- On February 4, 2016
This week we’re changing things up a bit. Instead of the usual informative post about something spirits related, we’re letting someone else drop some knowledge on you. We chatted with Dan Oskey from Tattersall Distilling about their operation and are excited to share some of the great info we gleaned from him!
Why go into distilling? You already had successful businesses in Easy & Oskey as well as Joia soda, plus a much-lauded and high profile behind the bar?
Part of it is that distilling was the final frontier for me as a bartender. I’d tried my hand at making just about everything else from scratch with the exception of booze. But perhaps the most attractive aspect to the project was the opportunity to work with Jon, my business partner. He and I have known each other since we were 7, so we were very familiar with one another’s skill sets. He’s crazy driven and crazy smart, and we know how to communicate and drive one another. We had one single meeting in April of 2014 and then got right to work.
Do you miss it at all? Being behind the bar?
The short answer is yes. I miss being a host in that capacity. My favorite nights behind the bar were at the Strip Club Meat & Fish when guests would just tell me that they were in my hands. Based on a few simple questions I would make my favorite food and beverage pairings for them. But I try not to look back on it like that. I can’t. Our days here change everyday and I thrive on that. In any given day I might be a distiller in the morning, a salesperson in the afternoon, a tour guide in the early evening, and end my night as a bar back. All the while that’s going on I might be placing orders, redesigning systems, working on new products, and a million other things. It’s constantly changing and I love every minute of it.
Why the name Tattersall?
Tattersall is a simple type of plaid where two colors are crossed on a white or cream background. It’s a very classic pattern that works for us for a variety of reasons. We like to think of that it symbolizes our two very different backgrounds merging to create a single thing. Jon was an investment banker and hedge fund manager who analyzed companies for a living. I’d been bartending on and off for about 15 years. But in addition to the metaphorical aspect, the Tattersall pattern works well to differentiate all of our product labels with different color schemes. I also like that the name generally means very little to most people right when they first glance at it but then they might learn its history and the British intonation–as gin is our flagship spirit.
Have things unfolded the way you expected?
To a point, yes. We knew we wanted to release a variety of spirits and have a killer cocktail room. Based on the team we hired, I knew the results would be great. I personally didn’t know they’d be this great, but looking at the people we’ve surrounded ourselves with I guess it was kind of to be expected.
When you were setting up the cocktail room, how did that process look?
We had our space in mind but it was really our architect, Aaron Wittkamper, who took the first plan Jon and I had drawn up and turned it on its head. Jon and I looked at each other and realized that Aaron had a vision that we needed to trust. I put a lot of faith in him and his partner, Amy Reiff, as far as the overall design went. Then I literally worked off of their blueprints for the setup of the bar and kitchen, and then overthought everything again and again. Meanwhile I had to make a lot of decisions regarding the kinds of drinks we were going to make and how we were going to approach them. Nothing too complex, but everything with a little more personality. Make it look easy. I wanted a centrifuge to clarify all citrus juices and I wanted to make a transparent Bloody Mary. There was a certain elegance that we were striving for that we weren’t going to shove down peoples’ throats. For example, even now, when people order our Southside cocktail, most might not notice that it’s crystal clear with a fuller texture, but they know they really like it and that’s all that matters.
Looking back at the way the business has grown and developed and how the cocktail room has really taken off would you change the way you have done anything?
It’s always nice to have more space. The original space we looked at was about 5000 square feet. I’m really glad we opted for our current space partially for its character and beauty, but especially because it’s much bigger at 9000 square feet. Regardless, we could always use more. We’ll just have to get creative.
Is there a specific philosophy you would say that governs the cocktail room’s menu or operations?
Egalitarian. The entire staff pitches in so much in both the cocktail room and distillery and they’re all so exceedingly dedicated. That means that everyone’s voice will always be heard. We all help create the cocktails. We all constantly change little things and improve systems based on feedback. Because we’re all service industry people, we believe in taking care of our guest to the best of our collective ability, and we can’t do that without constantly communicating and adapting.
