Nearly five miles south of the Hollywood sign, one can find Birch, a New American restaurant offering culinary-driven cocktails in a rustic setting. The name for this Los Angeles spot serves as a subtle homage to the hometown of its chef/owner, Brendan Collins, who grew up in Nottingham, England, near a copse of birch trees.
Running Birch’s bar program is Gaby Mlynarczyk — the beverage director with over 20 years of experience who also keeps a blog, Loving Cup, to help demystify drink making for the home bartender. In this episode of "Across the Bar," host Paul Barron has a chance to chat and learn from Mlynarczyk, a New Jersey-born and UK-raised fashion-student-accidentally-turned-bartender extraordinaire.
“Bartending was something I just fell into, naturally...,” said Mlynarczyk. “Thirty years ago… I was in fashion school and it was really important for us to have, like... the trendiest and newest...instead I was always hitting the flea markets and thrift shops. So, I didn’t need to make a lot of money but definitely needed to have an allowance for clothing,” explained the ingredient-driven Birch bartender about the motives that drove her to her current profession.
Her approach? She likes to get inspiration from what ingredients are being used back of house and turn those ideas into creative and tasty cocktails. Initially, the inspiration came from wanting to be a pastry chef, but later on, Mlynarczyk was able to forge a creative outlet while improving her financial situation by working front of house and making thoughtful cocktails.
Cocktail No. 1: #3
It’s a variation on a Negroni that is perfect for the winter months. It’s light and considered an apéritif. The ingredients are: Fords Gin, bitters, sweet white vermouth infused with golden and red beets, shiso, and poured over a large block of ice. The drink is finalized with a garnish of carrot flower, edible disco dust, and shiso essence. None of Mlynarczyk’s drinks have names, but this one you can find as #3 in Birch’s drink menu.
Cocktail No. 2: #1
The flavors of the second drink that Mlynarczyk demonstrated for us are inspired by a Thai coconut soup. While the presentation of the cocktail is fairly unconventional, using a Chinese take-out rice box in place for the glass served next to a Chinese fortune cookie, the execution of the drink is simple. This cocktail is a variation on a Mai Tai, a classic tiki-style drink, but Mlynarczyk makes a coconut butter orgeat for it instead of using an almond or brown rice orgeat base. It is the first drink listed in the menu and apparently a very popular one with the Birch crowd. The ingredients are: coconut butter orgeat, five spice rum, dry curaçao, and pickled kumquats. It’s garnished with a Chinese flower and broccoli. To finish it off, it is sprayed by a mint mist, traditional Mai Tai ingredient.
Cocktail No. 3: 004
Lastly, Mlynarczyk shows host Paul Barron how to prepare the final drink, which is based on a Scaffa, “an old-school after dinner drink.” Scaffa-style drinks do not contain water/ice and are a mixture of a liquor and liqueurs and/or bitters. Ingredients used: Irish whiskey, Drambuie, old-spiced rum, honey, bitters. At Birch, this drink is served with a glass smoked with burning frankincense, an edible ingredient used as a purifier.
Watch the episode to learn more!