Meet El Guapo, a line of homegrown bitters touching nearly every cocktail on Iris' new list, which debuts next week.
The brain behind El Guapo is Scot Mattox, who earned the nickname as a U.S. Marine (he's from Texas). He approached Iris with the bitters line last year. "They're more focused, for pairing with certain spirits," says Scot, now Iris' bar manager. "I saw an opening in the market."
El Guapo's pineapple bitters, for instance, are a natural with rum or tequila; the coffee-pecan bitters go well with brown spirits like bourbon.
Before launching into the bitters side of El Guapo, I have to mention Scot's tonic syrup, which he crafts with cinchona bark, grapefruit, lime, ginger, cardamom and lemongrass. Paired with earthy Old Raj gin, the El Guapo tonic yields my new go-to G&T: perfumed, bright and wildly floral.
On Iris' new cocktail list, you'll find Etrog bitters (six kinds of citrus, including grapefruit and kumquat) in the ginned-up 21st Century, and in the Poire du Algerine, a sweet lemon and pear drink featuring a dry, fruity sake (the name refers to Scot's home in Algiers).
Oranges and oregano make up the Mojo bitters that go in Scuttlebutt's puréed salt-preserved limes and Thai basil-infused rum. It's a more complex and salty version of the mojito.
Rounding out the new drinks are the Prickle, a gin sour that uses rosehip liqueur and El Guapo's cucumber bitters; the Seelbach, bourbon bubbling with a champagne float; and my favorite of the bunch, the Buddy Bolden, a strapping blend of amaro, rye and citrus that's shaken with Abbott's bitters, which add aromatic cloves and nutmeg. Scot revived the Abbott's bitters recipe from the now-defunct Baltimore maker.
And one more note about El Guapo: the line includes Scot's vanilla extract, which I saw him use skillfully in a drink created on the fly for a customer who only asked for something "sweet, but not very": whiskey, gingersnap liqueur, and this dash of vanilla, which brought the flavors together in a very approachable, beautiful way.
Iris, 321 N. Peters, 299.3944
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