The “Jeff’s Cocktails by Jeff” Challenge

We are thrilled to virtually introduce you to our dear friend and regular patron Kathy to the blog. Some of you have been lucky enough to meet this spirited and enthusiastic guest as she often dines with her handsome counterpart Patrick, and their lovely friends Dan & Colleen. They can be spotted at seats 41 & 42 at the bar (or anywhere there's room) and makes friends with anyone near. With a passion for all things epicurious and her day job as a librarian, it seemed fitting she'd pen us a blog post. Enjoy this tale of our beloved departing bartender and his delicious libations. For all the Jeff lovers near and far (there are many), you will find him at the soon-to-open Brambling Cross Tavern opening later this month on Ballard Avenue.


Bummer. Brimmer and Heeltap’s fall cocktail menu came out the same week we learned that Jeff, one of our favorite Seattle bartenders, was moving on to another venue. We’re occasional cocktail drinkers and several of Jeff’s creations are among our favorites. We decided to channel our disappointment: In the next two weeks we’d order all of Jeff’s new cocktails, made by Jeff. The challenge was on.

We’re obliged to begin this post by sharing our spirit preferences. Dan is a brown liquor guy. Bourbon and rye are his favorites, and drinks of choice are manhattans, brooklyns, and negronis. He’s definitely not a fan of scotch. Kathy loves citrus, tequila and brandy, and leans toward margaritas, mojitos, and pisco sours. She only tolerates gin. Neither of us likes anything too sweet or smoky. Last spring’s woodland sour was a drink we both could love. Maybe we’d discover another one. On to see what the new menu had to offer.

On night one we played it safe and ordered by our preferred tastes. I started with the bueno vista social gimlet. (Is this a play on words or did Jeff flunk Spanish? I took French and I still
know it should be buena!) This drink is perfect for the citrus lover, particularly if you love cilantro. Maybe only if you love cilantro, and I fall on that side of the cilantro equation. Two sips into the drink and I quickly put in an order for the chile-lime tapioca chips. What a great match! I was off to a good start. Dan went for the literary reference, the farewell to arms, a smooth rum sour with just a kick from the thai chili tincture. He was pleasantly surprised how much he liked it, despite the fact that it’s a “pretty” drink. (And how serendipitous a Hemingway exhibit had opened that same day in New York City.) Meanwhile, eating the gimlet’s poblano garnish was a bit of a risk, but I loved the idea that there could be a redeeming, nutritional excuse to keep at this challenge. The ample pepper slice wasn’t too too spicy but I was glad for the tapioca chip chaser! We called it a night. Nine drinks to go.

On night two we stayed in safe territory again, me with the peppered pear and Dan with the 1-2, 1-2. The only problem is that Dan doesn’t really like grapefruit. The ¼” garnish slice was less subtle than he’d hoped. We had to keep tasting this one to find words to describe it, settling on bitter on bitter. Dan took out the grapefruit garnish to finish the cocktail, and I ate the salty biting flesh on its own. Delicious! A 1-2, 1-2 punch? The peppered pear, in contrast, was wonderfully refined. You could taste the pear brandy—smooth, the cranberry—tart, and the lemon—sour. The black pepper flakes drifted toward the sipping rim to finish with a little kick. This cocktail rose to the top of both of our lists.

Night three. Dan’s spouse Colleen joined us so we tried three cocktails: the f.f.l., the Milan train station, and once again the farewell to arms. I was excited to see the train station on the menu, as I’d been present last spring for its creation. I was seated at the bar next to European-raised Bettina, who loved the graphic Cynar label that she’d first seen as a teenager, poster-sized, in the Milan train station. Jeff created the drink for her on the spot and we’d all debated the appropriate name. This drink is the perfect sipper for bourbon lovers. Smooth, balanced, and elegant, chilled with an over-sized ice cube. The trouble was that Colleen had ordered what turned out to be Dan’s favorite. His f.f.l. was made from ransom barrel-aged gin, and while it was negroni-like, the gin was less prominent than he prefers. The aperol and cardamaro—a wine-based amaro flavored with cardoon—added a familiar bitter note and red hue, but the train station prevailed, so much so that Colleen accused us of over-tasting her drink. I was enjoying the farewell to arms from the other side of the fire pit. My sip a couple of nights earlier hadn’t delivered the kick this one did, and while it was a well-balanced drink, the peppered pear remained in the number one position for me. The Milan train station rose to the top for Dan. Seven down, four to go.

Colleen joined us again on night four, so we added the mario cipollini into the mix—technically not a part of the Jeff’s cocktails made by Jeff challenge—since Miles created this drink. Our waiter shared that the cipollini was a favorite on the new list and it didn’t disappoint. The six ingredients—gin, red grapefruit liquor, rhubarb liquor, lemon, ginger and salt--seemed to blend into one note, that while pleasing, left it hard to describe. Dan opted for the scotch martianise, one that we’d been avoiding since neither of us ever drink scotch and Dan actually abhors it. Jeff based the martianise on the scotch drink, blood and sand, using a scotch blend and switching out the cherry liquor for fennel. The result was a wonderful surprise. But this lovely orange-hued drink topped with a lacy fennel frond only distracted me for seconds from my heavenly rosemary maple sour with its simple sprig of rosemary. It can be tricky to use just the right amount of rosemary even when cooking, so I held my breath on this one. But it was perfection. The peppered pear and bueno vista gimlet dropped a couple notches on my list.

It seems I’m a little off with all this purposeful drinking and note taking. Just which night did we have the petrol-forward fireside toddy? We avoided it till near the end and we’re both trying to forget it. The citrus peels were its only redemption for our palates, but if mezcal is your thing, this hot sipper could be perfect on a chilly fall night around Brimmer’s new fire pit.

Nine days later we arrived at the final tasting. We knew the apple ginger mule would be refreshing and it was exactly that. Apple brandy is a great fall substitute for the mule! The indian summer was sangria-esque. A little sweet, a little subtle, not quite distinct enough flavors for us. But the surprise that night was the lillehammer, the only drink Jeff had carried over from the summer cocktail menu. Neither of us had had aquavit and we were surprised by the smooth and subtle flavors of rye and caraway when he offered us a tiny sip of it on its own. This Norwegian liquor added to muddled cucumber, lemon and bitters, resulted in an intriguing, refreshing surprise, much like the martianise. As we were finishing dinner, Dan caught Jeff’s attention and asked how he thought the martianise might taste with bourbon. “There’s only one way to find out!” and off he went to make the variation. Yet even after adjusting the fennel liquor to counter the sweeter bourbon, we all agreed the drink was better with scotch. That’s why he’s on that side of the bar, and we can count on being in good hands.

So here’s where we end it. Each of our first and second choices are below, plus our biggest surprise. We can now add the milan train station to our shared list of favorites. Finally, a fond farewell to jeff!

#1 milan train station
#2 farewell to arms
Surprise: scotch martianise

#1 rosemary maple sour
#2 peppered pear
Surprise: milan train station