Zach, the Bar Manager from Decoy, Once Spent $55 on a Cocktail!

Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar Area
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar Area

Decoy restaurant and bar, part of the Eat.Drink.Sleep hospitality development group, opened at the end of summer 2016. Decoy brings local, fresh and seasonal California-style food to inland North County San Diego. The lakeside lodge-themed restaurant sits right on the dock at Lake San Marcos. We caught up with Zachary Heidrich, Bar Manager from Decoy in San Marcos on his day off to ask him a few questions about the bar business and how it’s evolving in San Diego.

What trends are you seeing in the San Diego bar industry?

A lot of bars right now are headed more towards pre-prohibition style cocktail programs. But everybody is doing their own twist to those cocktails…I have a huge passion for whiskey cocktails, but in reality, I love any [cocktail] that can balance the sour with the bitter. I’m trying to use fresher ingredients to get a better taste, not just dumping sugar and syrup into everything.

How do you think mixology compares to the craft beer trend and where do you see it going in the future?

Everybody is trying to be healthier and just make one product different from the next. But everyone is sharing now, which I feel is interesting. I was always taught not to give away my recipes, but now when you go out to bars everyone is letting you in on everything.

Which drinks did you come up with for the Decoy cocktail menu?

Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Cocktail Menu
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Cocktail Menu

I made all the cocktails on that menu. My personal favorite is “Heid” the Sour, made with whiskey and egg white. The Living Martini with Trust Me Organic Vodka is also fantastic. It’s a twist on an old Sidecar, using vodka instead [of brandy], a grand poppy orange liqueur, a little lemon juice and simple syrup. It’s extremely refreshing, and you get the right amount of bitter throughout the cocktail. I serve it in a martini glass with an orange peel.

How did you get started as a mixologist?

I’ve been in bartending for about ten years. I was working in ski resorts and I thought, Let’s start making a nicer drink than just a Jack and Coke. Let’s just start twisting it and playing with it. And then it was just groups of friends…we’d make different drinks all night to see what worked. Then we’d take it to the bar and try to sell it. Now I’m in an awesome position where I can really…do what I’d like to do and have some fun.    

The Bar at Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos 
The Bar at Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos 

How did you get the idea to put organic vodka on the menu? Were people asking for it?

People did start asking for it. Then Brett [Miller, President and CEO of Eat.Drink.Sleep] said to try Trust Me Vodka. I tried it and I thought if I had my way and wasn’t working for a separate company I think it would be fun to battle all the large name brands. It’s fun to show people something new, and try to get them off whatever brand they may be privy to. But it’s hard as a bartender, because [patrons] don’t want to hear that you don’t [carry]…all those big name brands out there.

What’s your process in making new cocktails for the Decoy menu?

Normally I collaborate with my chef and the other bartenders, but also [consider] what’s going on in the area to see if this spirit will sell before that spirit or what the weather may be like. I always ask my bartenders, because if they can make [something] they are proud of then they will sell it….

What bars do you like to go to for inspiration?

I love North Park but I can’t go down there all the time because I end up going to awesome bars and drinking too much and then having to pay for an expensive Uber ride home. Polite Provisions cocktail program is second-to-none in my opinion. It’s really neat going down there and watching what people are doing and just trying to understand it.

How much are people willing to pay for a cocktail? How do you set the price point?

We price it out and do our calculations. I’m a fairly young person, but I don’t bat an eyelash at spending $12 for a cocktail if it tastes great.

John Hancock Building Chicago. Home of the $55 cocktail. 
John Hancock Building Chicago. Home of the $55 cocktail. 

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a cocktail?

I’ve spent $55 on a cocktail. But that was in Chicago, at the top of the John Hancock Building in a cocktail bar.

Was it worth it?

Not really. It was an Old Fashioned. But it was really about the view in that bar. You’re on top of the city and you can see everything.

If you go drinking can you write it off as Research and Development?

[Laughs]I probably could but I don’t think it’s the best time to approach my ownership group about that.

Should you limit the number of ingredients in a craft cocktail?

Not necessarily. I have one cocktail that has nine different ingredients. It’s really about being careful you don’t go too heavy on one ingredient over another, so it’s not incredibly sweet or super sour or too bitter. You want to have the right balance of everything, regardless of the spirit.

How many cocktail choices are optimal on a menu?

That depends on what kind of bar you are going for. I’ve always had about ten, but I think that the most I’ve ever had is fifteen. The problem I’ve encountered, is that if you have too many options and you spread it out, people might forget about one drink that’s a great drink, [because] they get stuck with theirs.

Right now, what we are trying to do is educate our bar staff and get them thinking along one path. If they know how to mix this spirit with that spirit…then they eventually can build any kind of cocktail, if they understand what the liqueurs are doing and can really pull out that flavor.

Favorite ingredient in a drink besides the base spirit?

