Neyah White

This is the Eighth in an ongoing series of bartender features on the Underhill-Lounge.

Previously, I had experimented by asking the bartender at Montgomery Place to make me a Bombay Cocktail No. 2, but this just seemed to result in a grumpy bartender.

To make it less of a shock, I thought I would contact some local bartenders and give them a choice of the dozen or so Savoy Cocktails that might be coming up in the book.

Surprisingly, some actually were game.

When folks ask me which bars to go to in San Francisco, there are several restaurants which I routinely list along with bars. Among them is NOPA in the Western Addition neighborhood near the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

Nopa Front Door

When my wife and I lived in another part of San Francisco, one of our favorite restaurants was Chow. We were regulars there from the time it opened until we moved out of the neighborhood. Great, affordable food presented with heart. One of the astounding things to me was how long the staff stick around at Chow. We can still go back in, nearly 6 years later, and still recognize some of the same staff who waited on us.

Nopa Sign

A couple years ago, one of the guys who opened Chow split off to open NOPA. Slightly more expensive food, a bigger space, and a full bar. They were also one of the first restaurants in San Francisco to include a large table off the bar for communal dining.

Sky Bottles

One of the nifty things about Chow is that it is open fairly late. They have carried that even a bit further at NOPA, serving until 1:00 AM. Combine that with a bar, and you know it is going to be popular with the industry crowd.

As far as I can tell, like Chow, NOPA has been an incredibly successful restaurant and bar.

To get back to the bar, I’d run into Neyah White, the bar manager at NOPA, a few times around town. We’d talked. I’d insulted his taste in Absinthe. We talked some more. Eventually we got around to the idea of getting together to make some Savoy Cocktails. Finally, on a Saturday in October our schedules aligned and I met up with him on a Saturday afternoon to get together, chat, and try some Savoy Cocktails.

Neyah

Neyah White BIO:
Neyah finds himself lucky enough to be a part of the burgeoning cocktail scene in San Francisco. A transplant from the East Coast, he has been serving drinks for 15 years in some of the busiest and most well respected venues on both sides of the Country. In an effort to better understand the tools of his craft, he has spent time visiting distilleries all over the world as well as completing the Whisky Academy at Bruichladdich under the legendary Jim McEwan. This time in Scotland inspired him to use the bounty of ex-wine barrels available to him in Northern California to start enhancing his own Whiskey and Rum. Look for his independently bottled spirits to start showing up in the years to come, they are still sleeping now.
Neyah is currently the bar manager at Nopa in San Francisco where his program is well respected for its array of house produced bitters, tinctures and liqueurs. He is a believer in a passive approach to menu setting where the local farms and orchards determine what is used by season rather than forcing ingredients into drinks. These two aspects combine to produce many one-of-a-kind cocktails that cannot exist anywhere other than the bar at Nopa and that have been featured in the publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, Food and Wine, USAToday, Wine and Spirits, 7×7, Imbibe and Cheers.

When I asked Neyah what cocktails of the dozen I had sent he wanted to make he said, “Let’s make all of them. I’m painting my apartment and am really sore. I could use a break.”

Well, OK then… He even brought along some of his stash of vintage glassware to make the pictures more interesting.

melon

Melon Cocktail

1/8 Lemon Juice. (1/4 oz Lemon Juice)
3/8 Maraschino. (3/4 oz Maraska Maraschino)
1/2 Gin. (1 oz Plymouth Gin)

Shake (stir?) well and strain into cocktail glass.

Like the Allen, another Aviation-esque cocktail. Perfectly fine, but not particularly outstanding.

merry widow

Merry Widow Cocktail

2 Dashes Absinthe. (St. George)
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
2 Dashes Benedictine. (1 teaspoon Benedictine)
1/2 French Vermouth. (1 oz French Vermouth)
1/2 Dry Gin. (1 oz Plymouth Gin)

Stir well and strain into cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel on top.

When we initially tasted this, it was just too dry. Neyah remarked,”That Widow is just not very merry!” A bit more benedictine seemed to bring it into somewhat more tasty territory, but to my tastes there was still something conflicting in this combination. Maybe the bitters and the Absinthe?

mikado

Mikado Cocktail

2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
2 Dashes Crème de Noyau. (1/2 teaspoon Luxardo Amaretto)
2 Dashes Orgeat Syrup. (1/2 teaspoon Underhill Homemade Orgeat)
2 Dashes Curacao. (1/2 teaspoon Senior Orange Curacao
1/2 Glass Brandy. (1 oz Lustau Brandy)

Shake (stir!) well and strain into cocktail glass.

