Paige Nast is only 21, but she makes a Manhattan cocktail like she's been drinking them for twice as long.
She refuses to make drinks the "cheater" way (she's never touched a bottle of Rose's Lime Juice), and her penchant for using only fresh herbs and local produce in her recipes is more a requirement than a preference.
Maybe that's why this South Florida-born beauty and bartender was recently named Tap 42's very own mixologist and beverage manager. No easy task, she said, Tap 42 is still known as a beer bar first, so getting people to think outside the taps was something "I was a little concerned about," Nast recently told Clean Plate Charlie.
However, since Nast left her bartending gig at Ocean Prime in Aventura to create a custom drink menu at Tap 42, the bar has become as much a craft cocktail bar as craft beer bar -- and there is a list of new hit drinks to prove it.
"When I started [at Tap 42] the cocktail menu was the usual list of stock recipes from the distributor -- one of them was even called 'Swamp Water,'" said Nast. "Who wants to drink something that looks and tastes like swamp water?"
Instead, Nast got to work creating unique and "drinkable" cocktails with ingredients made from scratch and utilizing local ingredients from nearby Marando Farms. Today you'll find Nast behind the bar most days, mixing cocktails and tending to supplies, a regular routine of blending fresh fruit purees and reducing herbs like thyme, clove, anise, lavender and basil into simple syrups. Ask for a whiff of Nast's spiced agave, an aromatic blend of mystery spices she uses in the "42 Kisses" cocktail, a simple but potent blend of Tito's vodka and fresh muddled strawberries.
It's one of seven hand-crafted cocktails you'll find on the new Tap 42 drink menu, which debuted just in May (a finalized version went live a few weeks ago), and new items are already selling faster than Nast can make them. Even her recent addition, a 3-liter, 5-week barrel-aged White Manhattan, has been a fast favorite. An intense drink that combines Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash (a fancy name for corn whiskey), two different French vermouths (Dolin Blanc and Lillet Blanc), and orange bitters for a heady, amber-hued drink that has layers of flavor, an oaky aroma wafting from the glass.
The most popular drink so far: the Blazin' Cucumber -- named after co-owner Blaise McMackin -- which combines a house-made basil simple syrup, fresh-squeezed lime juice and fresh muddled cucumber with Nolet's gin. The result is a sweet, tangy-tart libation that is as close to a refreshing summer cooler as I've come across. Served in an oversized snifter, it's garnished with a sliver of cucumber and giant lime wheel, an intense neon green hue the result of a potent housemade basil syrup. It's almost too pretty to drink. Almost.
Beer cocktails, a popular and growing trend, are also on the menu at Tap 42. The emphasis here is on craft beer cocktails, each a collaborative effort between Tap 42's creative director and beer expert, Lauren Bowen, and Nast. Using high-quality spirits, fresh ingredients, and offbeat flavor combinations, Nast and Bowen's quintessential craft beer cocktail is their "Drafted Old Fashioned." A blend of Magic Hat #9, R(1) rye whiskey, bitters and -- what has perhaps never been done before Tap 42 -- an extra hit of hops from Nast's own creation: house-infused beer simple syrup. It's served "up" with a single ice "ball" -- a giant sphere of ice that keeps your drink cold without turning it into a watered-down travesty.
"When I was creating the craft beer cocktails I was having a hard time keeping them from being too watery," said Nast. "Finally, a light bulb went off and I said 'why not make a beer simple syrup?'"
Like her herb infused syrups, Nast reduced a blend of three beers (Harpoon's Leviathan Imperial IPA, Magic Hat #9, and Brooklyn Lager) to make a beer concentrate. The end result is a flavorful beer-syrup that takes this classic cocktail to the next step to become a hoppy-sweet, smooth drink.
And Nast also makes Skittles shots, best described by a Tap 42 bartender: "You made my favorite candy a drink!"
Nast infuses Svedka vodka mixed with a pound or so of single-hued Skittles for two weeks before straining and displaying the candy-colored drinks -- red, purple, yellow, green -- in large glass dispensers at the end of the bar, where they glow like neon liquid lava lamps.
Never one to sit idle, Nast said she is currently working on a list of seasonal cocktails that will utilize the plethora of pumpkin beers getting ready to hit the taps at Tap 42. She's also working another project: a specialty menu of non-alcoholic cocktails.
"There have been some challenges so far, but I think that -- with the crowd we attract -- and the interest that's out there for craft [beverages], these drinks will do just as well as the beer," said Nast. "These [drinks] are different. You're not going to find these anywhere else."