'Crafted classic cocktails' on Castle Street
GREAT BARRINGTON — When Number Ten Bar Manager David Guenette turned 40, he asked for two things from his friends and family: cowboy boots and nice bottles of bourbon. While he now describes the former as a mistake, "plantar fasciitis and everything else," almost two decades later, the gifts from the latter category built the foundation for an interest in spirits that benefits bar patrons today.
The theme of the bar program at Number Ten on Castle Street is "crafted classic cocktails." Guenette said the team takes the tagline quite literally.
"We're drawing our inspiration and, in fact, often particular recipes, from old cocktail recipes. So that's the classic," said Guenette. "The craft is how we're paying attention to how we make them and the ingredients we use in them."
Number Ten opened in 2018 with the mission of being a steakhouse with a really thoughtful bar program. When owner Vern Kennedy purchased the space, formerly known as Castle Street Caf , and reopened last May as the classic steakhouse, Guenette was brought on as bar manager to develop and execute the bar program, which, in addition to its regular offerings during business hours, hosts special symposiums and tasting for guests to get a better understanding of the spirits they're ordering.
After a long career in publishing, Guenette moved his family to the Berkshires. A longtime cocktail hobbyist, he started hosting cocktail parties in his home, and his interest in classic cocktails and spirits grew. He worked in several places in Berkshire County, including the now-closed Preservation Society and The Prairie Whale, both in Great Barrington. During his two-year tenure at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, Conn., he started developing a cocktail program and giving cocktail lectures before moving on to Number Ten.
Many of cocktails chosen for the program, according to Guenette, require good treatment of the ingredients. Fresh juices and good fortified wine aperitifs, such as vermouth, are vital elements.
"When you do that, the cocktails you make from those ingredients, including a good liquor, they're really great," he said. "There's a reason they were around for a long time."
The newly launched summer cocktail lineup features a "rich tradition of exemplary cocktails, adjusting as needed for contemporary tastes — less sweet and more 'liquor-forward' to highlight top-quality spirits." The menu is broken down by the structure or style of cocktail: sours, martinis and Manhattans, and bitters.
The two-page menu, itself, goes beyond the basic listing of name, ingredients and price. Each of the 19 cocktails listed includes tasting notes, how the cocktail was put together and, in some cases, a bit of cocktail lore.
One example, the Twentieth Century, is made with Bombay Gin, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and white creme de cacao. According to the listing, the cocktail was named for the 20th-century limited luxury passenger train, which ran from 1902 to 1967. The train is said to have inspired the phrase "red-carpet treatment."
According to Guenette, passengers walked onto the train on a red carpet.
"Whether or not that's true, it's a nice story," he said. "For cocktails, all you need to have are nice stories, not necessarily true stories."
Other classic cocktails on the menu include the Aviation, which goes back to the early days of air travel; the Martinez, said to be the precursor to the martini; and Old Pal, which first appeared in print in 1922.
While some customers come to the bar knowing exactly how they'd like their cocktail made, like a martini, Guenette enjoys making suggestions from the menu. In the case of a martini, he'd offer the Number Ten martini, which features dry vermouth from California.
"To me, that's fun, having some interchange here and then I get to see their reaction," Guenette said.
The bar program also includes a collection of more than 70 whiskeys featuring bourbons and mostly ryes with some exciting additions, including a wheat and oat whiskey.
Assembled in a 19-page binder, each listing on the menu includes standard information, such as the name of the producer, tasting notes and price, and also the mash bill, age statement and tasting notes.
"In putting this together, I wanted to make sure people could learn more without having to stop a bartender," Guenette said.
Prices are listed in one- or two-ounce pours for those folks looking to try several kinds without having to drink two ounces at a time.
Customers wanting to do a deep educational dive into classic cocktails and spirits might be interested in Number Ten's Symposium TalkTails. Running from November to June, the lecture-style event focuses on a category of spirits each session — from dispelling the mysteries of vermouth (which should be kept in the fridge), and whiskey tasting, to cocktail history. The TalkTails allow Guenette to share his knowledge of spirits and cocktails. The event series includes a tasting of the spirits or cocktails, light snacks and a handout with recipes and the stories behind each libation.
While the TalkTails are on hiatus during the busy Berkshire summer season, Guenette suggested that customers interested in doing a deeper dive and exploring the cocktail menu, and chat with bartenders, stop by on Monday and Wednesday nights, as he's always happy to talk (cocktail) shop.
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