The labs are the product of bar manager Chris Spinato and bartender Mike Goff. Attendees are provided three craft cocktails that are unique from Sidebar’s normal offerings. Each lab is centered on an individual theme or ingredient, and features an open discourse between customers and the staff who have created the drinks.
Spinato explained the labs as a tool to show customers what’s happening behind the scenes of the creation of cocktails. “They’re almost cooking class oriented,” he said, “where you’re walked through the how and why particular processes work a particular way, and how particular ingredients play together.”
Holiday flavors were the theme for the debut lab in December. While participating in a discussion dissecting the flavors and cocktail creation process, customers were treated to a cranberry and basil vodka soda (which, staff are quick to point out, precipitously turned up on another bar’s menu shortly after the event) as well as an American Sidecar featuring a homemade apple syrup and apple brandy, and a coconut almond black tea rum cocktail.
Enhancing the experience were tapas and small plates specifically paired with each cocktail, something that will be repeated for each lab. The matching is done through coordination between Spinato, Goff, and Sidebar head chef and owner Alberto Tapia.
“We want people to show up who are ready to drink, ready to eat, and ready to learn,” Spinato said.
According to Goff, future labs may center on an individual ingredient rather than a theme. The cocktails created for those labs would focus on teasing individual notes out of a particular spirit or mixer.
“Take bourbon or gin for example,” he explained. “Those are complex flavor blends that can be taken in any number of ways. We can take one flavor note and turn up the volume with a complimentary ingredient.”
The idea for the labs initially came to Goff and Spinato during their time working together at the now closed Taj Bar. Goff’s cocktail knowledge and creativity piqued an interest in the speed-bar trained Spinato, and they began devising an event that was different from anything anyone else was doing in the city.
“One time he made a sweet potato or candied yam martini” Spinato recalled. “He made an extract with a centrifuge that he brought in from home. It was the progenitor, the catalyst of a lot of our ideas.”
At Sidebar, the two were able to act on the idea. They capitalized on several factors that the high-end cocktail bar already featured – uncommon spirits routinely stocked for their existing cocktail menu, a willing and accomplished kitchen to partner with, a second-floor bar apart from the main service area, and an open-minded owner that allowed the concept to take root.
Spinato described pitching the idea of the labs to the owner as an easy process. “Our ownership is very lenient,” he said, “we are given a lot of room to experiment – to play jazz.”
The next lab will be held on Monday, January 27th, with the theme of tropical heat, meant to be a balm to the meteorological struggles that the average Columbus resident encounters at the end of January. Not wanting to tip his hand entirely, Goff has let on that there will be experimentations with Central American spirits, spicy chili peppers, and a play on an Aztec-inspired drinking chocolate.
“It’s January in Ohio,” Goff said. “Look outside. It gray, it’s dreary, it sucks out there. Let’s take a three hour Mexican vacation without passports or baggage.”
The lab will begin at 7pm on January 27 and will run for a few hours, or as long as there are participants.