Valley bartenders share their favorite summer cocktail concoctions

  • Jocelyn Fleischner, who works at Gigantic, makes a Paternity Test cocktail. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lincoln Allen, who works at Amherst Coffee, pours rye whisky while making The Dad Joke cocktail. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS


  • Jocelyn Fleischner, who works at Gigantic, pours 151-proof rum into a lime before igniting it while making a Paternity Test cocktail, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cinnamon creates sparks as it is sprinkled on ignited 151-proof rum pooled in a lime, the garnish of a Paternity Test cocktail at Gigantic. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steven LeBlanc, who works at The Green Room, stirs a Black Metal Manhattan cocktail after completing a Naked and Famous, right. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steven LeBlanc, who works at The Green Room, strains a Black Metal Manhattan cocktail into a glass, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steven LeBlanc, who works at The Green Room, ignites the oil of a lemon peel for a Black Metal Manhattan cocktail, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Steven LeBlanc, who works at The Green Room, ignites the oil of a lemon peel for a Black Metal Manhattan cocktail, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Negroni cocktail at The Green Room in Northampton, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lincoln Allen, who works at Amherst Coffee, pours through a strainer while making The Dad Joke cocktail.

  • The Dad Joke cocktail, at Amherst Coffee. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer 
Published: 7/19/2019 11:54:24 AM
Modified: 7/19/2019 11:54:12 AM

The perfect cocktail is made with attention to detail. A reliable recipe, high-quality ingredients and mixing techniques are essential to creating a well-crafted drink, but so is a hospitable and knowledgeable bartender. 

It can be overwhelming for some to walk into a bar stocked with racks of bottles with foreign-sounding names such as cognac and Campari, and menus with ingredients like Angostura and vermouth. 

Bartenders at three local spots – Gigantic, Amherst Coffee and The Green Room – say they like having a conversation with customers as they decide on what drink to order, and using their bartending expertise to arrive at the right flavors for a customer’s palate.

“Let’s talk about it,” Jocelyn Fleischner, a bartender at Gigantic, says when customers are unsure what to order. There could be dozens of variations of recipes for classic cocktails, and every bartender has their own style of making a drink. Fleischner said a bartender is there to guide people towards a memorable drink. 

“We want our customers to leave feeling more informed so that the next time they walk into a cocktail bar, they have a drink for reference,” Fleischner said. 

The first printed definition of the word “cocktail” came in 1806 when the newspaper editor of The Balance and Columbian Repository, out of Hudson, New York, defined it as, “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” That definition holds true today. 

Jerry Thomas’s “The Bar-Tender’s Guide,” published in 1862, is the first book of drink recipes published in the United States. In it, he describes how to make a whiskey cocktail, known today as an old-fashioned, which is comprised of gum syrup, a couple dashes of bitters, a wineglass of whiskey with a piece of lemon peel, and one-third wine glass full of fine ice. 

Nowadays, bartenders tend to keep variations of old-fashions, and many other classic cocktails, up their sleeves. 

The craft of making cocktails involves making a drink over and over again, bartenders said, improving it slightly each time with fine-tuning and adjustments, to make a perfect, consistent drink that customers can rely on over the course of a sitting, or sometimes years. 

Bartenders from the three local establishments share some of their favorite choices offered as part of their summer menus. 

Tiki-inspired fusions

To combat the heat, Gigantic at 78 Cottage St., Easthampton has a menu made up of tropical drinks that will run for the rest of the season. 

“All the drinks on the menu are Tiki-esque – tropical and summery – with fun garnishes,” Fleischner said. When coming up with the menu, Fleischner said bartenders at the bar will work for months ahead of time to decide what spirits should be represented while offering a variety of original drinks and classically-inspired cocktails. 

“We are a newer bar figuring things out,” Fleischner said. “We are finding out what the community likes, what they gravitate towards, while also challenging their experience with something new or different that they may not of had before.” 

For a balanced flavor of smokey, bitter and sweet, Fleischner recommends the Smoky Bandito ($13), made with mezcal, sherry, an Italian bitters called Cynar 70, aged rum, a caramel-flavored syrup and Bogarts bitters. 

For a smoothie-like concoction, Fleischner recommends the East of Istanbul, which is inspired by a Mango Lassi. The cocktail is made with saffron infused gin, Stone Pine liqueur, rose syrup, mango puree, kefir and lemon. 

Sunday nights at Gigantic are Tiki nights; Tuesdays are game nights and monthly disco parties are on Thursdays. 

Movie-inspired drinks

Amherst Coffee, at 28 Amity St., Amherst, recently updated their menu for the summer, and new items join mainstays such as the Mr. Pink, The Dad Joke and Legit Irish Coffee. 

“It’s a balance of original ideas of mine and classic cocktails,” says Lincoln Allen, the coffee shop’s bar manager. 

Allen drew inspiration from films when naming some of his creations. 

Mr. Pink ($10), an aperitif-based cocktail with rose vermouth aperol and hibiscus ginger tea, is a bright-pink cocktail on draft that turns heads on at the bar, Allen said. 

“Once one goes out we sell a bunch more,” Allen said. The name of the drink comes from a character in Quentin Tarantino’s film “Reservoir Dogs” played by Steve Buscemi. 

Another drink with a cinema-inspired name, and one of Allen’s inventions, is Captain Ron ($12), an homage to the ‘90s film statting Kurt Russell.

Made with a combination of tequila and mezcal, aloe, lime, cucumber soda and orange bitters, it has a bright texture and is a refreshing choice, Allen said.

The most popular drink at the bar, Allen said, is The Dad Joke. It’s a cocktail made with Rittenhouse rye, angostura, lemon, and cashew syrup. 

“It’s pretty eye-catching,” Allen said. “The angostura bitters gives almost a red color and a fluffy texture. It looks different than what people expect it to. Bitters become the center of the drink, and it’s somewhat unusual.” 

Usually, a cocktail will use a spirit as the base of the drink with a dash or two of bitters, but there is a full ounce of bitters in The Dad Joke. 

Amherst Coffee hosts Oyster Night, provided by BerkShore Seafood, from 5 - 8 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month. 

Affordable luxury

The Green Room, at 28 Center Street in Northampton, has their new menu for the rest of summer starting this weekend. 

Bartender Steven LeBlanc says the menu is built to be “approachable and accessible” with recipes varying in their representation of spirits. 

Beyond serving cocktails, LeBlanc says he want customers to feel at ease. 

“Put your feet up, be our guest,” LeBlanc said. “We are trying to take customers to unfamiliar territory and we extend our hand and say, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be fun and great.’” 

The Black Swan ($13), essentially a creamy daiquiri, blends white rum, lime juice, honey syrup and dry curacao with vanilla Irish Cream liquor, and it’s one of LeBlanc’s favorite additions to the menu. 

“It has a refreshing and light, yet creamy texture,” LeBlanc said. “Almost like a meringue flavor profile where you get the creaminess, the tartness and the sweetness.” 

Cracked black pepper is added over the top to accentuate the flavors, LeBlanc adds.

No matter how good a bartender can make a drink, LeBlanc says, it’s the experience that bartenders can provide that keep patrons coming back. 

“A story is more important than a recipe because a recipe can be confusing,” LeBlanc says. “A story is a memory you can hold onto. You might not remember the logistics or the semantics, but you remember that feeling … The drinks, the jokes, the conversation, everything was perfect and they want that again.” 

Tuesday nights are Tiki nights at The Green Room. 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at 

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