To Troy Clarke, a shrub is not a piece of landscape. It's a cocktail ingredient.
A shrub -- fresh fruit either macerated or cooked or soaked in water, to make it a liquid -- is one of the many ingredients we saw the former food and beverage director of the Royal Sonesta Boston Hotel use when he created the innovative cocktails that brought him to the attention of a wider audience than that hotel a year ago.
This innovative and creative mixologist -- one of only five in Massachusetts certified by the Beverage Alcohol Resource Educational Program (BAR) -- drew so much attention with his passion for the art of cocktail mixing -- that the Martignetti Companies grabbed him away from the hotel to make him their own Director of Mixology and Spirits Educator, Genesis Division. The company never had such a title before, so they made it up just for Clarke, who also serves as President of the United States Bartenders Guild, Boston Chapter.
"I lead all the education for the company," said Clarke, whose monthly cocktail classes at the Sonesta's ArtBar Restaurant sold out a year ahead for students who wanted to learn the art of the cocktail. "I couldn't ask for a better position." Martignetti company must feel the same way, as a week ago, they sent him to Las Vegas for cocktail seminars, and he won first place in the "Hoptails" competition, using beer in a cocktail recipe. He's also teaching spirits classes at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.
We took one of Clarke's last classes at the Royal Sonesta, called "Bitters/Shrubs/Syrups," and learned more in 90 minutes about the drinks we drink and why and how to make them than we learned from half a century of embibing.
Clarke, who began his career washing dishes in a bakery near his Long Island home and worked long hours through managing hotel front desks, cooking and mixing cocktails and running food festivals all over North America and the Caribbean, has a passion for the art of cocktail making that is infectious. "I didn't know what I didn't know," he laughs, when reminiscing about working 80 hours a week in restaurants and hotels, sometimes for free to get the experience. As head of food and beverage operations at the newly opened Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Grand Cayman Island in 2007 he created the first Food and Wine Festival in the Cayman Islands, called "Cayman Cooks."
"I started working in food and beverage before I was old enough to drink," the cocktail innovator recalled, "but I was always thinking about beverages and specialty drinks. I began to get excited about cocktails, bartending and mixology before I began tasting."
Clarke brings to cocktails what chefs have brought to the restaurant business, with farm-to-table ingredients from as many local purveyors as possible. Bitters, for example, used to be available in two kinds only, he says: Angostura or Peychauds. "Now, bars have an arsenal of bitters, made from roots, flowers, herbs and flavoring agents," he notes. "Bitters, to a bartender, are like and salt and pepper to a food chef."
Clarke reads and studies about the art of mixology in his spare time, just for fun. Since his joining Martignetti, the company has been inspired to launch the formation of Genesis Brands, an exclusive collection of superb quality spirits selected by world renowned spirits critic F. Paul Pacult, editor of Spirit Journal, for star rating, and Clarke. The two have joined forces to bring retailers and restaurateurs the best-of-the-best, top-rated spirits portfolio from United Liquors, a division of Martignetti. Clarke calls Genesis the company's craft cocktails, using quality liquors made in small batches.
Married and the father of four, Clarke answers when asked what his favorite cocktail is, "It's so hard to say; I love sipping rum straight and I love gin and bourbon the same way. I love things neat," says this master of mixing things together, who has opened a full training facility bar at the company's Braintree office.