Four Questions With Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark

Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark

We all know Maker’s Mark. So when I had a chance recently to catch up with Rob Samuels, I jumped at the chance. He’s the 8th generation bourbon maker of the Maker’s Mark family, and just succeeded his father last year in the position. Theirs is the only bourbon distillery designated as a National Historic Landmark. With the amount of history behind the company, there were a few things I had to know…

What’s your favorite cocktail to drink with Maker’s in it? And how do you feel about how Maker’s fits in with the ongoing cocktail scene?

I was just at a nice event at Morton’s, where the bartender made a great Manhattan – [a cocktail] which I really enjoy. More than anything that’s what I love. With the growth of premium spirits, handmade spirits, and that’s the history of my grandparent’s legacy, when they started in 1952. That was the beginning of the modern era of bourbon. To incorporate their craft, what they created with the handmade craft of a unique cocktail is really nice. I love just working with bartenders.

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The Thirsty Crow Opens Today in Silver Lake

Brandon Ristaino at the Russian ice ball machine

We seem to love animals here in Los Angeles. So much perhaps that we tend to project our own longings and qualities upon the poor creatures when anthropomorphizing animals on the internet naming our food and drink establishments. There’s a Hungry Cat, a Surly Goat and now – The Thirsty Crow.

1936 Jukebox - $0.05 per play, selection of 12 songs

As long as the drinks are solid and the space has character, I can get behind almost any name. Fortunately, The Thirsty Crow – a bourbon bar from Bobby Green (1933 Group: Bigfoot Lodge, Bigfoot West, The Little Cave, Saints & Sinners) – manages to do both. This is a far cry from Stinkers and skunk butts, mind you – and comprises more “hip” than “hipster” in this Silver Lake neighborhood with The Crow’s upscale, quality $12 cocktails. It may be a bar, but it’s now more La Mill (especially with their new liquor license) than Cha Cha Lounge, though PBR also is available here. The last time I saw an ice ball machine was not even in-house, but during the traveling Macallan presentation. Clientele with cocktails chilled with the rounded ice benefit from the surface area in their Old Fashioned glasses slowing its melt rate – upscale, indeed.

Sazerac

At the media preview, we could taste anything and everything from the menu, and I found myself especially impressed with their classics. I started off with a Mint Julep – made with Maker’s Mark – and it was quite good. Despite the presence of confectioner’s sugar, it wasn’t too sweet, had a good muddling of mint and was appropriately complimentary to the bourbon composing the drink. It was a good pour.

The Sazerac made by Don was also very good – a delicious, aromatic classic blend with a clean finish. Made with Jim Beam, Peychaud’s bitters, Grande Absinthe, a touch of sugar and flamed lemon peel. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but I like any city that has popularized this (albeit originally cognac) cocktail.

The popular drink of the media night, however, seemed to be the bar’s namesake cocktail. Gin with ginger beer renditions may be prevalent all around town – but the Jim Beam Rye at the center of the Thirsty Crow (which Lindsay and Daniel ordered) made for good spice in combination with the ginger beer, bitters and citrus.

I love that there is a Manhattan section on the menu – and in turn loved their Black Manhattan. It was dark and delicious. I would caution against the Mole Manhattan, however, as Caroline had understandably ordered it because she had expected it to be influenced at least in part by the Mexican ingredient. Not quite – the drink was more chocolatey sweet than Mole Poblano.

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