Eric Foster is no medium; however, he can conjure up an array of spirits. He's a master barman at the popular and relatively new establishment the Courtesy Bar (114 N. Orange Ave.), one of downtown's newest bars specializing in craft cocktails. He recently chatted with us about gin and tonic, specialty drinks and maturing tastes in the City Beautiful.
Orlando Weekly: We're starting to see more sophisticated bars set up shop in Orlando – Courtesy Bar, the Woods, new craft-beer bars. Does this mean Orlando's tastes are maturing?
Eric Foster: I definitely believe that Orlando is demanding more from its cocktail culture. The days of lining the bar with 100 different flavored vodkas or calling something pink a martini are over. People expect their bartender to be knowledgeable on proper technique for the classic cocktails and to be on top of the emerging trends at the same time. The difference between a well-crafted Old-Fashioned, Manhattan or Negroni is huge compared to one that was built incorrectly. My favorite bartenders are always finding new bitters, or a way to use an Italian aperitif in a way that hasn't been done.
Unfortunately, Franzia is still the only wine many people are familiar with. What guidance can you offer these poor misguided souls?
Stay out of bars that serve Franzia! Seriously, though – drinking wine should be fun and enjoyable and never intimidating. Be adventurous; find out what you love. If you are new to drinking wine or just not familiar with the wine list, ask questions. A good bartender will take the time to find you something you are really going to enjoy. After all, that is what drinking is about.
The Courtesy Bar was the first bar in Orlando to offer gin and tonic on draft. Why is it such a rare drink to find on tap?
Until recently, the only tonic that was available was your basic high-fructose corn syrup, bag-in-the-box variety. Then small-batch tonic became available and with it the resurgence of a proper gin and tonic. The Courtesy uses Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic from Charleston, S.C., and a London dry gin. The difference in taste and quality between the Courtesy gin and tonic on tap and that of your average gin and tonic is huge. It is rare to find, but we like to try new things. We are working on a Moscow Mule variation for our cocktail-on-tap program!
Of the unique punches you've crafted for the Courtesy Bar, which has been the most popular?
That is a tough question. We do a classic punch called the Philadelphia Fish House Punch that's up there. The trick in that one is the oleo saccharum. The process involves soaking lemon peels in sugar overnight to create this amazing citrus oil. Also, the two types of rum, cognac and applejack helps.
What's the most unusual drink you've ever crafted?
We do a cocktail pairing on Mondays with Fish out of Water Sushi Truck, and that has led to some interesting and unusual cocktails. One of my favorites was a drink I called Another Word: Bluecoat gin, yellow Chartreuse and Luxardo maraschino liqueur topped with saffron-infused elderflower liqueur egg-white foam.
Several different types of absinthe are available at the Courtesy Bar – has that led to any sightings of the green fairy?
Oh, the joys of absinthe! No green fairy sightings yet, but we are still pretty new.