At the beginning of the pandemic, Danny Chavez moved back to his roots in Arizona and landed a job in SaltRock Southwest Kitchen.
After years of working at House of Blues in California, Danny embarked on a new journey, where he recently revamped the cocktail program at SaltRock as the lead bartender.
With his passion for taking traditional-style drinks and giving them a modern-day twist, Danny enjoys using classic flavors and adding a healthy and bold element. The crowd-pleaser in him sparked his enjoyment for smoking cocktails and adding medicinal properties like cannabidiol (CBD) oil.
Danny gave Chilled insight into his skills and how he uses these techniques to create an indulgent and elegant experience.
What do you consider your specialties/expertise?
I consider my specialties and expertise to be in classic cocktails from the turn of the century. I love to keep the traditional recipes alive but to do various riffs on them using modern-day risks, particularly by incorporating cannabidiol (CBD) and fresh, herby, and zesty elements wherever I can.
Talk to us a bit about the drinks program at SaltRock Southwest Kitchen.
The cocktail program we’ve put together here at SaltRock is really focused on bringing local, organic ingredients to the menu. We pride ourselves on keeping everything fresh, down to hand-juicing all of our fruit and vegetables. Our drinks feature a range of seasonal ingredients, from native Arizona flavors like prickly pear to unique root vegetables like carrots and beets, and are enhanced by numerous homemade recipes for bitters, Falernum, Creme de Cacao, and a boatload more.
We understand you work with smoke in cocktails – tell us more – what are some of your techniques?
“Smoking cocktails” isn’t really a new thing. I feel like a lot of bartenders just don’t know where to start with it, but it is definitely another great tool to have in your arsenal to use behind the bar. I love to use maple, birch, mulberry, and apple woods because they have a lot of natural sugars, which I feel is best, and it’s great to just get some blankets and take a torch to it. I have used the smoking gun and other techniques as well, but I feel just the burn of the wood plank is the best way to release a lot of the natural sugar and get a real good, deep burn in the wood.
What are the benefits/experiences that smoke brings to a cocktail?
Introducing smoke into some of my cocktails has been so awesome because it breathes new life into classic recipes, especially for an Old Fashioned or Negroni. It has a natural “wow” factor, which guests love.
Tips for working with smoke.
As a whole, my recommendation would be to look at working with smoke as just another tool you can whip out to give your guests an exciting experience and to add something unique to your offering. Trying it out and finding what techniques work for you personally is the best way to get started.
Any precautions? Any tips/tricks that you wish you knew when you first started using smoke in cocktails?
Definitely start small – don’t go out and buy some huge torch and just light stuff on fire. Really understand the purpose of what you are trying to do. Envision what aromas you love when you are sipping a cocktail by the fire or the ocean, and try to enhance those flavors while keeping the drink balanced.
Talk to us about using CBD in cocktails.
Introducing CBD into cocktails is definitely a newer trend. I remember being in a crafted little bar in Deep Ellum outside of Dallas, and the bartender asked if I wanted CBD in my drink. I was all for it, and since then, I have been hooked. CBD has become another tool in my arsenal!
As a bar located in Sedona, Ariz., our guests have traveled from all over the world to hike and admire our red rock mountain ranges, trails, swimming holes, etc., so they’re definitely experiencing long and adventurous days. When you come back to our resort with soreness and tight muscles, a CBD drink sounds just right! It helps with inflammation, it has medicinal properties that everyone can benefit from, and what better way to end a day of travel or exploration than a cocktail with a side of relief.
Tips for bartenders wanting to mix with CBD?
I would recommend bartenders looking to mix things up with CBD to start with trying it at home. A 15-20 mL dose in one cocktail is a good entry-level where you would typically start to feel the benefits of the oil.
What should bartenders know?
Bartenders, if you are trying to sell it, you will need to emphasize that you don’t get “high” from CBD. Guests need to understand that although the average person experiences the benefits of CBD, some won’t even feel an obvious difference due to the fact that everyone’s body is different.
What other ingredients work well?
Some ingredients that pair very well with CBD are really just anything fresh. Most CBD is made with coconut oil, so keep that in mind when making cocktails. Muddled herbs are definitely always my go-to. Fresh-squeezed lime and lemon juices, homemade fruit syrups, and purées are other ingredients that bring out a lot of new flavors when working with CBD.
Here are some cocktails he has created.
Cucumber Basil Delight
- 2 oz. Vodka
- 3 to 4 Muddle Basil Leaves
- 1 oz. Lime Juice
- 1 oz. Agave or Honey
- 1 Full Drop of CBD
Preparation: Shake and serve garnished with a clothespin basil leaf & a sage aromatic.
Smokin’ Old Fashioned
- 2 oz. of a Barrel-Aged, House Blend of Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace & Hennessy Whiskeys (aged for 2-3 weeks before serving)
- 3/4 oz. Demerara Syrup
- 4-5 dashes of Orange Bitters
- 1 full drop of CBD
Preparation: Stir and pour over a large ice rock with an aromatic orange peel garnish, to release fragrant oils on top of the cocktail.