Lauren Lathrop's not afraid to give away her secrets, like her recipe for the spiced cherries that garnish the Empire State, her take on a Manhattan. Made with vanilla-infused Bulleit Rye Whiskey and Noilly Pratt white vermouth, the drink represents the classics-with-a-twist theme that Lathrop used to put together JSix Restaurant's cocktail menu.
"They're a little pungent because they're pickled," Lathrop says about the cherries. Indeed, they're a pretty awesome balance of flavors—tart and subtly sweet with hints of the red wine and spices in which they'd been soaked.
Lathrop's been at JSix for six years, starting out as a server and working her way up to management. During that time, she attended culinary school, where she focused on baking. Though she's one test away from her sommelier's certification, cocktails giveher a chance to put her training into practice.
"I like things that are from a more culinary perspective," she says, "things that are made in-house, made from scratch." Shetries to incorporate something from JSix's rooftop garden in each drink, either as a garnish or to flavor a syrup ora cordial, like the fennel syrup she uses in the Fennel Collins (Plymouth gin, fresh Meyer lem-on, fennel syrup and soda) and the lime cordial for the Raymond Chandler gimlet.
Lathrop's culinary training has made her mindful of the interplay of flavors. When I told her I like bourbon and St. Germain, she whipped up a cocktail on the fly with the vanilla-infused Bulleit, St. Germain and bitters, added a touch of Port with an eye dropper and garnished it with a mint leaf. The Port added depth (and gave it a lovely color). To the Chai Wallah—chai-infused rum, fresh orange and apple juice—she adds a touch of African red tea and garnishes it with a sprig of thyme and an orange slice.
"American palates for a long time have been very one-dimensional," she says. "They want sweet, maybe a little sour. They want spicy, but they forget about the flavors like bitter or floral. I think that's something that's coming back—the appreciation of flavors that are outside the norm."