Before a recent dinner service at Bourbon House, wait staff and bartenders are huddled around five fresh cocktails that anchor a new drinks list from Amber Peterson. It's her first since being named corporate bar chef for Dickie Brennan & Company last October.
Like any good teacher, Amber is patient, going over drink ingredients and food pairings, then rousing the staff: "Be sure to explain the drink names! People love a good story."
Earlier that day, she'd been training bartenders at Tableau. Drawing on her 15 years in the industry, Amber teaches weekly in-house classes, rotating between the four Dickie Brennan restaurants and customizing the curriculum for each restaurant's distinct vibe.
At Palace Café, the focus will be on premium rum and, eventually, tiki drinks; the list at Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse (out in February) will feature classic cocktails and specialize in Irish whisky.
Over at Tableau, Amber plans to create a list around artisanal syrups, infused liqueurs and fresh juices (making good use of the kitchen's Nutrifaster, which extracts eight quarts of juice in eight minutes, she says).
And it's no surprise that bourbon and other brown spirits dominate the list at Bourbon House.
She calls a bourbon sour variation (smoothed with fortified wines) a "gateway" cocktail for the novice; then pairs rye with iced tea and black currant purée in another darkly fruity cooler.
A still more potent drink blends bourbon, applejack and Amber's own honey-cardamom-cinnamon syrup. The lone vodka on the list is a lively Bellini variation of locally distilled Oryza and apricot purée, sparked with prosecco.
The clean, complex Winter Still (named for whiskey's optimal distilling season, Amber says) opens with vanilla-smooth Tennessee whiskey that's snapped by a tart berry-basil shrub. Byrrh, an aged blend of red wines, spirit-macerated grape must, and quinine bark, brings it to a dry, herbal finish.
"It's a favorite among the staff," says Amber, as the dinner shift begins at Bourbon House. She sends them to the floor and behind the oyster bar, adding, "I want to train the next generation of great New Orleans bartenders."
Bourbon House, 144 Bourbon, 522.0111, will hold a George Dickel five-course tasting dinner Jan. 29.
Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, 716 Iberville, 522.2467
Palace Café, 605 Canal, 523.1661
Tableau, 616 St. Peter, 934.3463
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