Q&A Chris Voll is beverage manager of Bulrush in St. Louis, MO
What was your first bartending job?
My first job was at a taco place called Gringo [in St. Louis]. I was still a practicing chiropractor during the week, so I only worked three server shifts over the weekend. I begged them to let me bartend Sunday morning brunch and eventually they put me on. I shook a lot of Margaritas and made a lot of Bloody Marias.
What is your favorite spirit to work with at the moment?
I’m really interested in split base cocktails and the way different spirits interact. Gin and mezcal, rum and cachaça, and blended Scotch and aquavit are some of my favorites right now.
Other than that, we’ve been able to work with a new local distiller who is actually making delicious rum here in Missouri. They do very small batches and ferment in open vats so the Missouri terroir is really present. The distiller is Nobleton’s, and the rum is called Blue Duckett Rum.
Bulrush specializes in “modern Ozark cuisine” and uses locally foraged, seasonally available ingredients in the cocktail program; what are some examples and how are you using them?
Part of this is highlighting first what’s not used in our program. Most prominently, that’s lemons, limes or any other citrus, because that wouldn’t have been found in the Ozarks naturally.
We’ve challenged ourselves to find other ways to introduce acid and brightness to drinks without those traditional cocktail ingredients. We’ve been experimenting with house-made vinegars, sumac tea and making kombucha from foraged ingredient teas in house.
Some of the other amazing ingredients we’ve been using recently include trout lily, sassafras blossom, paw paw, persimmon, wild Missouri mint, and spicebush. We make a really great syrup from spicebush branches that has a sort of southern sweet tea flavor to it. Paw paw and persimmon have been preserved as puree and vinegar, since their season is later in the year.
You researched and selected Old World French wines with direct ties to Missouri, with some help from St. Louis-based French wine distributors. What did you find out, and how did you apply it to the beverage program?
We were able to dig into some of the history surrounding the phylloxera crisis in France around the turn of the 20th century and found out that, actually, a lot of the rootstock that was sent to France to be grafted on to their vines to create phylloxera-resistant roots came from Missouri. We tried to pinpoint specific vineyards—and we still are, through some of our best reps who spend lots of time with the winemakers in France—but found that it was particularly difficult.
But we were able to connect specific regions and rule out others based on some of the research we did. Bordeaux and Champagne were out, as those larger houses making in demand wines had enough capital to continue to pay for the chemical treatments that could prevent phylloxera for a long time. Smaller producers couldn’t afford those treatments and would have been more likely to, very quietly, graft Missouri rootstock to their vines in a desperate attempt to save them.
Most of the rootstock was sent to the southwest, and then from there was transported to Beaujolais and Burgundy to the north. So the French part of our list focuses on Languedoc-Roussillon, Beaujolais and Burgundy.
What’s been your most popular cocktail so far since Bulrush opened this past April?
Our most popular cocktail has been a drink called Prodigious Jumps. We started with persimmon-infused vodka and added Giffard apricot liqueur, Amaro Dente di Leone (which has dandelion as a prominent ingredient), Pedro Ximenez sherry from Alvear, persimmon vinegar and Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters. It’s garnished with a local sassafras blossom. (Full recipe below.)
What’s been the most popular wine?
A wine that a lot of guests have been enjoying and are slightly surprised by is the Fritz-Mueller Mueller Thurgau Dry Perlwine NV. Think of it as a sort of German prosecco. On our tasting menu, it’s paired with a dish that’s oysters “two ways,” with a bluepoint oyster, bluebell greens, potlicker espuma and paw paw caviar.
What’s your go-to cocktail or beverage at the end of a shift or long day?
Most often a Busch beer and a shot of amaro—preferably Cynar. If I’m off early enough to pop into one of my friend’s bars, I’ll ask for a Daiquiri. I miss lime juice.
1 ½ oz. Persimmon vodka*
½ oz. Amaro Dente di Leone
½ oz. Giffard Abricot du Roussillon liqueur
¼ oz. Persimmon vinegar (can substitute high-quality apple cider vinegar or white verjus)
¼ oz. Alvear Solera 1927 PX sherry
Dash Citric acid solution**
Dash Scrappy’s Cardamom bitters
Shake all liquid ingredients 20-30 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled coupe. Add one large ice cube and garnish a top the cube with two small blossoms. Eat one immediately, drink the cocktail, finish with the other blossom.
*For Persimmon vodka: 1 750-ml. bottle Wodka vodka, or other Polish vodka
1 cup of wild persimmon (if wild persimmon isn’t available, substitute with dates)
Clean the persimmons. Add them and the vodka to an airtight container and seal. Allow to infuse for one month. Strain the infusion into a resealable bottle.
**We use citric acid solution to stretch our stores of vinegars. We make a solution using citric acid powder in a 5:1 water to citric acid ratio by weight.