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Andrew Pollard talks Fernet addiction, Fruit Loops and the Hot Xocolat

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The Alchemy Room at Wirtz is Pollard’s playground and classroom.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

Andrew Pollard’s Negroni is perfect. The exact pours of Death’s Door Gin, Punt e Mes sweet vermouth and Campari; the custom ice cube; the thumb-size twist of orange peel. The technique and taste are classic. But what makes this drink his, what makes it memorable, is the yarn he spins about its namesake, an Italian nobleman desperate for a stronger kick. No doubt he’s told the story a hundred times, but the moment feels made just for me.

Personality, Pollard says, is what defines true bartenders, especially in a city that does as much volume as Las Vegas. He arrived in 2004, starting as a barback at Tangerine. He made his mark at Noir Bar, won seven serious mixology trophies and was voted VP of the Vegas chapter of the USBG before launching the Cosmopolitan as property mixologist. That job was a springboard to his current role as beverage development specialist for mega-distributor Wirtz Beverage Nevada. Part brand ambassador, part expert consultant, part teacher, Pollard still makes a mean cocktail.

There are bartenders who hate being called mixologists and vice versa. You? As far as I’m concerned you can call yourself whatever the hell you want if you serve a great drink with a smile.

Who exemplifies that “total package” in Vegas? Without hesitation, in no particular order, they are: George Sproule [Vesper Bar], Darren West [Jean-Georges], Ray Srp [Savile Row] and J.R. Starkus [RM Seafood].

You hired George Sproule when you were property mixologist for the Cosmo. What do you miss most about that crew? We were always a close crew and took care of each other. No drama. No BS. Everyone came in, many times hungover, and worked their asses off.

Are you proud of the mixology going on across Las Vegas, even though it gets less credit than other drinking cities? Without question we have one of—if not the highest—concentration of industry icons, brand ambassadors, award winning mixologists, etc. Quite honestly, without Tony Abou-Ganim’s efforts at the Bellagio, most of us would not be here to tell a story today. From the cocktail culture Tony started in Las Vegas, Francesco Lafranconi’s Spirit Course, Tobin Ellis’ Social Mixology, to the recent opening of the Cosmopolitan, it is certain we will soon get the credit we deserve. Until then, we must continue to shake and smile.

With wine, a $20 bottle can be as good as a $200 bottle. Does the same go for spirits? You pretty much like what you like. There’s definitely a quality level you want to meet. You don’t want to drink anything on the lower two shelves in your grocery store (laughs).

Coming from a guy with Fruit Loops on the back bar. That’s a moneymaker right now; let me tell you what. Unbelievable. Everything I’ve ever done in my life, it all comes down to confections and innovation.

Given that you’ve tried just about everything out there (except the $35,000 cognac), what’s your drink when you’re not kicked back at home with a beer? One is American whiskey, and the other is all things Italian. I love Italian spirits, most specifically the Amari category—Cynar, Campari, Aperol, Fernet.

Those are big flavors. Do you ever want a cocktail to be dominated by one? Always has to be balanced. If you’re not going to have a balanced drink you might as well just drink it straight, because that’s essentially the idea of having a cocktail; you want to have balance and flavor and depth. If you’re going for the purity of a product, you want it by itself. … Also, not everybody has the same palate as you. I drink Fernet Branca by the buckets, you know, and it’s sick, but I do. But not everybody likes it.

What should we know about Hot Xocolat, concocted specially for our Booze Issue? This cocktail easily becomes your winter fancy. Be careful, though, as the saying goes: “Tequila makes your clothes come off.”

Hot Xocolat

Ingredients:

Andrew Pollard's Hot Xocolat, concocted exclusively for the Weekly Booze Issue.

1½ oz. Tanteo Cocoa Tequila

1 oz. Crave Chocolate Chili Liqueur

3 oz. prepared hot chocolate

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Cocoa cream (recipe below)

Aztec sugar (cocoa, cayenne and cinnamon-sugar brûléed as garnish)

Method: Pour Tanteo, Crave, hot chocolate and bitters into a vintage-style Irish coffee glass. Stir and top with cocoa cream. Garnish with Aztec sugar, using a kitchen torch to brûlée as you sprinkle.

For the Cocoa Cream:

Ingredients:

2 oz. Hiram Walker Crème de Cacao

½ gallon heavy whipping cream

1 cup powdered sugar

Method: Mix whipping cream and sugar. Whip just to the point of the liquid taking on a silky, smooth texture and then fold in Hiram Walker.

Tags: Booze
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