When he first started bartending more than 10 years ago, Maxwell Britten would carry an address book full of classic recipes in his back pocket for reference.
Today, thanks to smartphones, cocktail expertise is at the tips of our fingers. But that information can still be better, Britten says.
“Digitizing a lot of this stuff has never really been a big part of the learning experience with cocktails and spirits,” says Britten, who was a founding member of the team at the celebrated Williamsburg cocktail bar Maison Premiere. “Definitely a lot of stuff is kept within the trade.”
Britten left Masion Premiere late last year to join The Liquor Cabinet, a cocktail and spirits digital platform, as its chief brand officer and overall cocktail expert. He joins founders, and siblings, Patrick (better known by his Instagram handle, @AGuyNamedPatrick), Sean and Peter Janelle.
On Wednesday, The Liquor Cabinet launched an app that features recipes for classic cocktails, such as pina coladas and old fashioneds; suggestions on which bottles to use in each recipe; and insights on bar tools, garnishes and specialty ingredients. Later this year, an accompanying website is slated to launch.
amNewYork spoke with Britten about the app.
Why was this something you wanted to get on board with?
I’ve spent the most recent parts of my career directing teams and educating people, and so I found myself putting a lot of time into trying to develop systems for educating my team and my staff. I was already experimenting with a lot of different ways of doing that — Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive.
It was really apparent to me that there weren’t really any go-to resources for consumers or for bartenders, too, to access a lot of this stuff. There are some apps out there for cocktails, but they’re difficult to navigate, they maybe aren’t the most up-to-date or accurate or easy to understand. Patrick has a very visual approach to things. He definitely has a really great way of simplifying information and making it accessible to people across the board.
Why was now a good time for something like this?
There’s definitely a handful of apps out there — Minibar and Grizly for the on-demand culture of spirits. They’re not necessarily the most educational or informative type of experience, but more about purchasing and buying stuff. There’s also cocktail apps out there that are pretty good, but unless you know a lot about cocktails, they can be pretty difficult to navigate.
We were just trying to create a destination for users to have a seamless experience from a design perspective, as well as an intuitive, informational experience, with all the bottles, spirits, cocktails, origin stories, technical info, which can be quite a lot. We’re tying that all up in a nice bow and making it seem a lot more accessible than it could be. This stuff can seem pretty intimidating, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s supposed to be fun. Patrick and I are really passionate about the lifestyle experience.
Right before this you were bar director for Maison Premiere. Was that a difficult decision to leave?
I was there from ground zero, when it was a construction site, and was responsible for staffing, building a team, creating a cocktail menu, all of that really important stuff that is involved in creating a successful business. I did that for well over five years, and it’s definitely been an extremely important part of my life. Under my watch, I earned two James Beard finalist nominations for my bar program. I left right at the end of 2015, and in the winter of 2016, Maison Premiere Maison Premiere got its third James Beard finalist nomination. We all went to Chicago together in May and received the award for Outstanding Bar Program. As hard as it has been, it has been very cathartic. I couldn’t have been out on a more positive note.
What can people expect from the app?
One of the things that we’re most excited about is it’s going to be constantly offering original content, which we’re really committed to doing on every level, not just with the photography of the cocktails. We shoot our own bottles and pay for our own bottles, we do all our own research. We don’t regurgitate content from those big name brands. We focus on classic cocktails for now, spending painstaking amounts of time making sure to get all of their origin stories correct.
We really wanted it to be an authoritative but simple and seamless experience for people to have. Each week you can expect to see new content, new cocktails, new spirits. They can save recipes that they like, share with friends who have also downloaded the app. We’re going to add features that make visiting the app really interesting and progressive. We want to have the support and consumption of the app from the bar industry as well, but the app is really developed for everybody to use.
What’s one way someone might use the app?
Maybe somebody’s wanting to make something as simple as an old fashioned. We will have all the resources to know how to do that, and pro tips that go with the tools of the trade — they’ll need a mixing glass, a barspoon and a jigger to make an old fashioned.
We have all those things annotated and illustrated in there, so when people are going through the recipe they can gain pro tips on how to easily use those tools functionally. They will need simple syrup and aromatic bitters and a suggested spirit. So the bitters and the simple syrup will be annotated with instructions on how to use them, if it requires a homemade ingredient, and we will also suggest a bottle. In every case there is a suggested bottle. You can search things by bottles, which are as equally detailed and annotated as the cocktails are, with country of origin, the raw materials used to make it, the aging and bottling process.
Basically everything is completely digitized in a way that people can easily learn and educate themselves on those things. Hopefully it will not just provide people with a great level of education and make their demand for quality of products a little higher, but it will also provide them with the impulse to make these things and entertain their friends, or when they go to a bar they will be more knowledgeable.
What is a bottle you’ve been drinking at home lately?
After all the work that I’ve been doing with the app, all the tasting and research, I’m kind of leaning towards a really cold beer at the end of a long day. I’m much more of a sipper — I like to taste things, that’s what I do now. I catalog and index things.
The app is largely about making drinks at home, but what are some of your go-to cocktail bars in New York City?
Maison Premiere — shamelessly plugging that. Donna is another Brooklyn bar that I’m really interested in, I love that bar a lot. The Masion Premiere team also just opened up another restaurant in Greenpoint called Sauvage. I’ve been to that a couple times since they opened, they definitely have a beautiful back bar and a really impressive selection of spirits — a lot of stuff you might not ever have seen before, or even find in our app. The spirits list is really esoteric, interesting stuff.
In Manhattan, the NoMad Bar is always a go-to for me. And Giuseppe Gonzalez just opened a new bar on East Houston, Suffolk Arms, that’s his take on a classic English pub. There’s a lot of really great cocktails on the menu.