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Apricot Rakia

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Behind the bar with Don Marsh


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

River Romance

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

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American craft distillers embracing brandy

When we tell people we make brandy at the distillery, we often get looks of utter confusion. I certainly don't blame people, they're just not familiar with the spirit.

Over the years, whiskey, vodka and gin dominated the craft spirits landscape. That's nothing new. But American craft distillers, including us at Dorćol, are making a strong case for brandy. 

If you haven't seen it yet, Imbibe magazine just published a great story about American brandy, titled "Out of the dark: American brandy emerges from Europe's shadow." In the piece, author Max Watman looks at the history of the spirit and chats with craft distillers across the nation about brandy's future. And just as we are, distillers are deeply enthusiastic. 

"Brandy is the last undiscovered American drink,” Joe Heron, founder of Copper & Kings Distillery in Kentucky, said in the article.  

For starters, brandy is a spirit made from fruit including grapes, apples, pears, plums and apricots. Eau-de-vie is the French term for brandy while rakia (rakija) is the Balkan term for the spirit. Cognac and Armagnac are grape brandies named  for their specific regions of origin in France.

At Dorćol, we make Kinsman Rakia, an award-winning apricot brandy that's double distilled and unaged, giving the spirit big bursts of apricot and tropical fruit on the front, with a dry, slightly spicy finish. Kinsman's clean flavor makes the spirit extremely versatile. Heck, at the distillery's bar, we have a menu of more than 30 classic cocktails where Kinsman is used as the base spirit. 

And things don't end there. We've jump started our barrel-aging program and it's already smelling delicious. There's no timeline on a release but stay tuned to see what we have in store. 

Big props to Imbibe for giving brandy some love. While they believe brandy is the next best thing to happen in the craft spirits industry, we believe it's already here!