In this instalment of his drinks column, Great Irish Drinks, Oisin Davis meets Cork native Joann Spiegel from drinks business Cocktail Kingdom.
In an effort for all you lovely readers to better know your bartenders over the crazy Christmas period, I decided I would dedicate two pieces to these poor souls under the heading of, "Meet the Shakers". For my second edition, I ventured a little further afield to the Big Apple. This is where you will find Cork native and drinks industry legend, Joann Spiegel. She has worked in some of the world's best bars and is now kept busy at Cocktail Kingdom, a multi-faceted drinks business. Read on to check out how Joann rocks out one of the craziest drinks gigs in the world, during that most wonderful time of the year...
Meet the shakers, folks, and when you see them out and about over Chrimbo, show them some love!
Tell us about the Miracle pop up and Cocktail Kingdom
Cocktail Kingdom itself, at its core is a premier manufacturer and distributor of professional barware. But it is just so much more than that. There’s an amazing library of all the rarest cocktail books, a massive art department that is constantly designing new concepts, a toy company called Mud Puddle and then there is Cocktail Kingdom Hospitality Group, which is now five bars big in New York. Mace, Katana Kitten, Existing Conditions, The Cabinet and Boilermaker.
I’m the General Manager of Miracle Cocktails Inc which has two pop-up concepts that we roll out each year, Miracle and Sippin' Santa. Traditionally the pop-ups start the day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday and run up until New Year's Eve.
We partner with cocktail bars, hotel bars, restaurant bars all over the world. They completely transform their locations to become their own version of Miracle. It’s actually quite mad. Miracle is the more classic Christmas-themed cocktail bar, saturated with a lot of vintage, kitschy décor. Nico De Soto and I develop the drinks for this one. This season we have 108 Miracle pop-up locations, most of those are all over the US, in 37 states, but we have grown quite global over the years and now have cocktail bars partnering with us from Switzerland, Romania, New Zealand, Mexico, Panama, London and Canada. None in Ireland yet.
Sippin Santa was developed as the companion pop-up to Miracle, the difference being that Sippin Santa focuses on the themes of both tiki and Christmas. Like Miracle, I would describe both pop ups as an experience event rather than describing it just as a themed cocktail bar.
How do you find working in Cocktail Kingdom in comparison to previous jobs?
It’s a completely different work environment to the one I had been living and breathing for the previous 16-17 years. Right before Cocktail Kingdom I was working at The Dead Rabbit as a bartender and Bar Manager, a pretty big stage and a pretty big gig. Before that, I ran a sports bar for about eight years. I am conditioned to always being on to go, on your feet multitasking, touching tables, interacting with guests, and making a zillion drinks. With Cocktail Kingdom I am living the 10am-6pm, Monday to Friday sweet office life. But I get to work in the bars from time to time over the years and I also get to develop the miracle menu and have my drinks be made all over the globe.
What are your biggest sellers with the Miracle cocktails?
The Snowball Old Fashioned is always a great one. I change it up every year. Last year I did a butterscotch Old Fashioned, this year it is a Pecan Pie Old Fashioned. They get served in a fun Christmas rocks glass with a nice big snow ball. Then it’s probably The Yippie Ki Yay Mother F**Ker, or the Koala La La La, La La La La, sort of a winter cross between a gin martini and gimlet. It's gin with a delicious pine and grapefruit cordial, couple of dashes of eucalyptus bitters and a little grapefruit zest over the top. And then if the drink wasn’t enough, it's garnished with a small clip-on Koala wearing a little Miracle vest. I told you, just madness.
Do you enjoy working with Irish spirits and if so why?
Of course! I think that is something that is embedded in all of us. Irish pride. Looking after our own. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it all delicious. I really miss the Dead Rabbit for that. Credit where credit is due. I drank my fill of everything Irish in those days.
What's one of your favourite pot still cocktails?
I’m going to be a bit cheeky here myself and return to a riff on my all-time fav drink. Everyone who knows me will roll their eyes at this one. The original cocktail I made a few years back was made with bourbon, won me a national competition, a trip to Kentucky and most importantly pride and place in Gary Regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails book.
60 ml Powers John's Lane
15 ml Punt E Mes vermouth
7.5 ml dark crème de cacao
7.5 ml (.25 oz) Lapsang Smoked Tea Syrup*
2 dashes orange bitters
1 chocolate or orange flavored stir stick wrapped with orange spiral
Stir over ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Add the garnish.
READ MORE: Winter Cocktails To Beat The Chill
What are your favourite cocktails for each of the seasons?
Spring – Guinness, yes I know it’s not a cocktail but it is my favorite. Any season. Had to be going on this list.
Summer - Gin and Tonic. A thirst quencher, there's so many ways to drink it and Ireland has blown me away by how much it has embraced it.
Fall – Sazerac, close to the most perfect cocktail you’ll ever get is when you get served a really well-made Sazerac. Perfectly stiff drink, complex, substantial, a beast of so many flavours all dancing in a wash of absinthe. Enough said.
Winter- Irish Coffee. Is there a more perfect winter drink? Straight whiskey perhaps?
What bartenders/brands and drinks writers are you into at the moment?
Oh my goodness so many talented bartenders Nathan McCarley-O'Neill, Mary Palac or really anything that comes out of Cask down in Cork. Andy Ferreira, Carl d'Alton, Linda O' Flynn, their whole team are just so amazing. I love what they are doing. I love that they embrace and showcase Irish ingredients. The calibre of bartender they are turning out is fantastic. I’ll never go home to Cork and not visit them. I have more of their menus at this stage than from any other bar in my menu collection.
Author: Oisin Davis
Oisin Davis works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."