Nicole Elizabeth Dearing learned to make from-scratch craft cocktails at some of the best bars in the city, including Manifesto, and developed the very first cocktail menu at Café Sebastienne. Now, Dearing is spearheading the hyper-local bar program at Freshwater, working alongside chef-owner Calvin Davis to create drinks that complement the cuisine.
Using exclusively Midwestern spirits, she creates syrups, shrubs and bitters with locally sourced ingredients. If Dearing can’t find what she needs in the Kansas City area, she uses science and her own creativity to re-engineer the drink to ensure every sip is balanced and delicious.
How did you first become interested in hyper-local cocktails? It started at Manifesto, where I learned how to make classic craft cocktails, using mostly local spirits. Then, I went to work at Café Sebastienne, where [the late] executive chef Jennifer Maloney asked me to develop their first-ever cocktail menu. She encouraged me to use the spirits they had on hand, in addition to using anything in her kitchen, which was stocked with local produce and herbs. I went to work making infusions, syrups, bitters and shrubs in addition to sourcing local spirits to make my drinks. I found out that making cocktails this way creates a lot of fusion between the food and the drink menu.
What inspired the Freshwater cocktail menu? To create those classic cocktails everyone loves, using only local spirits and ingredients. If it doesn’t grow here or wasn’t made here, I don’t use it in my cocktails. I have gone as far as Chicago to source my ingredients, if I need to, but that’s it. By operating as a hyper-local bar, you have to work around the use of lemons or limes because I can’t regularly get access to those fruits locally. As I started with making whiskey sours and gimlets using citric acids [instead], it opened my mind, as well as our clientele’s, to what’s possible when you get creative. It’s been a fun dance so far between trust and experimentation.
What are the advantages of working with a limited amount of each ingredient? From the customer’s perspective, it means our cocktail menu is dynamic with new offerings every week, and it also means zero food waste for the restaurant. If I can only get a couple of pounds of strawberries, for instance, then I find ways to use every aspect of that strawberry. My system now is to use strawberries to make a simple syrup, strain and use the berries again to make three or four rounds of shrubs, make kombucha from the fruit and then pass it on to the kitchen. At that point, the fruit is basically pickled, and the kitchen will take that pickled fruit and either turn it into a relish for crostini or make a sorbet out of it. Everything gets used and enjoyed by the customer.
Freshwater, 3711 Summit St., Kansas City, Missouri, 816.820.0296, freshwaterkc.com