Going 10 Rounds with Top Bartender Matt Tocco
The beverage director at Strategic Hospitality in Nashville, which runs the Patterson House, Pinewood Social and the Downtown Sporting Club, tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Herbal tea, so I can get up early the next day, be productive and feel good about life.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “My idea of a dive bar is a somewhat somber place and nothing sounds better there than Townes Van Zandt.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “I do, but my body tends to not enjoy it for the next few days.”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “Vieux Carré, at the Patterson House.”
What book on cocktails or spirits is your go-to resource? “I prefer the Flavor Bible when working on new drinks. I wouldn’t really say I have one go-to book outside of that.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “In all honesty, I don’t much care for cocktails with food. I do enjoy vermouth and soda with olives, cured meats, nuts, salty things…etc. But I think an Old-Fashioned with a cheeseburger is not a bad combo.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “Come One, Come All (Combier Kummel, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, honey, lemon and a house-made pepper shrub of serrano, habanero and chipotle peppers).Combier Kummel came into our market right when we opened Pinewood. The only other Kummel I had ever tasted was Gilka and the Combier was wildly different. Someone said it tasted like tacos, so I took that idea and ran with it. One night when it was slow, I started making a Daisy with it and mezcal. Then chef Josh Habiger came out of the kitchen and made a simple Sour with Combier as the base, lemon, sugar and egg white. It was wild but had lots of potential. Then I shoved the Daisy and the Sour together and started dumping Bittermens Hellfire Shrub in it. When we went to put it on a menu we needed a more affordable way to make it spicy, so we made our own shrub. Et voilà.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “Open Mike Eagle. I love his music and while I don’t use social media, I’ve heard that he has made comments on it before about Old-Fashioneds.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Tecate and tequila.”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “I have my own mixing tins that I’ve been using for years, which I am very partial to.”
Matt Tocco is the beverage director at Strategic Hospitality in Nashville, which runs the Patterson House, Pinewood Social and the Downtown Sporting Club.
Interview has been condensed and edited.