The Beverage Network:
You have
a background in theatre. How does this
inform your approach to the bar?
Alan walter:
Creating drinks is a the-
atrical thing, with a moment of set-making
to it. As the old saying goes: You may not
be able to change someone’s mind, but
you can change their mood. A bar space
can favor all sorts of communal experi-
ence. It’s way more than what is in the
drink. It’s about the hospitality exchange,
the ambiance and the music. It’s impor-
tant to have an eye on all those things.
How does New Orleans inspire
your cocktails?
The older I get, the more interested
I am in historical details and the past.
One of my most successful drinks is a
modification of a recipe from the 1940s,
the La La Louisiane with Rittenhouse
Rye, Carpano Antica, Cynar, absinthe
and chicory bitters. Really, the core of it
for me is finding creative uses for indig-
enous things growing here, things that
can’t even be purchased, but foraged,
like clover and moss.
You are known for your array of
house-made syrups. Tell us about them.
They are the source of things that
are inspiring to me: fresh citrus, different
leaves and herbs. I have about 20 or so
in use at a time, from a ginger to Serrano
pepper and rose petal. In our bar, these
are at the bartender’s disposal—as close
as the liquor bottles are—and have to be
reached for constantly. It’s just one of the
tools to make a recipe.
What are the most popular
cocktails on the menu?
A large percentage of the list is
found pretty accessible to the audience.
I have a cocktail with gin, pineapple-bal-
samic syrup, St.Germain and Thai basil:
the Delilah. It seems to win people over.
Another popular one is the Jean Lafitte,
with rum, Pisco, Spanish moss, dried
lime and fennel. I did not expect that. But
it’s not that bizarre when you drink it. It
has an earthy green tea taste.
So it doesn’t sound like you
have to do much arm-twisting to get
your guests to go beyond the Sazerac.
The ball has been in play long
enough that they have gone down that
path already. Several factors that help
that out, like a little bit of a trust. Or, when
people see the theatricality of the bar and
say, “Wait, what is all that for?” Then they
definitely don’t want to order a martini
when they can have a different experi-
ence here. The Sazerac is a tried and true
drink for a certain drinker. I’m a bit out of
love with it. It’s a legacy and profoundly
simple, but I’m not sure how much it re-
ally expresses New Orleans.
As a bartender in a hotel, do you
notice a difference among locals and
those who are spending the night?
Because it’s a boutique hotel, we’re
more likely to get a well-versed traveler,
the kind of person who can’t be at the
Sheraton. I almost have more fun with
people who see and taste a lot because
then I can pull out the better tricks. It
seems that maybe because New Orleans
leans out toward the visitor, the cocktail
culture has gotten more and more im-
pressive. The locals definitely have a lot
of great choices here, and we have a
pretty good contingency, but many are
casual and happy drinking a beer like
they would in Austin or Dallas.
It’s time for Tales of the Cocktail
again, and Loa will be slammed. How
do you adapt, for instance, from a regu-
lar night at the bar to a crush of guests?
I think the pleasures of the bar fade
if you have to wait more than eight to ten
minutes for a drink. It’s accepted at some
establishments, but it’s really not okay.
We have a lot of little tricks that help us.
In a cocktail that may have seven ingre-
dients, let’s say three are spirits. As long
as they aren’t perishable, they can go in
a bottle pre-mixed in proper proportion.
That alone can help you have good ser-
vice for a busy bar even when people are
hitting the cocktails.
The Spirits Handler
Alan Walter, Creative Director,
Loa, New Orleans, LA
By alia akkam
hen he worked at French
Quarter icon Iris, Alan
Walter’s artful cocktails
were the perfect complement to the
swanky restaurant’s contemporary
American cooking. Now, he’s at Loa,
the upbeat, candle-strewn bar at the
cozy International House Hotel, cap-
tivating guests with vibrant “potations”
like bourbon with lemongrass, thyme,
mint and black walnut bitters.
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