Q&A: Pablo 'Papi' Hurtado
Bar Savona's resident mixologist.
Photo by Jared Castaldi
James Bond’s martini love affair has got nothing on Pablo “Papi” Hurtado’s passion for crafting the most delightful poisons. As the resident mixologist at Bar Savona (savonarestaurant.com) in Gulph Mills, he’s more than happy to make you the standard margarita. But keep an eye out for his special ingredients and twists on the classics. And if he reaches for a book of matches, look out.
MLT: How did you get into the drink business?
PH: I started out in London around 10 years ago, and my first job was with a master mixologist. I began reading recipes and gave him a few ideas about making and mixing new things, so he made me part of his team. We started competing in England and also internationally, where I represented that country and also Colombia once.
MLT: What’s the difference between bartending and mixology?
PH: Bartending is basically the first level for a mixologist. Being a mixologist is something like being a liquid chef. I prepare my own syrups and create my own purées. There’s a method we use when we work on cocktails—even the classics. We’re more involved because we have passion for the product.
MLT: What ingredients do you use that you won’t find at a typical bar?
PH: I have at least 10 to 15 different bitters. I have my own syrups that I’ve made—like cardamom, vanilla, honey, cinnamon, limoncello, butterscotch and lemon verbena.
MLT: Does the ice matter?
PH: When you use poor ice, the cocktail dilutes easily, and you end up with a fusion of alcohol and water. I don’t want that. I want the ice to chill the cocktail and keep it at a standard temperature. For an Old Fashioned, I use a round ball of ice and pour the whiskey over top. The whiskey will chill, not become diluted.
MLT: What’s your favorite drink to make?
PH: A Blazer, which is a fusion of tequila and Grand Marnier—and the ball of fire is the reason it’s so cool. The original recipe came from Jerry Thomas in the early 1900s, and it called for bourbon, sugar and bitters. As soon as I make the first one, I usually run out of glasses.
MLT: What do you like to unwind with?
PH: If I’m off work and in the mood to drink, I don’t go for cocktails. I drink beer or tequila—or both. My favorite tequila is Siembra Azul, produced by David Suro, owner of Tequilas Restaurant in Philadelphia. For beer, I love Paulaner Hefe-Weizen.
MLT: And the perfect martini?
PH: The perfect way to make a martini is to use dry vermouth and dry gin—and it’s stirred, not shaken, because shaking bruises the alcohol. It should be chilled, and when you stir, use a cocktail spoon. The real perfect martini is the one you like, or the one the customer likes.