A Japanese Cocktail, more or less, and who can argue with that?

Q: It seems the question on everybody’s mind is, have you seen any change in people’s drinking habits due to the recent financial news?

A: We’re still doing good numbers, with busy dinners and the late night industry crowd still coming in (Note: NOPA, like Beretta serves dinner from open until close at 1:00 AM).

It isn’t so much what people are drinking where we’ve noticed a change, as when and who are drinking.

Up until now the bar had been banging from open until close.  We’ve seen a real drop off in happy hour drinkers.  The sort of business crowd who were coming in at 5:30 right after work.  They’re either staying at work longer or just not drinking out as much.

millionaire

Millionaire Cocktail (No. 1)

The Juice of 1 Lime.
1 Dash Grenadine. (NOPA House Made)
1/3 Sloe Gin. (3/4 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin)
1/3 Apricot Brandy. (3/4 oz Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot)
1/3 Jamaica Rum. (3/4 oz Ron Barcelo Rum)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

The Millionaire, to my mind, is a neglected classic. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any Jamaica Rum and subbed in the Puerto Rican Ron Barcelo. It’s definitely a lighter flavored rum then the Appleton V/X I usually make this with. This allowed the Apricot Brandy to really come to the fore.

Millionaire No 2

Millionaire Cocktail (No. 2)

1 Dash Anisette. (dash or two Sambuca)
The White of 1 Egg.
1/3 Absinthe. (3/4 oz Obsello Absinthe)
2/3 Dry Gin. (3/4 oz Leopold’s Gin)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Whatever you do, don’t leave out the sweetener if you are making this with traditional Absinthe. If you do so, it will likely end up fairly dry. With a healthy dash of Sambuca, we found this an interesting eye-opener type cocktail.

img_2789

Million Dollar Cocktail

Tablespoonful Pineapple Juice. (Knudsen)
Teaspoonful Grenadine. (NOPA House Made)
The White of 1 Egg.
1/3 Italian Vermouth. (3/4 oz Martini & Rossi Rosso Vermouth)
2/3 Plymouth Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Gin)

Shake well and strain into medium size glass.

Egg white and Italian Vermouth cocktails always look like dishwater to me, so we were pleased to note combining the textures of Egg White and Pineapple presented a very interesting textural element. You almost can’t taste the pineapple, more feeling it. A somewhat tasty and bizarre drink, if not particularly visually appealing.

Q: Spirits and cocktail programs are currently being marketed as what I’d call luxury goods.  To me this is a self limiting strategy.  (Ooops, that wasn’t a question.)

A: A lot of this comes down to the money poured into and the money made by the vodka industry.  It’s not a new thing, I recently wrote a post on a similar theme on the blog (“I declare that I now own the word ‘cool’“).  To me, the Absolut ads from the 1980s are where it started.  It’s just more and more we’re seeing it seep into other spirits and even now bar programs.  I don’t envy young bartenders who are being asked by management to create serious drink programs without experience in the industry.  A lot of these really big corporations will just give you product, if they think it will get them on the back bar.

Minnehaha Cocktail

Minnehaha Cocktail

The Juice of 1/4 Orange. (3/4 oz Fresh Orange Juice)
1/4 French Vermouth. (1/2 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth)
1/4 Italian Vermouth. (1/2 oz Martini & Rossi Rosso Vermouth)
1/2 Dry Gin. (1 oz Martin Miller Gin)
1 dash Absinthe. (St. George)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Aside from the fact that I just made this exact cocktail less than a week ago as the Maurice, it is fascinating how different this version is! I know I cheated last time and used the M&R Bianco Vermouth, but damn is this different. For me, it is the cucumber in the Martin Miller Gin, which really rises to the fore.

img_2794

Mickie Walker Cocktail.

1 Dash Grenadine. (House Made)
1 Dash Lemon Juice.
1/4 Italian Vermouth. (1/2 oz Martini and Rossi Rosso)
3/4 Scotch Whisky. (John, Mark, and Robbo Smooth, Sweeter One)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Blind, we doubted we could tell this from a Rob Roy, but we both thought we would rather be drinking a Rob Roy.

Mississippi Mule

Mississippi Mule Cocktail

2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Broker’s Gin)
1/6 Lemon Juice. (1/2 of 3/4 oz Lemon Juice)
1/6 Crème de Cassis. (1/2 of 3/4 oz Trenel Creme de Cassis)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

No idea why this is named “Mississippi Mule”. Don’t really see a connection to Mississippi nor does it contain ginger ale. It does appear to come from Harry McElhone’s book, but he is no more forthcoming than the Savoy authors. A fine, if somewhat plain cocktail. To be honest, I think it would be quite a bit better if you built it over ice and topped it up with ginger ale. But that’s just me…

Q: As we were talking, it came up that Neyah had worked for a period for a large corporate chain which shall remain nameless.  It seemed apropos to ask if this background served him well when running a bar program which does as much volume as NOPA does.

