Being the head barman of the Lucques Group means Christiaan Röllich is accustomed to a steady flow of grateful regulars. But he also understand that when your drinks are paired with Suzanne Goin’s award-winning cooking, the conversation can quickly turn away from how well the house-made vermouth elevates a Manhattan, and focus instead on the fall-apart braised short ribs under a wisp of horseradish cream. But hey, the gig is hardly anonymity.
An affable presence behind the counter during his weekly rotation through Lucques, A.O.C and Tavern, the bearded 45-year old, never appears put out that customers might be unaware that nearly every component of his cocktail creations (down to the brandied cherries) are crafted by him personally. On October 28, though, Röllich is tooting his own horn for a change, showcasing what’s in all those re-used cognac bottles stocked at the Larder space at Tavern in Brentwood by hosting a drinks-driven Saturday night pop-up.
“I want to shine a light on what I do,” he says.
With cocktails throughout L.A. becoming ever more fine-tuned, it’s interesting to hear how Röllich got into maximum tinkering mode. He started out slinging rum and Cokes at a mega-disco in Amsterdam as he saved up to travel to the U.S. After landing in L.A. in 1997, he worked at Hollywood’s Les Deux Cafes, then in Torrance’s now-shuttered Restaurant Christine. In 2007 he was training to become a respiratory care therapist when the job at Lucques opened up. Soon he became interested in how he could shade and emphasize the taste of his drinks. And aware of how much he had to learn. “I had to ask a pastry chef how to make simple syrup,” he says with a laugh.
A sweet element of many drinks—crucial in a whiskey sour or a gimlet—syrup is a supporting girder in a cocktail, buttressing the spirit’s I-Beam. Smitten with art form, Röllich was soon soaking gentian chips and grapefruit peel to make tonic, creating his own red-hued aperitivo, and experimenting endlessly with bitters. “I screwed them up many times,” he says of the potent ingredient that’s dosed out in drops. He steeps ingredients such as sassafras and chicory root in individual batches of 151 proof alcohol that he ultimately tones down using a whole bunch of separate infusions. It’s no wonder he recommends starting with syrups. “It’s a significant part of a cocktail, and you can immediately see how it changes flavors.”
This Saturday’s event—kicking off a monthly series—is devoted to classic cocktails. So the gentian will shine through in his Gin & Tonic, while orange-leaning bitters will glow in an Old Fashioned, and if you detect a note of vanilla bean in his doctored-up cherry brandy, it’s to draw out the peaty notes of Scotch in a Blood & Sand. There’ll be some bites, too. Röllich has conscripted Tavern chef de cuisine Amy Deaderick to make bitterballen, breaded gravy-filled croquettes served with mustard. Also tostis, grilled ham and cheese bites. “They’re what you’ll get anywhere in Holland,” he says. “They’re very Dutch.”
Christiaan’s Bar at Tavern, 11648 San Vicente Blvd., 6p.m. to close. No reservations needed; all drinks $15.