Sword of Protection
Block and Larder
4000 Tennyson Street
When he was a kid, Aaron Forgy loved a cartoon called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He-Man was the beefy, blond, sword-swinging hero of the cartoon, which ran for 65 episodes, from 1983 to 1985. Years later, as Forgy was drafting a cocktail list for his new Berkeley neighborhood restaurant, Block and Larder, he remembered his childhood idol. Wanting to keep his menu fun and interesting, Forgy came up with a theme for the names of all of his original cocktails: they would all be based on the cartoon that he loved back in the '80s.
“It just popped into my head,” Forgy said. “I was going through the cocktail list, trying to figure out a fun way to approach it.” Forgy, who opened Freshcraft in Lodo five years ago with his brother, Lucas, just opened Block and Larder in early December.
“My brother laughed at me,” he says, “and told me it wasn’t going to work. I said, ‘We’ll see.’ ” Forgy bounced the idea off a few friends, who told him to give it a try. His themed cocktail list consists of ten drinks, with names such as Master of the Universe, Castle Grayskull, She-Ra, Panthor and, of course, one named after He-Man’s cartoon nemesis, Skeletor.
Forgy’s favorite, the one we stopped in to try on a snowy February afternoon, is called Sword of Protection, which contains Old Overholt rye whiskey, brown sugar, absinthe, and black walnut bitters.
Sword of protection is a version of a Sazerac cocktail, traditionally made with rye, sugar, absinthe and bitters. Forgy played with that recipe a little, using a brown sugar simple syrup and a smoked ice cube.
“Old Overholt is a nice rye whiskey,” Forgy says. “It’s got a little bit of an earthy note to it. It’s not overly sweet, or overly dry, it mixes well." Produced since 1810, Overholt is a slightly strong, somewhat minty rye whiskey that is a good brand to start with if you’re just getting into ryes. “A lot of ryes on the market are a little more pronounced, a little more punchy,” Forgy adds. “I think Old Overholt is right in the middle. It lends itself well to other ingredients.”
Making the cocktail his own, Forgy substitutes two traditional Sazerac ingredients. Instead of the white sugar used in a traditional Sazerac, Forgy makes a brown sugar syrup, which he uses to sweeten the whiskey. He also uses black walnut bitters, instead of the age-old Peychaud’s bitters.
Forgy loves his black walnut bitters. “When you mix them with the brown sugar simple, the rye and the absinthe,” he says, “it brings a sort of caramel or maple flavor to the drink. It just works.”
Absinthe is present in his cocktail and, like the original, it’s used a just a quick rinse to the inside of the chilled glass. Forgy uses absinthe from Denver distillers Leopold Brothers.
“The absinthe is more of an aromatic, and it does impart a touch of flavor,” Forgy says. “We’re playing with different ingredients, but it’s definitely a riff on a classic.”
After the ingredients are stirred with ice, Forgy pours them over a smoked ice cube. To make the ice he fills a pan with water and places it in a smoker, leaving it there for about 40 minutes, where it takes on flavors from smoldering pecan wood. Later, he pours the ice into molds, and then freezes it into cubes.
“The smoked ice cube will melt, so ten or fifteen minutes from now,” he explains, “that drink is going to be completely different than it was, because the smoke will open up into your nose, and add a touch of flavor.”
That smoky cube leads Forgy to recommend pairing his drink with Block & Larder’s bone-in pork chop ($22). “It’s wood-grilled over the same pecan wood,” he explains, “then finished in the oven and served with a sweet mustard glaze. The cocktail is sweet and smoky, and the pork is sweet and smoky.”
The same smoke runs through both your cocktail and your dinner, the same way that the He-Man cartoon theme touches all his original cocktails. “I approach a cocktail menu just trying to have fun with it,” he explains. “I like to play with fun ingredients. Our whole cocktail program is based on classic cocktails with a twist. It’s fun, it’s whimsical, we’re just trying to give people things that are good, and approachable but still adhere to classic cocktail-making principles.”
But Forgy has deep roots with He-Man, stretching back to those days when he had collected all the action figures. “I had Castle Grayskull, I had Panthor, I had Battle Cat,” he says, laughing. “I had all the characters. Basically, my whole room was full of He-Man stuff when I was a kid. It was pretty fun. I did have He-Man pajamas at one point.”
Still, his list is based on respected classics, and he’s no cartoon character. “I’ve done a lot of reading,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of experimenting. I’ve been to a lot of bars. I’ve seen a lot of things. I just like to have fun with it. I don’t like to be pretentious about it.”
Sword of Protection
2 oz. Old Overhold rye whiskey
.5 oz. brown sugar simple syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers Black Walnut bitters
Stir all ingredients, and strain into a chilled rocks glass which has been rinsed with Leopold Brothers Absinthe, over a smoked ice cube. Garnish with a lemon peel.