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Day Drinking with Ryan Victor

“Never cry over spilt milk. It could’ve been whiskey.” – Pappy Maverick

While our fair share of interviews have happened at bars, very few have involved us being on one side of the bar with our subject on the other. Today is our lucky day, spent with Ryan Victor, head bartender of the energetic and award-winning Portland restaurant Clark Lewis.

“The original purpose behind the cocktail is that it’s a medicinal day starter,” Ryan begins. “So let’s start with a morning drink. Something fresh. Something with citrus and…how about Cachaca?”

Ryan has spent his fair share of time behind the bar. His parents purchased a restaurant in the the small southern town of Albany, Georgia when he was eight years old. “When I was 13, I started working there. When I was 17, I was behind the bar. I was basically born into it.”

And by “it”, he means bartending. Not mixing – bartending. “Some people have developed this pretentious thing with bartending. The types that call it mixology, like it’s some special club. I’ve always hated that. I’m not a mixologist. I’m a bartender. If you drink Bud Light and you’re at my bar, awesome. You’re my customer and I’m going to treat you like everyone else.”

With his infectious smile and constant banter, we can’t imagine otherwise. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying the craft. I’ve studied like crazy. I have a library of books at my house. I analyze flavor pairings. I’ve entered competitions. I have the mechanics down. But at the end of the day, c’mon. Let’s make some drinks!”

From Albany, Georgia to Cabbagetown, Atlanta, and now Portland, Oregon, Ryan has been “making drinks” for over twenty years. And he’s absorbed a lot in two decades, each gig offering unique challenges and opportunities.

“Portland, Seattle, New York, LA, and San Francisco are basically the progenitors of the modern cocktail renaissance. I’d been doing this for years already, but when I got to Portland, I found out I didn’t even know how to properly use a spoon.”

He certainly does now. Every pour, turn, and shake is done with exacting poise. “Honestly, I’ve worked extensively on making sure my movements are fluid. It’s primarily for competitions, but it’s also just a good habit to form.” Ryan even admits even to practicing his shake face. “You can’t be wincing while you’re shaking,” he says, laughing.

“I’m not a mixologist. I’m a bartender. If you drink Bud Light and you’re at my bar, awesome. You’re my customer and I’m going to treat you like everyone else.”

Shortly after, a few of his favorite bartending books are pulled out for us, including a flavor thesaurus. This is not light reading – there are four pages on what goes with capers. He turns through the book slowly, pointing out some of his favorite pairings.

But, according to Ryan, books only go so far. “You know, my main philosophy is that it comes down to the guest experience. I can read books, have great technique, and expand my spirit knowledge, but what I ultimately lean on is the sincerity of interaction with my guests.”

And again, this comes with little surprise. Throughout our afternoon together, Ryan talks with us like an old friend, sharing stories of drunken patrons, waxing poetic about the flavor profile of Mezcal, and prodding us about our taste preferences.

To better understand the process behind each drink, we get a taste of every ingredient, including Cynar, a liqueur made predominantly from artichoke. “The bitterness allows for the sugars of other elements to come through on your palate in a unique way,” he says. If he hadn’t already told us to call it bartending, one would be tempted to consider his craft some form of alchemy.

By the end of our time together, two things are clear: Ryan loves people and constructing cocktails. So it’s no surprise that when we asked him to share a recipe with our readers, he suggested three. “One just doesn’t really seem like enough, you know?”

We couldn’t agree more.

Morning – Cachaca Cuff

An earthy, bitter sweet eye-opener with just enough spice to shake off the night and just enough weight to give gravitas to your day.

  • 1 ½ oz Novo Fogo Cachaca
  • ¼ oz Cynar
  • ¼ oz lime
  • ¼ honey syrup
  • 4 drops cinnamon tincher (cinnamon sticks in a jar with 151 for 2 weeks)

Shake with ice, then double strain* into a chilled coupe. Garnish with anise.

Noon – 400 Rabbits

A dirty, daydrinkin’ cocktail with agave, lemon, and a hefty flavor of smoke.

  • 1 ½ oz El Jimador Blanco Tequila
  • ½ oz Vida Joven Mezcal
  • ½ oz Smoked Tea Vanilla
  • ½ oz lemon juice

Shake with ice, then double strain* into a collins glass. Finish with a splash of soda and garnish with a bordeaux cherry.

Night – Boulevardier

An older cousin to the Negroni, the Boulevardier is the perfect night cap, with rich, bitter tones, complex sugar, and cinnamon notes from Rittenhouse Rye. The perfect amount of dryness and depth to end an evening of interest.

  • 1 oz Rittenhouse Rye
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Stir, then strained over a large icecube into a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with an orange twist

Bourbon tattoo – Barley, corn, and rye.

*Whenever using citrus, as well as any time serving a drink up (in a martini or coupe glass), Ryan recommends double-straining. This means pouring out the liquid in your shaker through both the filtered lid, as well as through a hand strainer.