We were making some of our garnishes at the last bar where I worked and doing our own brandy cherries and even some of our own bitters, at one point. We had a Manhattan where the “Man” was in quotations, so we did a smoked maple syrup in house, then put a vanilla glaze on a piece of bacon and [added those] to a traditional Manhattan as a garnish. It was really fun. The egg white is probably my favorite ingredient to add now because people like to watch and ask questions and it gets people thinking.

Do you follow any other mixologists on social media? 

The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender's Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy
The PDT Cocktail Book: The Complete Bartender’s Guide from the Celebrated Speakeasy

I go to a lot of different bars to see what they’re doing. I read a lot of books. I follow the Please Don’t Tell bartenders from New York and their cocktail program. They made a Speakeasy program that really, really worked and took off there for a number of years and is still working today.




Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar
Decoy Dockside Dining in Lake San Marcos Bar

Any final thoughts?

It’s just really about the education and what your staff knows. You can have the best Mixologist or Cocktail Leader in any business but if your staff can’t talk about the cocktails then you’re not going to achieve whatever you’re looking for. 

Homemade Organic Coffee Liqueur (Kahlua) in 5 Clicks

Trust Me Vodka Make your own organic kahlua coffee liqueur
Trust Me Vodka Make your own organic kahlua coffee liqueur
From free shipping with Prime

1.  Six 8oz syrup bottles. $22


Death Wish Organic Coffee
Death Wish Organic Coffee

2. Ridiculously strong good quality espresso coffee. Death Wish Certified Organic Coffee. $20


Frontier Co-Op Organic Vanilla Extract
Frontier Co-Op Organic Vanilla Extract

3. Top-notch Organic Vanilla extract from Frontier co-op. $8




Trust Me Vodka Ultra Premium Vodka
Trust Me Vodka Ultra Premium Vodka

4.  Ultra-premium Trust Me Organic Vodka. Use code SHIPPING at checkout. $30



Wholesome Sweetener Organic Sugar
Wholesome Sweetener Organic Sugar

5.  Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Cane Sugar (bought through Amazon fulfillment) $10



Wash your bottles, let them air dry and use this easy homemade kahlua recipe from Attainable-Sustainable.  Tip: Don’t let it sit 4 weeks. 1-2 will do. 

Extra credit: Make some “artisan” labels. Print them online at Avery for $11 if you’re in a hurry and money is no object. 

Or, if you have less money and decent handwriting, use these hangtag labels for $7

Double your recipe by ordering one more bottle of Trust Me Organic Vodka. The leftovers are for you! Store the remaining ounces in your empty Trust Me Vodka bottles.


What is vodka made of?

We compiled a list of the top 100 vodka brands from around the world, along with what they are made of (besides water) and came up with some interesting results. Most vodka is made from grain (wheat, barley, rye) including our own Trust Me certified organic vodka. We had some overlap with brands that either make their vodka from more than one base ingredient, or have different products. For example, Trust Me gluten free vodka is made from potatoes, so we get one entry in wheat and another in potatoes. While combing the Internet, we also found that most vodka makers add sugar to their mix. Our vodka is absolutely 100% sugar free!


What is vodka made out of? What is vodka made from?
What is vodka made out of? What is vodka made from?

Mixology with Frankie from Snake Oil Cocktail Co.

Frankie Thaheld, Director of Culinary Mixology for Snake Oil Cocktail Co.
Frankie Thaheld, Director of Culinary Mixology for Snake Oil Cocktail Co.
Mixologists are delving deeper and they’re the ones who can tell you the history of absinthe versus pastis and what it means now and what it meant over 100 years ago. They also know how to balance a cocktail based on sweet, savory and bitter.
— Frankie Thaheld, Snake Oil Cocktail Co.

Frankie Thaheld, Partner and Director of Culinary Mixology for Snake Oil Cocktail Co., recently spoke with Trust Me Vodka about the art of mixology—one of our favorite subjects. It felt like we were sitting right at the bar with him, as he educated us a little about the history of bartending, the origin of mixology, told us amusing anecdotes and gave us some tips on what to mix with premium vodka. The only things missing were the cocktails. How about next time, Frankie? We’ll bring the vodka and celery.


On Mixology v Bartending


There was a time when there wasn’t a difference between the two terms… when essentially being a bartender also meant you were a mixologist, even though the term hadn’t been coined yet. That was just the nature of bars in the late 1800s and early 1900s era…If you were dealing with alcohol, chances were you had to understand your back-bar…the spirits and the liqueurs that you had. There weren’t manufactured products yet, so you had to make your own syrups and your own juices, and so you were definitely more of a mixologist, but you wouldn’t have known it at the time.


We lost something in the [1970s] and 80s and even part of the 60s where we started to have all sorts of pre-manufactured syrups and mixes…you look at the ingredients and many have the same ingredients as soap, for example.


