Bar None #5 // Michele Graham

Our goal with Bar None is to spotlight the people behind the cocktails and tell their stories. This means creators from both behind the bar top and at home. For our fifth story, we’re pleased to introduce Michele Graham aka @ciderandrye: a mother, writer, bookkeeper, and at-home mixologist.

1. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, etc.

I grew up on a small farm in upstate New York. We raised and grew a lot of our food. This instilled a sense of work/care for a place and provided a deep sense of what freedom and richness really mean. I always thought that I would stay in a rural place as a cidermaker or farmer, but most of my adult life I have been an urban apartment dweller. A few years ago my husband and I moved to a house with a small yard. We are trying to cram as many edibles as possible into our space. We are concentrating on things are impossible to find at the store, such as berries, herbs, Oregon grapes, and flowers. I have always been obsessed with fresh ingredients, and this obsession informs the drinks I make.

I am not a bartender, but a bookkeeper specializing in accounting for non-profits. I fell into bookkeeping by accident. In school, I studied painting and anthropology. Cooking and mixing drinks allows me the time to research and make things. I have also been in the food service world working in cafes, restaurants, and food coops, as a caterer, cheesemonger, and I even owned a tiny roadside cafe in Baja. I am starting to push myself to become a better writer and photographer. A couple of years ago I started to contribute recipes and photographs to Taproot Magazine.

2. What’s your background in mixology? How did you get into bartending at home? How does it benefit you?

I didn’t appreciate cocktails until I was in my thirties. I lived in the Bay Area during the recent cocktail renaissance and I am lucky to have a good baseline of what makes an excellent drink. I started experimenting at home because great bartenders make the process look magical, alchemical. I wanted a new language to learn. I have always pushed myself to be confident in the kitchen, and cocktails seemed like a challenging way to play with flavors and ingredients without a huge investment of time or equipment. Taking some time for a quick creative endeavor makes me a happier person. As a home bartender, I don’t really have time limitations, the only impatient customer is my husband.

I also like to make my own drinks because I can control the alcohol level. I am a real lightweight!  I also started making more drinks at home after I became a mom – didn’t have a chance to go out as much and try all the new places, but I had lots of fruit/herbs to experiment with. In the beginning, I learned by experimenting, reading menus, and books. Mostly I rely on a few basic ratios and experiment with what I have on hand or what is in season. I do daydream about having a small garden cafe/bar/library/gathering spot, but I know it is a lot of work. Occasionally I do create and/or serve drinks for festivals, galleries/shops – I really love the challenge of creating drinks to match an art opening or a theme/idea.

3. What’s your favorite cocktail to drink or serve and why? How do you usually match a cocktail to a mood, atmosphere or setting?

I love following the seasons by glass. I could easily have a different drink every day depending on what is available in the garden and market. There are a few things that I will never tire of making and sharing: Old-fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni, and a whiskey smash with lots of fresh mints. I enjoy the process of gathering garden bits to muddle and infuse. I want to capture the ephemeral. The way the summer sun warms a grove of plump blackberries. The cool scent of fresh violets – to capture these moments in a glass and to share them with others. What is better than that?

4. Why do you use Scrappy’s in your cocktails? Has Scrappy’s improved the drinks you make? Favorite Scrappy’s Flavor?

I love Scrappy’s because the flavors are true, pure. Scrappy’s Lime Bitters captures the brightness of the perfect gimlet. The cardamom bitters taste like earthy, warm cardamom. One of the things that kept me away from booze and bitters is all of the artificial ingredients and colors. And then I found Scrappy’s. Their bitters are fresh, reliable, and consistent. I use bitters daily for more than just cocktails. I love a cold glass of water with a few drops of bitters. A few dashes of Lavender bitters in water brings instant sensory happiness. Bitters bring elements together and help set the tone, mood. Whether fresh, bright, earthy, spicy, or warming – bitters help accentuate certain flavor notes.

5. What’s your idea of the perfect drink (location, circumstance, etc.)? (or what’s the best drink you’ve ever had?)

The perfect drink is best enjoyed in our backyard. I love sipping elements of our garden in the garden. We bring our drinks out and walk about the yard, taking notes about the progress of the apples, and make plans. We breathe in the dappled light, the bees on the leek blossoms, our cats in the window, and our daughter picking berries.

Mahonia Sour

1.5 ounces bourbon or rum
1 ounce Mahonia syrup (recipe below) .75 ounce lemon juice .5 ounce water
2 dashes Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lime bitters
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into chilled coupe glasses, or ice-filled rocks glasses

Mahonia (Oregon Grape) Syrup:
Yield: A little more than 1 cup of syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh Mahonia (Oregon grape) berries (can substitute with blackberries or raspberries)

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan. Simmer on medium low heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar has melted. Cool the syrup in pan for an hour. Strain into a jar or bottle. This syrup will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.

Posted: Wednesday, October 10th, 2018 at 7:33 pm

Category: blog