A: Absolutely.  Working for them was like a boot camp.  Not only that, but these big corporate programs understand how much of the business is about process rather than simply making drinks.  When I was working for them, I had three shifts behind the bar and then three days for other tasks.  Inventory, ordering, developing processes.

Mr. Manhattan

Mr. Manhattan Cocktail

Crush one lump of sugar in a little water.
Then crush four leaves of fresh green mint. and add –
1 Dash Lemon Juice. (1/2 teaspoon)
4 Dashes Orange Juice. (1/4 oz or so fresh Orange Juice)
1 Glass Gin. (2 oz Bols Genever)

(Muddle sugar cube in Lemon Juice and Orange Juice.  Add mint and gently press.  Add Gin and…)  Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

When we were thinking about this, it occurred to Neyah to try with Bols Genever. To me that totally made sense, given the 19th Century style recipe. Delicious! The winner of the afternoon. Neyah’s comment was, “I wish this had a better name, because I want to put it on the list!”

Modern No 1

Modern Cocktail (No. 1)

1 Dash Orange Bitters. (NOPA House Made)
2 Dashes Jamaica Rum. (Gosling’s Black Seal)
1 Dash Absinthe. (St. George)
2 Dashes Lemon Juice. (1/2 teaspoon or so)
1 Glass Scotch Whisky. (2 oz John, Mark, and Robbo, Rich and Spicy One)
(Dash Simple Syrup)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We tasted this and it just wasn’t doing it for us. A touch of simple brought out both the richness of the scotch and the flavor of the rum.

Q: Talking about their ingredients at NOPA, I realized how much of what they make in house.  Grenadine, liqueurs, bitters, etc.  I asked how important house made ingredients were to his ideas for the bar at NOPA.

A: Originally it was my conception to have almost all the drink modifiers made in house.  While we make many bitters, syrups and liqueurs in house, I found I couldn’t keep up with the amounts needed for vermouth and some of the others.  I’m especially excited about an orange infusion which I started last year and is about ready.  It was an all season long infusion, where I added seasonal citrus to the batch as we progressed through the citrus season.  Starting with kumquats and clementines and then moving to navels, seville, etc.  I’m hoping to use it both for our house orange bitters and an orange liqueur.

Modern No. 2

Modern Cocktail (No. 2)

1 Dash Orange Bitters. (NOPA House Made)
1 Dash Absinthe. (St. George)
1 Dash Grenadine. (NOPA House Made)
1/3 Scotch Whisky. (3/4 oz John, Mark, and Robbo, Rich and Spicy One)
2/3 Sloe Gin. (1 1/2 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We both thought this a fine, tasty cocktail. Definitely worth the try, if you have Sloe Gin and Scotch in the house.

Original Cocktail:
Dented Bently:
1 oz. Calvados
1 oz. Dubonnet
1/4 oz. Nocino

Stir gently with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Like the Slanted Door, NOPA is an incredibly busy restaurant. On a busy night the restaurant will do over 500 covers. One of the amazing things to me, when I go in, is how many mixed drinks I see out at tables. Their version of the Old Cuban seems to be at nearly every other table in the restaurant. Yet they hold the bar and service staff to an incredibly high standard. All fresh squeezed juice. Many homemade ingredients, High quality spirits, Jigger pouring, etc. Like the Slanted Door, NOPA is proof that, if the commitment is there from the staff and management, a high volume restaurant can successfully run a drink program without sacrificing quality.

For me, I can think of no higher praise for Mr. White, and the the drink program at NOPA, than to say, while there are many restaurants and bars in San Francisco, there are few I will as unreservedly recommend for cocktails as NOPA.

Also, the Pork Chop is one of the best I’ve ever had.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

4 thoughts on “Neyah White

  1. That Millionaire #1 is bee-yoo-tiful. :-)

    Also, did you ever think of adding a bit of blue curacao to the Mr. Manhattan and calling it the “Dr. Manhattan”?

    (Sorry…I just can’t help myself sometimes)

  2. Good one Craig, it actually doesn’t sound like a bad drink, using a bit of curacao in the Mr. Manhattan! Shoulda pitched the “Dr. Manhattan” to the promoters of the Watchmen movie and the makers of Bols Genever.

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