You have…bartenders in the sense that they are making just your classic cocktails, and some who don’t understand what they’re pouring or the origins, histories and stories of their back-bar…there are also bartenders with a level of acumen, whether it’s free pouring and a better understanding of what goes into a basic Manhattan or Martini.


What’s happening now is that people are trying to recraft that [earlier time]. The label mixologist has been traditionally offensive among bartenders but has recently come to mean something…A lot of people in the community are accepting that term and understand that’s who and what we are…educated bartenders. Mixologists are delving deeper and they’re the ones who can tell you the history of absinthe versus pastis and what it means now and what it meant over 100 years ago. They also know how to balance a cocktail based on sweet, savory and bitter.


On Different Styles of Mixology


There’re two different styles in the marketplace right now. One we call Pre-prohibition Mixology. They make cocktails that are sourer, bitterer or drastically sweeter. The sour comes from the citrus they are using to overcompensate what’s happening on the sugar side. Or the drinks will be very sweet and potent because they are using liqueurs.


The style that I’m more obsessed with is what I call Culinary Mixology. It’s using fresh fruits, herbs, vegetables and spices. We start with a vegetable or fruit that we want to harmonize with. For instance, I think, It’s a good season for pears. What goes good with pears? So we often look more at the ingredients for the mix before we look at the alcohol.


How does a drink become a classic?


One of the ways the Tom Collins got spread around is that it was a known drink for bartenders, but not a lot of people knew about it. There was a group of pranksters in in NY and a lot of them would say, “Hey, Tom Collins is looking for you and he’s over at this bar and wants to brawl!” So then this person would get huffy, and honor was a big thing back then. He would go to X bar and open the door and say, “I’m looking for Tom Collins!” And the bartender would say, “I got him right here!” And would make a Tom Collins for him. Also, a bartender would create a drink and other bartenders would drink in that establishment and say, “Hey, I want to make this drink!” And they would swap recipes.


Nowadays it’s harder to create a classic because bartenders or mixologists…don’t often want to share their recipes because they are proprietary. When you have that scenario it’s harder to create a classic. Now they create recipes for venues and it becomes more like a signature cocktail.


Editor’s note: Frankie invented the Xolo cocktail at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla. Here’s a link to the California Modern menu at George’s so you can see what’s in it.


What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve ever used in a cocktail?


I’ve used tea made with brussels sprouts. The drink was tea based. Tea has natural tannins that accent bitterness very well. I know it sounds strange but I juiced the brussels sprouts and used them as a concentrate to make a tea and whisky based cocktail that just had this beautiful vegetal bitterness to it.


Where do you find cocktail ingredients?


I do some of my own foraging. That basically means going into canyons and things like that locally for fresh raw ingredients, mostly herbs in that situation although on occasion fruit. There’s a fruit called the natal plum, which grows on a jasmine-like shrub. It’s coastal and it’s actually fruiting right now. It’s pretty abundant.


What do you look for in premium vodka?


I look at vodka a little differently than most bartenders. A lot of bartenders will see vodka for making martinis, so they want something dry and crisp. Most people love their vodka martini and I’m not going to argue with that. But then they add an olive or a citrus peel that’s going to enhance the flavor of the vodka.


For making our style of cocktails I’m looking for something with a really clean and crisp flavor because I’m using it as a blank palette. When I’m creating my mixes vodka’s one of the perfect vehicles for it, because I can create whatever flavors I want and not be obstructed by say, a strong gin that’s going to have its own flavor that I have to work around. Whereas with a good vodka on the premium side— I’m not interested necessarily in how many times it’s been charcoal filtered or filtered through diamonds or black marble. I’m more interested in the fact that it’s just made with quality products. And that it has a nice, clean taste and that I don’t taste a lot of the bad ethyl alcohol that sometimes ends up in poor quality vodka.


What’s one thing you should never mix with vodka?


I think vodka usually needs to stand on its own. I also wouldn’t mix other base spirits with vodka. Because at that point all you’re doing is watering down [the other spirit] or losing the flavor of the vodka.


Is Vodka a genuine spirit?


There are a lot of mixologists who turn away from vodka because they don’t feel that it is one of the genuine spirits, because it has been changed so much over the years and was not available stateside during the pre-prohibition era.


What’s one thing you should always mix with vodka?


I think fresh juices are a fantastic complement. Personally what I really like, if I was to drink vodka, I love a good a celery-based gimlet. There is something about a nice, clean, vodka with celery and lime and a maybe little bit of cumin. I feel like it brings out some of the natural essence of the vodka, having a little bit of vegetal quality.  A good vodka can really be well complemented and actually accentuated by the right herb, like basil.


Check out Frankie’s bio and learn more about Snake Oil Cocktail Co. on their website. We will be partnering with Snake Oil Cocktail Co. at the Peers Network Masquerade in La Jolla Saturday October 29.

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