After landing in NYC in 2000 for theatre school, bartender Dustin Olson realized that the hospitality realm would come in handy in fueling his acting endeavors. He acquired a training shift at Ward III and has since taken over the beverage program at Boulton & Watt, the East Village gastropub known for its classed up comfort food and classically tuned cocktail list. Here, Olson chats about the makings of a drinks menu, the dish he’s ordering post-shift, and the celebrity interview he’d love to experience.
BoozeMenus: What goes into the creation of a new cocktail menu?
Dustin Olson: The menus I'm currently working on for Boulton and Drexler's are seasonally inspired and don't exceed ten cocktails. There are a couple of cocktails that move too well to take off, but where I can, I'll tweak them to fit the season. I try to include at least one classic and maybe one modern classic — something out of the Milk & Honey catalogue, for example — if I can.
BM: What new cocktail are you most excited to introduce guests to?
DO: I'm pretty happy with our Pisco Sour at Boulton. I use an aged Pisco (Mistral), cut the base with Applejack and use honey and thyme liqueur for the sweetener. It just really felt like fall, and all the flavors worked really well together.
BM: Has there ever been a cocktail that’s proved difficult to take off the menu — or even impossible to?
DO: At Drexler's we had a gin and tonic upgrade we built around the Botanist Islay Gin and the Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic. We made a celery cordial for it, threw in some watermelon radishes as a garnish, and watched it fly. It was just too specific to warm weather, however, so we had to take it off. At Boulton, we have a jalapeno and tequila French 75-type drink that has been there since day one, and it’s far and away the most popular drink. We'd be foolish to take it off, though we are working on tweaking it a bit.
BM: Where do you find inspiration?
DO: The most success I've had is by simply focusing on one particular product, learning everything I can, and then building a drink around it. I'm also fortunate enough to work in the East Village and live in Williamsburg, so smart cocktail people are never far away.
BM: What spirit do you enjoy working with the most?
DO: As a category, I think gin presents the most opportunities, if only because each one has its own unique botanical fingerprint and, as such, a roadmap with which to play around. Amaros are fun for similar reasons.
BM: What ingredient are you loving lately?
DO: I was just tasted on the Don Ciccio line the other day and there were a few gems that piqued my interest. The Brovo Boomerang is another product I'm looking to include in our winter flip. Both are small American companies playing to bartenders, which I think is worth supporting.
BM: What's your favorite bar in NYC to saddle up to?
DO: So as a creature of habit, and as someone who appreciates a good local spot, I find myself bellying up to the bar at Ba'sik when I'm in my neighborhood. You might also find me huddled over a steak tartare at Goodnight Sonny's after a long shift in the East Village.
BM: What celebrity or big name would you love to grab drinks with?
DO: Sitting with one celebrity would be tough for me, because in those situations I have a tendency to over-scrutinize everything I say and I end up just vomiting words all over the place. I listened to Tim Ferriss interview Malcolm Gladwell a while back and thought about how great it would be to hang at a table with them and watch what booze would do to the conversation. Maybe I'd interject once or twice with whatever fifty-cent words I could muster. Or maybe I'd just drink my drink and listen. Either way, I'd enjoy it.
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: Interior; Dustin Olson; Jungle Bahd cocktail by Ryan Gleason)