Don Marsh is one of San Antonio's well-versed and creative barmen. Over the past two decades, Marsh has worked his way from an aspiring bartender at Bennigan's to becoming the proprietor of Bar 1919. The San Antonio native was at the forefront of the craft cocktail renaissance, educating tipplers at time when they couldn't tell the difference between a Negroni and an Old Fashioned. Visit his South Town haunt and you'll quickly see his love for whiskey. Still, always behind the bar is Kinsman Rakia, one of the few Texas-made spirits he has on hand.
How'd you get into bartending?
One of my best friends who worked at Chili's told me that they were looking for people to wait tables at Bennigan's. I eventually was promoted to bartending. I just started studying. I sucked. I was horrible. They say you learn the most when you get thrown to the wolves. Back then Bennigan's would get packed as shit. I would get my ass kicked. One day I was by myself because they thought I was good enough to do it and I wasn't. This guy orders a Dewars White Label 10 Year and soda. So I'm looking for this bottle and I couldn't find it. So I grabbed some bottle of scotch and poured it fast and put some soda in it and handed it to the guy. He looked at me, pays his tab, shook his head and walked off. I was so embarrassed. I'm extremely competitive so I went out and bought the Bartender's Bible by Gary Regan. It was the very first cocktail book I ever bought and it's still behind this bar. It changed my life. It got me started.
What makes Kinsman an interesting spirit to use in cocktails?
I love it. It's a great spirit. We use it and it's a spirit we like to play around with. I think it's well made and if it wasn't I wouldn't use it.
What ingredients play well with the spirit?
Juices, lemon go very well with it. You can do riffs on Aviations, Sidecars. It plays well with cordials. I like to use it with spice: ginger syrups, habaneros, serranos. We like to offset the sweetness in the brandy. We talk about the spice and the bitters, which help make the drink more approachable.
Photos by Sara Ellis/Dorćol Distilling Company
1 1/2 ounces Kinsman Rakia
1/2 ounce orange liqueur
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce lemon juice
2-3 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Instructions: Assemble ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake. Double strain into the cocktail glass rimmed with sugar and garnish with a lemon zest.
Cocktail by Don Marsh of Bar 1919