Alex Negranza lives a double life, traversing two worlds that both involve stimulants, precision, and a hyperknowledgable palate. Negranza arrived in Seattle at age 18; by 19 he was training baristas and quickly becoming a regular on the coffee circuit, judging barista championships, consulting, and attending barista gatherings around the country. There were a ton of awesome industry parties, he says, except he wasn’t 21 yet.
Eventually Negranza came of age, and recalls how one particularly trying consulting client drove him to drink. “I would take a left and go back to my apartment, or a right and go to Tavern Law; I started taking a right every single night.” In other words, he spent so much time there drinking that then-bar manager Nathan Weber told him he might as well work there, too. Weber also connected him with Andrew Friedman and Keith Waldbauer at Liberty, where Negranza is now the bar manager (you should hear Waldbauer rave about him). He also worked at Fremont’s excellent Milstead and Co. coffee house and fuses his two worlds as the managing spirits director at coffee website Sprudge.com. He's also serving at the Old Sage.
Negranza’s super-sensitive coffee palate is also a boon in making drinks. If a customer says, “I want something ginlike that’s sweet and citrusy,” he mentally scans the 65 gins on the shelf at Liberty to land on one that leans especially floral and botanical. Right now Liberty keeps Negranza plenty busy, especially as his bosses work on the bar's sibling location, but he’s eager to introduce coffee back into his professional life in the future. Meanwhile, he’s a fan of Slate, cofounded by a fellow Liberty bartender whose involved with the barista championships.
Here, five questions for Alex Negranza.
What is the most underrated spirit?
Galliano. But really—mezcal. We have almost 70 unique bottles of mezcal at Liberty. It's a raw artisan spirit that at it's very core is the representation of the hardwork of people. It's really quite something.
What's your favorite bar in Seattle (besides Liberty)?
What do you order at that bar?
Montana—Fernet on tap? Okay. Cocktails on tap? Yes please. And who doesn't love some pickle backs and a pint of Rainier? Zig Zag—Ehhh, put something in my mouth. Preferably in a glass first.
What makes a craft coffee cocktail a good craft coffee cocktail?
The barista bartender. Understanding extraction, dissolved solids, sugars and acids is a huge part of coffee—much like understanding flavor balance, temperature, dilution and botanicals/grain is to spirits. Put those two together and it's a whole different ballgame. It's easy to mix coffee and spirits, but doing it in a way that really showcases all aspects, even in subtle undertones, is difficult. I like using the coffee as a baseline for inspiration—evaluations acidity, body, balance, mouthfeel, and making a cocktail that will pair with it.
Tell us about your roughest shift ever.
It's the rough shifts that make the best shifts. We hosted an afterparty at Liberty a few months ago after a big cocktail competition that was in town and let me tell you, when bartenders let loose….they go crazy. The entire bar was full of a few hundred bartenders throughout the night and a (more or less) open bar, a Green Chartreuse ice sculpture and luge, private catering and a lot of alcohol. It took six of us three hours to clean the bar.