September 2013
once worked in wine in California. What
inspired you to segue into mixology?
I started out as a server,
and then Ted Kilgore took me under his
wing, where I was immersed in cocktails.
I’m an intuitive and numbers-based per-
son, so a cocktail’s precise measure-
ments line up with my personality.
How is the St. Louis bar scene
We’ve got cocktail bars like Taste,
Sanctuaria and Blood and Sand. Not only
are we seeing more of those, but main-
stay restaurants here are putting a focus
on their drinks now, so you can seek out
quality ones at dinner, too. St. Louis is
pretty close behind Kansas City.
The cocktail program will
obviously remain a Taste cornerstone,
but what is your personal mission?
We work on creating a classic cock-
tail education here. St. Louis is just com-
ing onto the mixology scene, and people
here are starting to embrace the stan-
dards. As a result, they are also getting
more excited about our house originals.
How do you think Taste has
been able to successfully introduce
guests to tried and true drinks like the
Mint Julep, Daiquiri and Sazerac?
When we launched the classic menu,
we also started a happy hour, a social hour
from 5:00-7:00pm Tuesday through Friday,
and all day Sunday and Monday, where all
these drinks are just six dollars. When you
can get a beer or a well-crafted cocktail for
the same price, one is likely to choose the
drink. When they do, they realize they like
them. It’s about exposure.
And what do they seem to be
enjoying in particular?
They are latching on to bourbon; it’s
number one. Old-Fashioneds and Man-
hattans are popular, but also bright gin
cocktails like the Southside.
Beyond the classics, Taste offers
more than 30 original creations—
including some intriguing barrel-aged
concoctions—featuring ingredients
like Velvet Falernum, Creole bitters
and orgeat. How do your guests make
that leap?
I veer from the classics by making
variations with lesser-known spirits. In-
stead of just using whiskey as a base,
for example, I’ll use whiskey and rum
together to usher guests into a different
realm. Now, so many whiskey drinkers
are open and excited to drink dark, aged
rums. People walk into Taste knowing
they are going to drink—65% of our sales
are in cocktails—so we don’t have a lot
of skeptics. It is, however, fun to interact
with guests, ask them their preferences
and hook them up with the best fit.
What has been a hit?
Our menu is broken into categories
like tart, bright, citrus; tart, spiced, savory;
and full, dark, robust, so it’s easy for the
customer. One cocktail that’s especially
popular is the Curious Flowers, with Hen-
drick’s Gin, hibiscus, cassis, lemon, An-
gostura bitters and a housemade orange
marmalade topped with sparkling wine.
I’m excited now for a barrel-aged bour-
bon milk punch. The cherry-toasted wood
adds tannins and Amaretto-like flavors.
Is working in tandem with chef
and owner Gerard Craft a priority?
We’re very seasonal, so the chef is
always changing dishes. The orange mar-
malade, for instance, happened because
he brought in Seville oranges, thinking
about them for a charcuterie board. In-
stead they wound up in a cocktail.
The Second Coming
Kyle Mathis, Bar Manager,
Taste by Niche, St. Louis
ed Kilgore is arguably one of
the Midwest’s most influential
mixologists. So, when the
longtime bartender at Taste by Niche,
in St. Louis, announced he was leav-
ing to open a new bar, all eyes were
on his replacement: Kyle Mathis, a fi-
nalist in the 2013 Beefeater 24 USBG
National Cocktail Competition. Mathis
has an enviable legacy to uphold,
but with his experimental inclinations
and devotion to classic cocktails, this
Kilgore protégé is determined to help
make St. Louis one of the region’s
most vibrant drink destinations.
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