Top Bartender Erick Castro’s Current Obsession: The Teaspoon
The co-owner of San Diego bars Raised by Wolves and Polite Provisions believes every bartender should be using the humble teaspoon.
Not long ago, bartender Erick Castro got into a bit of a tiff with an Instagram follower.
The strange thing was, it wasn’t about politics, sports, religion or any other hot-button issue—it was about, of all things, the humble teaspoon.
“I posted a recipe on @bartenderatlarge and it included a one teaspoon measurement and somebody got really mad,” says Castro, who hosts the award-winning podcast Bartender at Large and co-owns San Diego bars Polite Provisions and Raised by Wolves, as well as New York’s Boilermaker. “They were like, ‘I hate when bartenders use baking measurements, blah blah blah.’ I just responded that it’s 1/6 ounce and he was like ‘Oh, really? That’s cool.’ That made him okay with it.”
Though the commenter has since removed his original complaint, the exchange stuck with Castro, who has been an advocate of using teaspoon measurements in cocktails since opening Polite Provisions in 2013.
“I’ve had people say to me ‘just use a barspoon’—a barspoon is not a measurement,” says Castro. “Technically a barspoon is supposed to be 1/8 of an ounce, but a barspoon from Cocktail Kingdom is going to hold a different amount of liquid than a barspoon from Oxo.”
Having the option of using a standard teaspoon, however, has allowed him to be more precise with cocktail modifiers, from syrups to heavy liqueurs. “I’m obsessed with the teaspoon and once I really started using it, all of my bars had teaspoons overnight.”
He says he first started using the teaspoon as a precision tool to incorporate fruit acids in soda jerk drinks at Polite Provisions, an old-fashioned soda shop themed bar on San Diego’s Adams Avenue. At that time, the bar was employing the short-handled measuring spoons most often used for baking. The only problem? They kept getting lost. So when Castro began adopting the measurement in cocktails, he had to find a teaspoon that wouldn’t get lost so easily.
He discovered the Vollrath brand on Amazon, which he likes because “it’s long and metal—it’s perfect. This one fits right in with my other bar tools, but the handle is different, so I never grab it by accident.”
He finds that it’s especially helpful in achieving balance in classic recipes, from the Hanky Panky (“it’s perfect with one-and-a-half-ounces gin, one-and-a-half-ounces sweet vermouth and then 1 teaspoon Fernet-Branca”) to old-school tiki drinks that call for a small amount of a heavy liqueur, like allspice dram.
“Once I started getting really nerdy with the teaspoon, I realized how much old drinks were improved by using it,” he says.
And that includes the ubiquitous Old-Fashioned. “Finding out that the Old-Fashioned was great with 1/6 ounce of sweetness was like, ‘Oh, this is not a coincidence,’” says Castro. “This is perfect.” In fact, during the golden-age of the cocktail, bars would have special teaspoons just for making Old-Fashioneds.
As it turns out, Castro is not alone in his love for the teaspoon and has found a contingent of other top cocktail bartenders who are equally obsessed.
“Alex Day of Death & Co. fame, The Dead Rabbit team—Jillian Vose would keep a teaspoon in between her fingers when bartending,” says Castro. “We’ve started to form this 1/6 ounce defense team. I feel like every bar should have one. The teaspoon scratched an itch that no other tool had scratched.”
- 2 oz Rye whiskey
- 1 tsp Gomme syrup*
- 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
- Glass: Double Old-Fashioned
- Garnish: Orange twist
Add all ingredients to a double Old-Fashioned glass and fill with ice. Stir, and garnish with an orange twist.
- 2 cups Granulated sugar
- 2 cups Hot water
- 1.5 tsp Gomme arabic
Dissolve the sugar in the hot water. Add the gomme arabic and blend well. Bottle the mixture and refrigerate.