Posted on | November 21, 2013
Written by | Alia Akkam
The wine list Pedro Goncalves presides over at New York restaurant Oceana is vast—950 selections encompassing 130 regions—yet the self-taught sommelier and wine director also has a soft spot for spirits. In particular, he’s besotted with gin, which spawned Oceana’s ambitious “Just Gin” program, in partnership with Simon Ford of The 86 Co.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: How did you first get hooked on gin?
PEDRO GONCALVES: I grew up in Portugal, and the first spirit I ever tried was grape-based aguardente, which my grandfather made. When I went to London, I had my first experience with Beefeater Gin and I fell in love with it. I was caught off-guard with how incredible it was; I loved the botanicals and the aromas. It instantly brought me back to that moment with my grandfather.
TBN: What compelled you to create the house tonics at Oceana?
PG: I’ve never been a fan of ruining gin with mainstream tonic; it’s not balanced and it takes away from the character of the gin. So I decided to make my own. I realized it was going to be impossible to change an old-school gin and tonic drinker’s mind and introduce them to a new tonic, but I would have a chance with the new generation of gin drinkers.
TBN: And what did you come up with?
PG: I took different personalities into consideration, thus creating four tonics: spicy, sweet, bitter and citrus. Each accentuates the botanicals and other flavor components of the gins. My first ingredient is real cinchona bark from Peru, which is where you get the quinine; quinine on its own is bitter and astringent. I blend other ingredients with it like lemon, orange and lime peels. I also add herbs and spices including lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, clove, fennel seeds and bay leaves.
TBN: What trends are you seeing that revolve around the spirit?
PG: Classic cocktails are becoming popular again—Vespers, French 75s, Bee’s Knees and especially Negronis. The Negroni is huge right now. Scottish gins are popular, like Hendrick’s, Edinburgh and the Botanist, but so are local ones. We feature Greenhook Ginsmiths, Brooklyn Gin and New York Distilling Company’s American Dry and Navy Strength versions, all from New York City.
TBN: How do you educate your guests and encourage them to embrace gin?
PG: Our extensive gin list intrigues ourguests and it opens up the conversations we have. If they order a gin and tonic, we ask what kind of gin they would like since we feature about 46 on our menu. Once we ask that question, they start to think and ask additional questions. This segues into a bigger conversation about the different profiles. You can tell the guest is impressed with how many options they have and that our team wants to talk to them.
TBN: Are the gin and tonics, and the cocktail list in general, created with the food in mind?
PG: Yes. When we launched the gin program back in April, we created a gin-inspired tasting menu with items like chilled spring onion soup and steamed black bass, which was a huge hit. As far as the cocktail list goes, I create drinks with seasonal ingredients—staying true to Oceana and chef Ben’s philosophy. The Jalapeño Gin Fizz pairs well with bar items like the Chinese steamed buns and grilled cheese, while the Gin & Ginger with housemade ginger ale pairs well with the crispy calamari, fish and chips and fried fish tacos.
TBN: What is your personal approach to hospitality?
PG: I offer choices—on everything, including budget—and I never say no. That’s the beauty of having such a diverse list: it provides a large selection of quality gins at all different price points, and gives guests the freedom to choose what they like.