There’s a new mixologist in town, and she is looking to shake up the way cocktails are served in Litchfield County. Jamie Monahan, a recent transplant from New York City, is the newest addition to the Community Table team and her spirited creations are perhaps more alchemy than the usual bartending.
Monahan grew up in a military family, experiencing a great many cultures and spending a great deal of her early years in Japan with her family. At age 18 she went to college in Virginia, and immediately after graduating, she traveled to New York City as her aspiration was actually to become an actress.
But as most aspiring actors find, you need to eat and have a place to live, so Monahan waitressed. One afternoon she walked into a bar which had a lot of tables, so she assumed the bar had a server. She asked if the bar was hiring, and was told “no.” She said “OK, thanks,” but was called back and started bartending that week, with only two days of training. And so began her unexpected career.
Monahan soon moved on to Tao, a famous NYC restaurant featuring Asian fusion cuisine. There she significantly upped her game, becoming familiar with a wider variety of alcohols and learning to pair cocktails with cuisine, design cocktail menus and deal with a wider variety of clientele. She found that her earlier years spent in Japan came in handy, giving her a good perspective on genuine Asian cuisine and distilled beverages.
After Tao, she moved on to another New York favorite, Fig and Olive, learning to give a Mediterranean spin to her formulations, and then moved on to McCoys, and popular Irish pub. After 5 1/2 years in the city, she felt she needed a break. Her parents had settled in Litchfield, so Monahan came to Connecticut and continued mixing delicious brews at Community Table.
When asked “What is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?” Monahan said, “A bartender has a fixed repertoire of drinks that they can make… not every bartender knows every drink, but the good ones know quite a few. A mixologist on the other hand, takes a standard drink recipe and puts a new spin on it. Cocktails are culinary and mixologists can go against the rules.”
Monahan says that pairing cocktails with cuisine is popular now, and she uses a great deal of her creativity to make the pairings work. Dessert beers are also a favorite choice, some imitating the taste of crème brulee, or orange cream.
Monahan’s favorite concoctions use infusions to flavor the alcohol. A botanist friend taught her how to infuse gin and other distilled alcohols with herbs such as lavender, rosemary and even teas. She also likes to use a variety of simple syrups made with agave, brown sugar or honey. Each lends its unique flavor to the cocktail. She finds that infusing the alcohols herself makes for the tastiest cocktails. Nearly any flavorful food can be used to infuse an alcohol, she says, citing apples, jalapeno peppers, coffee beans or spices as some of her favorites. For those unsure of how to infuse an alcohol, she refers those interested to look online for flavoring kits.
As for differences between New York and Connecticut imbibers? Monahan says New Yorkers are partial to out-of-the-ordinary combinations – the stranger, the better. But she has found that Litchfield County drinkers have sophisticated tastes albeit slightly “quainter” than in New York. She is also encouraged by the emergence of local distilleries such at The Litchfield Distillery and local IPA producers. She says it definitely adds to the economic viability of the area and adds to her choices for drink combinations.
When asked what makes a great mixologist, Monahan said, “It’s someone who gets you to have one more drink than you meant to, but not get you drunk. Whether you are in a large, busy bar, or a small one, you are hosting the party, so you have to be friendly, entertaining and watchful that everyone goes home happy but not overserved.”
For now, Monahan will be serving her customers at Community Table while popping back to New York for the occasional audition. She aspires to get a part in a Broadway musical or in an HBO or Showtime series. She can sing, dance, act and play a few instruments, but for now is content to continue her study of human nature and help her clients have a great time.
If you'd like to follow Jamie Monahan’s journey, her website is at www.jamiemonahan.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram at @jmemonahan.
JAMIE’S COCKTAIL RECIPES
Diablito (Little Devil) **WITH PHOTO**
Two Fresh Strawberries
Two Small Pieces Jalapeño
2oz El Buho Mezcal
1/2oz Fresh Lime Juice
1 Egg White
Muddle the strawberries and jalapeño together. Add ingredients and dry shake (without ice) for 10 seconds. Add ice, shake and strain. Garnish with a thin slice of jalapeño.
The fresher the ingredients the higher the quality of taste.If you feel adventurous infuse your tequila with jalapeño or pink peppercorn.
Cold Brew Martini
2oz Tito's Vodka
1/2oz Caffee Moka Varnelli
1oz Heavy Cream (try to buy local if you can, it tastes better)
Splash Cold Brewed Coffee
Shake all ingredients together with ice and strain. Garnish with coffee beans.