The San Diego Craft Beer and Cocktail Showcase tripled in size this year, with roughly 1,000 people showing up at El Dorado to sample beer in the bar's parking lot and, inside, cocktails from Noble Experiment, Lion's Share and Seven Grand. If you got there early, you waited maybe a few minutes for a cocktail. Any later, good luck. But the offerings were worth the wait.
On the menu at Noble Experiment's section was the Willy Branca, with mezcal, Fernet, lemon and strawberries. Mezcal and Fernet? Those are two very strong flavors that seemingly have nothing in common. A few columns ago, I wrote about Fernet's almost cult-like following arising from the mystery of its ingredients and its almost medicinal flavor. Drinks containing Fernet are to be sipped and pondered; it's an acquired taste.
With the Willy Branca, the Fernet seemed to boost the flavor of the smoky mezcal but never totally give up its own identity, lingering just underneath. Later, I asked Noble Experiment's Eric Johnson, who came up with the drink, what led him to the Fernet / mezcal pairing. His response (via email):
"I've been experimenting with both Fernet and Mezcal for some time, two advanced-tasting spirits that I think people could love with the right combo. When I put them together in a simple sour cocktail, it was like peanut butter and jelly! Mezcal with its earthy, mineral qualities latched onto Fernet-Branca's herbal bitterness without overpowering the other. Fresh strawberries added another sweet component for the bitterness, which ended up being a winner."
The Willy Branca's not currently on the menu at Noble Experiment but will be made by request.
If you're a fan of Noble, stop by El Dorado on Monday, Aug. 20. Starting at 9 p.m., Johnson and his cohorts will take over El-D for #NBD ("No Big Deal"), where they'll cast off the fancy stuff for the night and mix up the kind of drinks you sought out back when you didn't know any better: Red Headed Slut, Sex on the Beach, Washington Apple, Fuzzy Navel, Jolly Rancher. "No fresh juice. No fancy bullshit." And, fortunately, no cheap booze.