for that or this? And then I'd go back there and I see what they're doing in the kitchen. Maybe there's like a chef's cut or something special that's amazing and we'll try it and it's so good and then I'm like, okay, what can I make that's going to go with this? Or like raise the bar a little bit. I love that, the that back and forth. But it's cohesive, we're working, we're not trying to best each other. Everything has to gel and everything has to go together. At the end of the day we're just creating something together. I love that. That's where my passion comes from.
I always like to ask about alcohol and food pairings, but in our conversation instead of asking that question, it just seemed right to rather state the fact that understanding the menu is key to knowing how to really pair your food with wine or a cocktail. To this Alfredo answered:
Absolutely, you hit the nail on the head. It's the most critical part of it because if you're a bartender who's just trying to make a cocktail and say that pairs with this or that, you're so inside your own head, your own ego, and you're only caring about what you're doing. And you need to care about what they're (the kitchen) doing, and to understand what they're doing. You need to know every part of how something’s prepared in order to pair it. If you don't understand A, you can't find the B that goes with it. So, you hit the nail on the head. You have to understand the menu. You have to know it better than anybody other than the people that make it.
What's the best kind of night at your bar?
This bar has a unique dynamic because we have two bars, so it's a completely different experience at each. My most ideal experience would be when I'm not so caught up in the service, well, that I can actually interact with my guests and I can actually talk to them and give them the experience that I like the guests to have. I like to be able to talk to them, to figure out what it is they like, what they don't like. And then, the absolute cherry on top, is putting something in front of them that they told me they didn’t like and getting them to appreciate it because I listened to what it is they don't like about it and introduced them to something new -opened their horizons. It applies to everything. Then they're more likely to try a dish they wouldn't try or a different cocktail like this one that they wouldn't normally try and that's kind of what makes this fun.
Now, let me share with you this crazy, new, and exciting drink that Alfredo made. It's called The Bone Collector and it's just as cool and scary as it sounds. I asked him to give me a little background on it, the ingredients used, and the thought process behind making such a different memorable cocktail.
I think it was like when you first contacted me about creating a drink. As I said, I have home runs that I know everybody loves and I could have gone with something like that; safe. But I decided to take a risk. I wanted to showcase the way that we have this partnership, the symbiotic relationship of the food and the drink here, and get in the kitchen, roll up my sleeves, and work on making what I consider to be probably the most intensive craft cocktail because I literally crafted every aspect of it other than distilling the spirit and juicing apples. I wanted to get in the kitchen with Chef Gary and I wanted to do something that was the heart and soul of Charro Steak. I wanted to use beef because that's what we're about. I wanted to use meat bones. I wanted to use the marrow aspect of it to give it dimension and I knew I wanted something savory because that's something that people are afraid of, something that people aren't really doing. I knew that I wanted it savory and I knew what I wanted in it, but I didn't know how I was going to get there. It was just of trying things and saying, well this is working, this isn't working, more of this, less of this, and it was a challenge. Because for every other kind of drink, if you're talking about making a new kind of sour or you're talking about making a different style old fashioned, there's a template for it. But there isn't a template for this. We're reinventing the wheel. That's what I wanted to do. That's how it came about.
The star of the cocktail is the bone marrow broth. It's a consommé made from beef bones. We used foot bones and we used femur bones because they have a lot of marrow. Then we cut up onion, celery, carrots, and we put that into this huge pot and then just let it sit for 48 hours on low heat to let all those nutrients and all of those flavors marry together. Then we strained all that out and we let it, like, cool so that all the fat would separate and basically filter that again, refine it again.
From there we built a raft, so we took a bunch of egg whites, a ground hamburger, onions and beat the egg whites until they had stiff peaks. Then put those on top of the broth and let them boil so that all the impurities would get caught up in the raft, and then strain it out again. We went through all that process just to make that one ingredient. Then, from there, we have the fat washed whiskey. We used Whiskey Del Bac because it's a local spirit. So I thought that was a cool thing to do. It has that mesquite smoke element to it, which kind of goes along with what we do. We fat washed it with the renderings from the consommé that we made. Then used some apple juice to give it a little bit of sweetness, some lime and agave just for that balance of acid and sweetness to bring out the solidity and the richness of the broth, and then some hot sauce and some of the pickling spice from the garnish. It was a very long process, but it was worth it. I think it was worth it.
Would you say that this drink is probably the craziest thing you've ever done?
Definitely the craziest thing I've ever made or attempted, no question about it. The craziest thing I've ever tasted to date I'd say probably yes, and that's what I was going for so mission accomplished. But not crazy in a bad way.
Would you say as of now this is the cocktail you're most proud of?
Definitely the one I'm most proud of.
So what's your pitch for The Bone Collector?
Well, like I told you when you first came in, I said I know right off the bat this isn't for everybody. But if somebody comes in and they say hey, make me something, which is like my favorite thing when people do that, then okay, cool. Let me ask you some questions. What do you like? Are you looking for this? Looking for that? What's your spirit animal? Right? I use the spirit animal because it's like people get it like my spirit animal is Tequila (LOL). So, if they say I'm totally open, that's the jackpot. That's what I love. Then it goes something like this, "Okay, I have something really interesting, I guarantee you've never tried anything like it," and I wouldn't oversell it and I don't want to give them an expectation. I want them to go into it just knowing it's weird and that's it.
It was definitely a journey for Alfredo to get to where he is now, because bartending was a job he took out of necessity, and later it became his passion and here he is now creating such different and inspiring drinks for all you guys to enjoy. After hearing him out and just having this awesome conversation with him, there's not a doubt in my mind that he is one of the most passionate and grateful bartenders you will ever meet. Trust me when I tell you, if he's making your drink, you're in good hands. Trust him to guide you in the right direction when it comes to trying something new. If you don't like it, be honest. There's nothing he likes more than honesty when it comes to his drinks. The goal here is for you to enjoy the experience and not feel forced to like something that you really don't. I hope you enjoy your next experience and that you take a chance on The Bone Collector if you're about that savory life. And if you do, please let him know you're trying this drink because of Fat Tucson.
Save this image to your phone and show it the next time you go into Charro Steak if you'd like to expand your cocktail horizons.
On The Rocks is a platform which highlights cocktails and cocktail makers for their excellent craftsman skills and their spirit knowledge.