#9 at Bar Fausto
Everybody wants to feel special. At the Populist, that special feeling comes after you’ve enjoyed a great dinner at the bar. The hour you spent lingering over the kitchen’s delicious small plates most likely included some stimulating conversation with your bartender, adding a sense of camaraderie to your experience. As the plates are cleared away and the night comes to a close, you were probably offered a small glass filled with a dark-brown herbal liqueur called Underberg. That’s the "house shot" — and it makes you feel special in more ways than one. First, the shot is a digestif that will ease your stomach. Second, it’s always nice to be offered something, to be included — as if you’re a part of the family at the River North eatery.
This summer, that family grew. One of the Populist’s owners, Jonathan Power, partnered with Huckleberry Roaster's Koan Goedman to open Bar Fausto just a half a block away, at 3126 Larimer Street. Bartender Alex Kady, who worked at the Populist, helped to open the new bar, initially pulling a few shifts at both locations. When asked to contribute some recipes for Fausto’s new cocktail menu, he made a point to infuse that sense of hospitality he shared at the Populist by including Underberg in one of his recipes, combining the German potion with with two over-proof rums (one from Jamaica, the other from Barbados), an Italian sweet vermouth, and another bitter liqueur (also from Italy) into a drink labeled #9, in keeping with the rest of the menu's nameless cocktails.
“It’s just a fun little digestif,” Kady says of Underberg, which is made from aromatic herbs from 43 countries, and comes in tiny, 20-milliliter bottles wrapped in brown paper. “At the Populist, our sister restaurant,” he continues, “we have a tradition of hospitality. If you’re at the bar and you’ve been sitting there enjoying your meal, having a great time, we’ll invite you to do an Underberg shot with us. It’s just our way of inviting you into our space, showing hospitality after a nice meal.”
“I’ve talked to my friends from Germany,” Kady says, “and it’s one of those things that their grandparents would have after every single meal, that the younger generation doesn’t really drink as much. It’s one of the few digestifs that, I think, actually works 100 percent. You can be really full and drink one, and in like ten minutes you feel amazing.”
At Bar Fausto, however, Kady changed the way Underberg is served, in a process that simulates barrel aging. “We’re actually using charred staves in glass,” he explains. What he means is that he empties several small bottles of Underberg into a glass vessel and then adds small oak barrel staves that he’s toasted over a flame. He lets the wood mingle with the Underberg for about two weeks. The infusion parallels, if briefly, the process by which bourbon ages in charred oak barrels.
“It mellows it,” Kady says of the two-week aging. “It brings forward a little bit of vanilla and it adds a nice richness. I’m using that instead of a traditional bitters.”
It’s a flavorful addition to the recipe, and Kady needs only to use a few drops to spike the cocktail with the character he thinks it needs.Since the #9 is a rum drink and both of the rums he uses are potent, over-proof spirits, they add plenty of flavor on their own.
“I wanted to create a rum drink that would open people's minds to what rum could taste like and what it can do,” Kady says of his inspiration to come up with a recipe for #9. “I like the spirits that a lot of people overlook, that people are not familiar with, or that they have a bad image of. Rum is one of those spirits.” By choosing strong rather than sweet rums, he steers drinkers away from the perception that all rums end up in sickly sweet Tiki drinks.
Kady’s first choice was Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve five-year-old rum.“Super caramel, super vanilla on the palate; not hot at all, just absolutely tasty,” he says. “It’s very well made.” After distillation, the rum is aged for five years in used bourbon casks before being transported to France, where it is aged again in used Cognac barrels to further enhance the flavor. The finished rum exhibits flavors of caramel and molasses as well as orange, almond and toasted coconut.
“I wasn’t happy with just one rum,” Kady says, explaining how he ended up with second rum in his recipe. “I wanted that little extra kick. “I wanted that little bit of spice in there.” Kady added a half-ounce of Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaican Rum — bottled at a fierce 114 proof — to add strength and backbone to his cocktail and to give it a bit more depth. “It’s another favorite over-proof rum — with a little more spice to it," Kady continues. It definitely cuts the sweetness of the Plantation and adds a little extra kick to the cocktail.”
In the nineteenth century, and well into the twentieth, Jamaican rum came to be revered for its deep, full flavors. Much of those came from the use of wild Jamaican yeast strains in the rum’s fermentation process. “My goal with this was to open people's minds to rum,” Kady says about the creation of #9. “I love sharing information. I love exposing people to new things.”
He notes that after drinking the cocktail, people are always surprised that they’re sipping a rum cocktail, adding “I wanted to create something that was almost like a whiskey-drinker’s rum drink, because it was through whiskey that I discovered rum and fell in love with it.”
And if all the flavors in the rum weren’t enough, Kady adds two more herb-loaded spirits to create layer upon layer of complexity: one is Ramazotti, an amaro from Milan (where it has been produced since 1815) that’s heavy on the licorice. The other is Carpano Antica, a sweet vermouth made from a base of Italian white wines infused with mountain flora to produce a hearty, herbaceous spirit that is richer than most other vermouths.
Kady stirs all of the ingredients in a mixing glass before straining them over a single large ice cube in a short glass. For a garnish, he shaves a strip of rind from a grapefruit and, with a lighter in one hand and the peel in the other, creates a burst of flame over the cocktail.
“It just adds a nice aromatic of smoky citrus that plays off of everything,” Kady says. “It’s also a great show — people love to see things lit on fire.”
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When making drinks at Bar Fausto, Kady rubs shoulders with chefs who share the same space behind the bar, slicing meats and cheeses for charcuterie boards that are passed through the dining room. To accompany the #9, Kady recommends Bar Fausto’s bruschetta, specifically the one with grilled peaches, bresaola and goat cheese ($9). “The char on the peaches pairs well with the rum,” he says.
If you’re having dinner at the bar at Bar Fausto, try Kady’s #9 cocktail with — or after — your meal. You’ll be sharing a tradition of drinking what the staff drinks: a digestif with a boatload of herbal goodness that will make you feel good — in more ways than one.
1.5 ounces Plantation Barbados Grande Reserve five-year old rum
.5 ounce Smith & Cross Navy strength rum
.5 ounce Ramazotti
.5 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes barrel-aged Underberg
Pour all ingredients into a large glass vessel. Add ice and stir. Strain all ingredients into a double Old Fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a flamed grapefruit peel.