I have to confess: the first time I tried the cocktails at Birch when it opened back in March, I didn’t think they were on the same ZOMG level as chef Brendan Collins’ amazing food (that pork shank!). But when the restaurant brought on bartender Gabriella Mlynarczyk to overhaul the drinks a short two months later, I knew it would be a match made in culinary heaven.
Mlynarczyk first made a name for herself when she took over the bar program at chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink. There she used innovative kitchen techniques (like sous-vide infusing liquor in fruit) to create cocktails that could stand up to the chef’s avant-garde style. Beyond actual technique, Mlynarczyk’s cocktails are also inspired by what’s coming out of the kitchen, a fact that’s become more evident with her recent work at Freddy Smalls and Cadet, where she introduced drinks like the Martini Arrabiata for the red sauce Italian restaurant and French-spirit cocktails for the French-Cali menu.
But Mlynarczyk’s libations are not just food friendly (and Instagram gorgeous)—they also possess unique, fun flavor combinations that don’t seem to make sense until you taste them. For her cocktails at Birch, she pulled from menu items as well as her favorite bite in general that she thought would translate well into drinks.
Her brown butter Old Fashioned is basically a cocktail version of bread with a little marmalade and butter while the #2 cocktail is Turkish Delight in a glass. Yes, Mlynarczyk doesn’t actually name her cocktails, assigning each a number instead.
Here, Mlynarczyk shares her thinking process behind a few of the drinks off the list, which will continue to evolve with the food menu:
#1: “It’s my version of a tiki drink, and I think that sometimes tiki drinks can be a little bit too sweet, which is why I put the white tea in there. It adds a little bit of aroma because of the coconut that’s in it with a touch of vanilla, and the white tea dries out the drink in the finish.”
#3: “The carrot is inspired by the rabbit baklava. Usually carrot drinks get very muddy, they get very brown. So, I started tinkering with items that I can add to it to keep it nice and bright, add a little bit of bitterness. And it seemed a natural choice to use Aperol, which keeps it a bright orange. And, obviously, when I think of Aperol, I think of gin. The drink just started evolving from that point. The rabbit baklava has that slight sweetness from the dates that are in there and the carrot drink really complements those flavors.”
#4: “This summer is all about having a Pimm’s Cup, which was originally inspired by a claret cup from the 1800s. I did my own version of a claret cup made with lemon verbena syrup, Bols Genever for that old school gin flavor, and a little of lemon balm on top just to keep it fragrant. It’s wine based, so I feel like it would go with a lot of dishes on the menu.”
#5: “Two years ago I did a matcha cocktail at Ink, and Michael [Voltaggio] hated it, so I’ve been tinkering around with its flavors for awhile. Originally it was a matcha Ramos Gin Fizz. I love green tea and peach together, but he didn’t like it because it was too flowery. This time I added a Thai basil because it goes beautifully with peach for summer. You get the peach on the finish and then the bitterness of the IPA.”
#8: “The last cocktail is inspired by a classic Old Fashioned. For me an Old Fashioned or Sazerac is what I want to end my night with. I was playing around with a brown butter syrup back at Ink, and I never used it and then all of a sudden I started thinking about bread and butter. Bourbon is infused with caraway. It’s muddled on the bottom with marmalade, and I did caramelized fat-washed brown butter syrup and then just bourbon. And then on the top a sea bread with a smear of marmalade and a brandied cherry. I didn’t want to have a traditional orange twist. What I’d like to do is have little bites paired with cocktails. I want to do an edible garnish.”
You won’t see chartreuse dust at Birch, at least not yet, but Mlynarczyk says that chef has encouraged her to “get silly.” Eventually she’d love to create a secret drink list that will showcase R&D drinks she’s playing around with.
Birch, 1634 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, 323-960-3369