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Bar Talk: Gin is In {Chicago}

Posted on  | April 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Peter Vestinos the Betty, Chicago, IL

Longtime barman Peter Vestinos has crafted drinks for such Chicago restaurants as Sepia, NoMI and the Winchester; served as beverage development director for Wirtz Beverage Group; and relocated to San Francisco to expand Wisconsin-based Death’s Door Spirits. Now, he brings his classic-minded cocktails to the Betty, the fashionable new Fulton Market District tavern where he presides as beverage director.

The Beverage Network: Fulton Market has become one of Chicago’s hottest destinations. What kind of drinks program did you want to create in response to this change?

Peter Vestinos: People always went to Fulton Market, but it was more exclusive. Now it’s become such a cool neighborhood and everyone wants to eat and drink here. What we recognized from the beginning is that many of the places opening here are food focused and not as bar driven. But knowing the West Loop clientele, it’s clear these people want a good cocktail, too. They also have the money for, and interest in, great champagne and whiskey. We wanted to offer the whole package.

TBN: Knowing their preferences, how does this approach translate to the cocktails?

PV: I have always liked executing the classics, and I worked with all the bartenders to make sure they had a solid knowledge of them. Chicago’s drinks scene has exploded, but as a result a lot of people are taking shortcuts behind the bar and learning from bartenders who weren’t properly trained themselves; the only form they’ve had was wrong. We tested all our recipes and reached the consensus that the classics are usually the best versions.

TBN: How do the drinks nod to the classics yet stay imaginative?

PV: They are classically inspired, but I also wanted them to be sophisticated and stylish so they fell in line with the look of the room. The space is multi-layered and so are the cocktails. They evolve over time. I didn’t want drinks that would alienate guests by being overly bitter or boozy, but refreshing and bright.

TBN: What are some of the favorites so far?

PV: The Coffee & Cigarettes. It has rye, sweet vermouth, Madagascar vanilla and orange flower water, so there’s spiciness, a little bitterness and floral notes. Another one is the Maximillion. It’s a pretty cocktail in a champagne flute with tequila, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, hibiscus syrup, lime and mole bitters. It has spice and fruit, but it also stays fresh with notes of citrus and minerality.

TBN: You’ve given gin a rather large spotlight at the Betty. Why?

PV: There are all these bars in Chicago that pride themselves on their whiskey and beer collections. I wanted something with a different focus, and gin plays so well in cocktails. There is a certain elegance that gin has, and unlike whiskey, the spirit offers a wide range of flavors. It’s strange to think how in the past I wasn’t even able to get people to drink classic cocktails and now, when I thought they would make up 40 or 50 percent of the bar sales here, they are at about 85 percent.


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