Chino Lee is quite possibly the most likable bartender you’ll ever meet. He’s always in a good mood, always affable and sunny and smiling and enjoying life. When you need a mood uplift, you can rely on Chino behind the stick at the Departure Restaurant and Lounge; he’ll give you that smile and happily make you a great cocktail to perk you up.
So it’s interesting that All Around Mr. Nice Guy likes his cocktails in the unabashed booze-forward Pre-Prohibition style.
Chino knows his craft, and he can make a spot-on classic perfectly. He’s also more than conversant with some pretty esoteric bitters and tinctures, makes a few fancy extractions and syrups, and has an inexhaustible knowledge of various teas and spices that he can use to great effect, so he is easily capable of delicate subtleties when mixing cocktails, without a doubt.
Yet when it comes to what he likes to make, and especially what he comes up with in cocktail competitions, Chino tends to focus first and foremost on the spirit he’s working with. Which makes sense, right? Why use a spirit for a cocktail base if you don’t want to showcase that spirit?
Chino also likes doing riffs on the classics, so in a recent display of his competitive cocktail skills at the introduction of Roca Patrón Tequila to Portland sponsored by the Oregon Bartenders Guild, he showed up with his sunny smile and stylish silk ascot and trademark bright colors to whip up an Old Fashioned based on Roca Patrón, a new “artesanal” tequila, named after the huge multi-ton milling stone used to pulp the ripe agave to extract its precious aguamiel (honey water).
True to Chino fashion for the Old Fashioned, he chose the Roca Patrón Reposado. Reposado means “rested” in Tequila, and it signifies time in barrel—not so much for aging though, more for gentling and rounding the rough edges of the young tequila by letting it “repose” for a while in barrel so it is more mellow and richly flavored, with only the barest hint of wood for a touch of added complexity.
For his El Perron Tequila Old Fashioned, Chino used a full 2 ounce pour of Roca Patrón Reposado, 1 ounce of Punt é Mes, a blend of sweet red vermouth with a small percentage of bitters (The name comes from the origin of the aperitif, when harried Spanish stockbrokers in Madrid would step into a bar and quickly signal they needed a bracer, using a stockbroker’s floor signal of one finger followed by a flat swipe of the hand—a point and a half, per favor.); ½ ounce Combier Triple Sec provided the obligatory bittersweet orange; with two dashes of barrel-aged bitters, a cinnamon stick and an orange twist adding spice color and garnish, filling a hefty, weighty double-old fashioned glass that’s comfortable in the hand. As an extra touch, Chino pulled out a flame gun and gently toasted the cinnamon stick to release the fragrant spice aromas, and deftly twisted the orange to pump up the aromatic quotient just a touch higher.
The Reposado and Punt é Mes went toe to toe with each other, and neither was willing to give ground, but they did eventually come to terms and become companionable; still, it was a tenuous balance that maintained a constant tension that made the sum better than the parts. Oh, wait: I think we just described a good cocktail.
The result was an aggressively aromatic variation on an Old Fashioned, with citrus fruit and spice driving the agave fruit and spice rather than the more usual whiskey. It is delightful, both familiar and new, and quite spirituous, managing to give the drinker a dual surprise of a new-fashioned Old Fashioned and a new way to enjoy new tequila that’s old fashioned.