Locals began to notice the giant radio tower in Miami Beach's South of Fifth neighborhood only after a bar popped up next to it. Can you blame us? Miamiams love a good cocktail, and Radio Bar knows how to serve them. The pop-up-turned-permanent-establishment marks a year in December. Along with celebrating an anniversary, Radio Bar has something else to toast to -- new beverage director Alex Renshaw.
Renshaw is the beverage director for Menin Hotels and overlooks the beverage program at Chicago's rooftop bar, Drumbar. At Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, which our own Laine Doss covered, he was named one of the "Top 10 Bartenders to Watch."
Renshaw moved to Chicago to pursue comedy after working in sales and quickly realizing the corporate world wasn't for him. He got a job bartending at Sable (its executive chef, Heather Terhune, was a contestant on Top Chef) when he began skipping improv classes to make drinks. He's never looked back.
A true mixologist, Renshaw is a spirits geek. His face lights up with the mention of rum, and his biggest aspiration is to give people an experience. "When you go out to a bar and drink, you're not really leaving with anything tangible," he explains. "The next day, you wake up and realize you spent $100 and you have nothing to show for it, right?" Wrong. "I want people to say, 'That was fucking awesome. I want to go do it again tonight.'"
To accomplish this, his cocktails lean classic. "No drink should have more than five ingredients," Renshaw says. He also likes to drink local, appreciating high-end beers that are usually offered at Radio, but wants to add more local brews, as well as lighter and less expensive options. During a recent weekend in Miami, Renshaw mixed up the new featured cocktail menu at Radio. He'll travel to the Magic City about five times a year to shake things up.
We were lucky enough to catch him on his visit and watch him in action. Here's what we learned:
Miami is not far behind Chicago's cocktail culture. Renshaw was very impressed to see people asking for seasonal drinks, such as pumpkin- and nutmeg-based cocktails.
Bitter is good, but bittersweet is better -- or at least in the case of cocktails. The foreign exchange couples gin with Cynar, orange bitters, lemon, and nutmeg. What is Cynar? One of Renshaw's bar must-haves. The Italian bitter liqueur is 33 proof and made from artichokes. It also helps ease a hangover and aid in digestion when you're full. Order a couple of Radio's grilled cheese sandwiches and bring them down easy with a little foreign exchange.
Rum and bourbon go together to form Honor Amongst Thieves. The cleverly named cocktail pairs Novo cachaça -- the rum predominantly used in caipirinhas -- with JP Wiser rye whiskey and falernum. Falernum adds sweetness to balance the boldness of the drink. Oh, and a BFIC (big f--king ice cube) helps.
Mezcal comes from chickens, or rather pechugas. True story. Used to seeing worms in bottles? That's the cheap stuff. Another agave-based spirit's origins date back to a cult. It's made by redistilling a finished mezcal with a mix of wild, seasonal fruits; grains; and a raw, skinless chicken breast. That's right -- raw, skinless chickens. Chickens are suspended upside down by their ribcage, letting the steam cook through almost instantly. The notion behind this is that the fat and proteins from the pechuga help ease the toughness of the smoky mezcal. The result is a meaty and very pricy ($200 a bottle) super-rare spirit: Del Maguey's pechuga.
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If stuck on a deserted island, the one spirit Renshaw would choose is rum, specifically St. George. Vodka is a no-no. "Vodka doesn't bring anything to the table. I simply use it as a vehicle for other flavors to expand," he explains. "When people order a drink, I try to have them stay away from what spirit they want but rather what it is they feel like having -- do they want something refreshing, something smoky, something sweet? If they know that, then I build the drink around that. Sometimes the best drink you'll ever have is made using the spirit you least like. That's what mixology is about."
Pop in to Radio Bar and try one of Renshaw's seven featured cocktails. All are priced at $12 and capped at five ingredients. Cheers to that.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha