The second best-selling cocktail at Standby in Detroit is The Snake in the Grass. And it’s made with mustard. Spicy, vegetal mustard greens, to be exact, that have been nitro-muddled in the fashion of Dave Arnold’s Thai Basil Daquiri. Standby’s Rising Star Bartender Joe Robinson first tasted the greens at nearby Ghost Acre Farms. “They made my eyes water. They were delicious, and, immediately, the wheels were turning. ‘How am I going use these in a drink?’” he says.
Robinson’s culinary approach pervades Standby’s menu, and mustard makes more than one appearance. His Club Yellow cocktail is a savory-sweet balance comprised of prepared yellow mustard, bourbon, milk syrup, honey liqueur, and black truffle salt. “Mustard adds a completely new flavor that you wouldn’t have been able to get into the drink before,” says Robinson, who was inspired by a bottle of yellow mustard hanging out in his fridge. “It adds mouthfeel, along with an acid component.”
Although Robinson hasn’t yet used mustard powder, there are two Pittsburgh bartenders who do. The Valley Horseman from Michael Anderson at Butcher and Rye combines rye, lemon, Galliano, celery bitters, and mustard powder, while The Wilhelm from Justin Smith at Root 147 corrals some unlikely flavors—everything from pickle juice and Lillet to tobacco and starfruit tinctures. A dash of mustard powder is hardly out of place.
“It’s not too crazy an ingredient,” says Robinson. “When I come up with a drink, I really try to play off whatever spirit I’m using and enhance rather than drown it out. The Citadelle [in the Snake in the Grass] is a little bit higher proof, peppery, and very botanical. Mustard greens play with well with those notes and really brighten up the gin.” That may be what’s fun about mustard—it’s such an aggressive ingredient, it actually works better with stronger, more flavorful spirits. All the mustard cocktails we experienced had a gin, rye, or bourbon base. “I’ve seen a few other mustard cocktails that use Hefeweizen, too,” says Robinson.
For anyone about to call “gimmick,” Robinson points to the increasingly culinary perspective of serious cocktail bars. “It’s just another useful tool,” he says. “The higher the caliber of a cocktail program, the bigger the collaboration between kitchen and bar. There’s just so much more out there we can use.”
For instance, Robinson and some coworkers actually had an informal cocktail competition one night with maybe the unlikeliest of cocktail ingredients: ranch dressing. “Three of us brought them to the chef and had him blind taste them—we didn’t tell him what it was. Everybody really liked them.” But don’t worry. The Ranch Cocktail isn’t a thing. Yet.
From Top Left:
Snake in the Grass by Bartender Joe Robinson of Standby | Detroit, MI
Club Yellow by Bartender Joe Robinson of Standby | Detroit, MI
The Wilhelm by Bartender Justin Smith of Root 147 | Pittsburgh, PA
The Valley Horseman by Bartender Michael Anderson at Butcher and Rye | Pittsburgh, PA