Bar prep is a key part of any craft cocktail program. At Nightbell, where the focus is on local and handmade ingredients, this is especially true. Tales of the Cocktail interviewed bartenders from four noteworthy bars around the country and included Nightbell’s Phoebe Esmon.
Along with Amor y Amargo and Porchlight in New York City and Latitude 29 in New Orleans, Nightbell is in good company in the article. Though Nightbell is a full-service restaurant, the focus on craft cocktails earned it a spot in the Tales of the Cocktail round-up.
From the article:
Nightbell (Asheville, NC)
For Nightbell bartender Phoebe Esmon, prep is far from a new experience. “When I was in Philly, I did at least two days a week of prep for two different bars.” In their business, Spirit Animal, Esmon and her partner, Christian Gaal, build cocktail programs. Esmon has taught cocktail workshops about using preservation techniques in cocktail programs. “Everything from syrups, jams, shrubs, agrodolces . . .” If it can bring life to a cocktail program, then Esmon will make it – and if that sounds like a lot of work, then it’s work to a barkeep’s purpose. “The more prep you do, the less you have to do during service.”
At Nightbell, that experience is put to work. “The bartenders do everything,” says Esmon. “We set up the bar, we break down the bar, we clean the bar, and we do all the things.” During service, there are food runners and service. “When it comes to bar responsibilities, it falls on us.”
“Prep shift is my favorite time of the week,” Esmon says. “I like working in the kitchen – and I learn a lot.” On prep days, she comes in two or three hours before her shift. Cooking’s benefits include control, knowledge, an ability to explore and experiment. Esmon has a theory: “through using a combination of new and old technologies, you can create a very creative bar program at a minimum cost.”
That creativity factors in Nightbell’s teetotal patrons. “I’m revamping the craft soda program,” Esmon says. This season, that involves making a balsamic raisin soda, a muscadine grape, a peach, and a grapefruit. There’s also lime cordial, plus strawberry Sriracha preserve and mango preserve. Early in the summer, Esmon made honeysuckle tincture. “That’s most of it – oh, and the usual stuff, like jalapeno syrup, ginger syrup, whatever else needs prepping.”
Using the kitchen can be a time-saver. “Learn how to use a cryovac machine, if you have one,” Esmon says. She draws on pineapple gum, for pisco punch, as an example. “If you cryovac the pineapple with the syrup, it’s going to take twelve hours to do what four days would have done.”
(The cryovac/vacuum sealing is used for preserving, marinating, and storing ingredients that would normally have a shorter life.)
That’s reason enough to be friends with the kitchen.