Food & Drink
Talking Story With Ambrosia Bartender Will Sythes
August 25, 2010 | 02:17 PMAmbrosia Martini Lounge
1913 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei; 891-1011
William Sythes and I meet about 7pm for coffee and I realize this is his morning. Will is a straightforward guy; he didn't take me for a drunkard, so we meet at Starbucks, an alcohol-neutral zone. Of course, we quickly move the interview to Hang Loose Lounge after both of us confessed a love for the corner bar.
Sythes is a bartender and sometimes mind-reader at Ambrosia Martini Lounge. Ambrosia isn't your ordinary Maui watering hole. Tucked off on the less-seen side of the Life's a Beach and Fat Daddy's building in the Kihei Kalama Village, it's a locale that defines intimate. Contemporary decor outfits the lounge with cement, rock and leather, but there's a timeless quality once you're inside.
It's dark and climate controlled, with ambient lighting making the bottles and glasses sparkle; it just feels classy. Dark drapes conceal the liquor storage facilities behind the small bar--you'll see bartenders duck under and emerge from behind these mysterious velvet coverings from time to time. Entertainment is different every night of the week, and you get a divergent crowd every time.
Over a beer and a Jack and Coke, Sythes and I break down some of his specialty drinks.
What's up with the Green Fairy?
We carry a lot of specialty spirits [and] Lucid Absinthe is one of them. We aren't the only bar on Maui with it, but we have an absinthe fountain. You drip water from the fountain over a sugar cube into the glass. The herbs in the alcohol make the drink cloud over; the sugar breaks down from the drip and sweetens it. Then you sip it. There are also cocktails with absinthe. The Mint Muse is a mojito-like absinthe drink; the Green Lantern is a Midori pineapple absinthe mixture. I like to pair [absinthe] with a Peach Lambic.
Cute cocktail names aside, I hear that absinthe gives a special buzz. What's that about?
Yeah, there is a lot of mystique and controversy behind the herbal tincture of wormwood that's in absinthe. Especially since it was outlawed for a while. Thujone is the compound in it that's supposed to give that buzz. Other herbs in the spirit are anise and fennel. It tastes like black licorice. Lucid, the company we carry, was the first genuine absinthe to get approval to import in the U.S. since the ban in 1912.
Is there anyone in the U.S. distilling or making absinthe?
St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, was the first, with their St. George Absinthe Verte. There may be more now.
Botanical and herbal spirits are hot right now. Do you serve any others?
Lots. A lot of spirits are made with aromatics, like your flavored vodkas, vanilla, lemon and so forth. One of the more obscure [spirits] we have is Fernet Brianca. It's an Argentinian favorite. If someone comes in and orders a a Fernet and Coke they are usually from or have been to Argentina. I think it's a good digestive, taken after a meal. The flavor is basically like an unsweetened bitter Jaegermeister. You can substitute it for vermouth in some cocktails.
Ambrosia has Cachaca too. What is that, exactly?
Cachaca [pronounced ka-cha-ssa] is a spirit distilled from sugarcane juice. Not everyone knows that rum is distilled molasses, not sugar, so Cachaca is very different. It has a kind of a tequila aroma and taste. With a lime and sugar muddle it makes the Caipirinha, a Brazilian drink.
Speaking of tequila, that's my new favorite spirit. What kind of tequila cocktail can you recommend?
The Twilight. I make with grapefruit juice, sugar and Don Julio Reposado. The Don Julio lends a gentle smoky flavor to it, due to the oak aging.
What's the best time to come down and enjoy a taste or two of these exotics?
We open for happy hour from 5 to 9pm. That's a good time, when you can really sip and taste, and the night rush isn't around. You don't want to try absinthe after having other cocktails. It's just not the way to enjoy it.
I'm a self-proclaimed happy drunk. How does that jive with your bar?
I don't mind a loquacious guest or two at my bar, but honestly sometimes I feel like the kindergarten teacher. Is everyone playing nice today? That kind of stuff. I ask people how they are when they come in, check their vibe. I'll say, "How are you doing?" If you don't answer, I'll ask again. My thing is I want to make you a drink that you like, serve it to you professionally and efficiently. I strip the pretentiousness away.
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