I really love the fact that cocktail room staff are also the staff bottling and labeling and packing the Tattersall products. Do you feel that the synergy (I hate even typing that) from that helps further develop that sense of family among the crew? Have you reached the point where you will need to bring on extra personnel to handle that aspect of the business?
Bottling days definitely further develop a sense of family amongst the crew. Going from the buzz of the cocktail room on Saturdays for example, it’s nice to come in to a more relaxing environment and just be ourselves around one another. Bottling, as it’s a lot of repetition, is very social. It’s also extremely efficient as the crew is very practiced at it. In addition, we have six sets of invested eyes inspecting the bottles at each step of the process to ensure quality control. Our staff has already grown quite significantly and naturally with the growth here, so I don’t see us bringing in more people to handle the bottling side of things. We post bottling days on a sign up sheet for the staff on a sort of first come first serve basis, and the spots always fill up. Everyone always seems to want to get involved more and so we do what we can to supplement more hours in other aspects of the operation.
The transparent/translucent Bloody Mary was one of the first drinks I had at the cocktail room. It’s one of the few drinks I’ve tasted in a long time that made me stop dead in my tracks and just think “Wow. This is great. And smart. And DAMN!” I’ve since experienced it with a few of the other drinks on your menu, not to gush. You mentioned the Southside, are there any other cocktails on the menu that you would consider a “signature drink” or something that you expect will stay on the menu in perpetuity?
There are quite a few that are in for the long haul. The 22 & Spruce is our gin (distilled with 22 botanicals) and our house-made spruce tip tonic. Bentley, our head distiller, forages the spruce tips in the spring and then we vac-seal and freeze them. That drink will stick around forever. Our take on the Salty Dog is also pretty spectacular. We don’t use vodka or grapefruit juice but instead utilize our Grapefruit Crema as the base and supplement a little Barreled Gin, clarified lemon, and salt solution. Looking at the menu, I’d actually say about half the drinks won’t be going anywhere since we love them too much. We’d rather see the drink list grow larger.
What has been the biggest surprise for you so far?
The nightly buzz in the cocktail room. We’re not in the most obvious location. The reality is that we didn’t choose our space based on that it was behind a building. We chose it based on the layout and certain characteristics. But people sure do find us. Also, what I think is a huge surprise is everyone’s willingness to try things that might be new to them, whether it’s aquavit, fernet, or an ingredient in a cocktail such as egg white or vinegar. The response has been very reassuring that we’re making interesting yet approachable cocktails.
Is there a specific moment you can think of as your favorite experience with Tattersall so far?
I look back at the night after our first soft opening. The minutes up to opening the doors were so nerve wracking—we’d been sent the wrong printers for our POS system. Our high top tables never showed. Little things just weren’t in place. Lex, our front of the house manager just shrugged and said, “So we’ll handwrite tickets.” Jon ran out and rented tables. Anyone who’s ever been part of a restaurant or bar opening knows this story inside and out, but this time, for me, the pressure felt much more real. And the whole team, every last person, just came together and said let’s do this. We crushed it that night. And when it was all over we sat everyone down to debrief and have a well-deserved cocktail. Jon’s wife, Michelle, asked, “So are openings always that smooth?” That was the moment the team became a family.
Could you pick one spirit as your favorite in the portfolio? If so, what would it be?
Gin. I love our gin. Like a lot of things we do here, we overthought it. It took us 85 recipes to get it just right. Most of the time I don’t even mix it. I just drink it straight.
What is your favorite spot to grab a drink around town other than your own place?
Lyn 65. It just feels like home there. I love that crew from the front to the back of the house. They’re so creative and passionate about what they do. And I love seeing what Travis is doing with cocktails. He’s a friend but he inspires me. Whenever I think that maybe I’m overworked I remind myself that Travis Serbus exists.
What’s next for Tattersall?
Currently we’re mashing, fermenting, and distilling rye and putting it away in barrels. Next up are two bourbons. But you won’t see those for several years. We’ve also made a limited amount of apple brandy that won’t be released until autumn sometime. We’ll also be releasing two vermouths in the next few months along with some less obvious liqueurs to follow. We’re always staying busy. It keeps things interesting.