Behind a carousel of plastic sunglasses and cotton scarves, sandwiched between old Italian eateries, is a dark, unassuming door that leads to Mulberry Project. This speakeasy forgoes menus to instead list seasonal ingredients and choices of base spirits on blackboards, which are hung on the walls around the dimly lit, red-accented space. “What mood are you in?” servers ask. “What flavor profile do you prefer? Sweet, sour, dry, fruity, or spicy?” From there, the bartenders take charge, creating custom cocktails for eager patrons. We called up partner and mixologist Rael Petit to learn a bit more about what inspires him when crafting cocktails and where he goes to get a drink away from his underground hideaway.
How did you become interested in mixology? Rael Petit: I started bartending at the Coffee Shop in Union Square around 10 years ago, and then I worked at several other places, and every time I was bartending, people always asked, “Can you just make something up for me?” So over the years, I’ve been making up cocktails. In time you get confident about it; you pretty much know what you’re doing even if you’re making something that you’ve never done before. You have an idea already in your head of what it will taste like.
What’s your favorite cocktail that you’ve created? I’m actually gluten intolerant, but I enjoy making this one cocktail with beer. It’s a very strange thing for someone who can’t drink it. It’s basically burned rosemary, some ginger, some gin, some Lillet Blanc, and I top it off with a little bit of beer.
What is the most useful but often overlooked cocktail ingredient? There are so many different kinds of liquors and mixes that you can use. A lot of people are scared to use absinthe or chartreuse. What I usually do with absinthe is burn it to make the taste smoother; it makes it taste tea-based.
What do you drink at home? I make a lot of bacon cocktails. I did a foie gras gin, which was a little crazy. I created it for a bar in Hong Kong. I first made foie gras, used the fat from the foie gras and fat-washed the gin with it. I have it in my fridge at home for personal consumption. I use it to make a bramble. A bramble is usually just gin, simple syrup, lemon, and jam, so it’s like eating foie with jam, but it’s a little complicated because you have to make the foie gras from scratch for the fat.
What’s your post-work go-to drink? After work I’m likely to drink Fernet Branca or green Chartreuse just straight. I’m a big fan of Chartreuse because of the herbs in the liquor. It’s a liquor made by monks, and it has around 70 different herbs. It’s a secret recipe by three monks who make it, and each monk doesn’t know what the other one is doing.
What’s your favorite cocktail someone else has created? Where do you go to get a drink? I go to Williamsburg, Maison Premiere or Dram. I usually go to Maison Premiere for the $1 oysters. It’s a bartender thing. The cocktails are really good. They do a variation menu of mint juleps, and I always choose a different one. And the bartender knows me there so he gives me some VEP Chartreuse.
Recipe: Rosemary Ginger Beer by Rael Petit
1 fresh rosemary leaf, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1 thin slice fresh ginger
1 1/2 ounces Fords gin
1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
Burn a rosemary leaf in the bottom of a glass, and cover to keep the smoke in. In a shaker, muddle the ginger. Add the gin, Lillet Blanc, simple syrup, lemon juice, and orange blossom water. Squeeze half a tangerine into the mix. Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain in a glass with a little ice and top with some Peroni beer. Garnish with remaining tangerine half and a sprig of rosemary. Makes 1 cocktail.