Bar mananger Amber Ricciardi just released a new line of scratch sodas for Madison Valley's Cafe Flora. She's a "simple lady" who takes her bourbon with good company, but lately she's been getting creative. Think fresh herbs and curated spices, first cooked into syrups, and then intermingling in a fusion of fizz and flavor.
Here, five questions for Amber Ricciardi.
What is the most underrated spirit?
I think that the skilled use of bitters can elevate a drink from so-so to perfect. I've also been a bit of a gin convert as of late. So many beautifully crafted botanical gins have been coming out of the Pacific Northwest lately and are a far cry from the stuff I remember drinking in my younger years.
What is the craziest thing you've seen in a bar?
I once had a creepy regular at this place I used to work at in my Chicago days, who was an older man. He fancied me quite a bit and would bring me little presents including a pair of striped knee socks, a used Easter card, his official high school transcripts, and a Neil Diamond greatest hits CD with "Walt" scrawled in sharpie over the seagull in the background beach scene. I still listen to it whenever I get the itch to listen to "Cracklin' Rosie."
What do you order at the bar?
I am always keen to try new things in new surroundings and enjoy challenging my palate. That being said, I am a simple lady with simple needs. Give me a bourbon, a barstool, and good company and I am a happy girl. I think many fond memories are made over shared bourbon.
What do you do differently from other bartenders?
One thing I really enjoy is introducing patrons to their new favorite spirit or cocktail. What you drink is your business, I promise I'm not judging you, but if I can give up-and-coming distillers some recognition, all the better. At Cafe Flora, all of our beers and wine are from Washington and Oregon and the bulk of our spirits are from small companies here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. If I can get a whiskey-and-Coke regular to start sipping a Crater Lake Rye Manhattan by the end of the night, I feel like I accomplished something good.
What makes an especially good craft soda (other than pairing it with booze)?
Pairing fresh and seasonal ingredients with carefully thought-out flavor combinations makes a soda a winner. I think it's strange how soda is such a part of everyday culture when you don't have to walk far to find the nearest vending machine or Seven Eleven "Big Gulp." I prefer to serve my sodas in red wine glasses garnished with seasonal flowers and herbs. Gone are the days where a sodapop was a special occasion treat, and I seek to reclaim that tradition.