As Jayson Cottam, Bar Manager at The Backdoor @ Roxy’s, explained, “I’m a guy that likes to mix drinks, and make people happy.” In the year since the Backdoor opened, Cottam has made a lot of people happy…and surprised more than a few with his ingenious, delicious and creative concoctions.
The Backdoor is Fremont’s speakeasy, a place for adults to meet for high-quality food and cocktails traditional, classic or entirely new. “It’s nice to be known as a place to come to and get a good drink,” Cottam said.
A Backdoor Drink By Cottam, Broken Down
One good drink, now appearing on the summer bar menu, is called The Mable, a popular, flavorful, sweet concoction that Cottam described as, “a lighter, summer drink that appeals to women.”
Cottam developed the drink as a one-time-only special for Washington State ‘Repeal Day’ on May 30th, 2012. In honoring this historic event, Cottam created four new drinks using spirits from four local distilleries (Sound Spirits, Woodinville Whiskey, Marteau Absinthe, and Rain City Vodka.) The Mabel uses Ebb + Flow gin, an alcohol choice Cottam made deliberately. “Many people think they don’t like gin,” he said, although he’s found most people really haven’t experienced it.
Cottam paired the gin with Strega, a spicy, Italian liquor, “to give a little bit more flavor, a little bit more depth.” He added lemon juice, “to tart-en it up,” then blueberry vanilla syrup, because it, “needed something to offset that sweetness.”
“I tried that out,” Cottam has tasters among the Backdoor employees, customers and bartender friends, “but [it was] a little too heavy.” He added ginger. “The effervescence lightens it up a little bit,” he explained. “We still liked it but wanted it to smell good,” he said. He added a Buddha Hand bitter – a citrus skin flavor made of all pith and no meat – and, “the high concentration of alcohols extracts a floral scent and a little sweet,” Cottam observed.
“It’s all about ratios,” Cottam pointed out about creating a drink from scratch. “It gets easier and easier to make a drink,” he said, “once you get those ratios, and learn the flavor profiles.”
Surprisingly, Cottam admitted, “I don’t like sweet drinks,” and “I don’t like ‘creepers’,” a drink like The Mabel with flavors that override the flavor of the alcohol…and can trick a drinker into forgetting they are consuming alcohol. “I like to taste my booze.” he stated plainly.
Cottam also creates drinks that allow full appreciation of the alcohol. He’s proud of the Backdoor’s selection of bourbons, and rye, and he acknowledged that, “right now I’m kind of pushing the Northwest,” with the gins from local distilleries, “and trying to stay away from the larger, mainstream labels.”
Experience, And Attention, Pay Off
Cottam learned how to craft drinks through a wide-variety of experiences, and paying close attention to the bartenders he encounters. Cottam shows that attention, and sincere respect, by his ability to recall the name – and talents – of the bartenders, restaurateurs, and bar managers he’s worked with. “I’m very fortunate to live in a place with a lot of great bartenders,” he praised, “and to work with them, and learn from them.”
Cottam first worked as a bartender at the Wild Rover in Kirkland, with Billy Whelen. The huge Irish pub didn’t call for much in the way of creativity, but, “it really taught me volume,” Cottam said, “a great place to learn to handle crowds.” From there he went to La Carta de Oaxaca, “a great little Mexican bar,” where he worked with Zach Harjo and Parryn Wright. “I made a million margaritas,” he said, and got exposed to, “a good tequila selection.”
As he moved up to managing a bar, he also learned about infusions and herbal cocktails, ahead of the current fascination. At Barrio, in Bellevue, he worked with Casey Robinson and picked up more classic cocktail skills. His move to Toulouse Petit, on Queen Anne, furthered his experience of craft cocktails and use of the “huge array of liquor at my disposal.” There he had to learn to make mass produced, quality cocktails for large crowds. “You get diligent,” he explained, “use your jigger and make sure the same cocktail is going out every time.”
At the Sorrento Hunt Club Cottam finally got to develop his own menu – a skill he keeps sharp at the Backdoor, as he changes drink menu seasonally and provides customers with a broad selection of standards and new experiences.
A Menu To Drink To
For the Spring menu, Cottam included Tiki drinks, “to get people thinking about summer,” he explained, and he brought a blender in. In the world of craft cocktails, blenders are not standard, but Cottam admitted, “one of the things I’m trying to do here,” at the Backdoor, “is take the pretentiousness out of craft cocktails.” His greatest success is by simply talking to customers about what they want, like or prefer to avoid. As he noted, “I get a lot of people that say ‘Thanks for taking the time to tell me about this.’”
To create the summer menu, Cottam focused on the availability of high-quality liquor (more organic and local sourced distilleries,) good juices and fresh produce. He also takes customer favorites and improves upon them. He created a version of the Long Island Ice Tea with no high-fructose sour mix or cola, using real, raw cane sugar and the Backdoor house made soda syrup. Of the bitters (a marriage of flavors) and tinctures (an isolated flavor) used in drinks at the Backdoor, 70% of them he crafts right on-site.
“One of the things I like about The Backdoor,” Cottam observed, “is that the people who come here are people that want to come here.” The Backdoor provides an adult place to eat and drink in Fremont (and is entirely 21+ only.) “We’re a Seattle joint,” he described, “not Top 40. Some oldies but goodies.” Cottam described the customer base as age and background diverse, but all come in drawn by the ambience, the atmosphere and the quality that Cottam strives to provide, one drink at a time.
- David Roman Produces ‘Dinner Theater With A Bite’
- by Kirby Lindsay, June 29, 2012
- When Opportunity Knocked
- by Kirby Lindsay, January 7, 2011
- Fremont’s Drinking Tradition
- by Kirby Lindsay, August 8, 2008 in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook
©2012 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.