Hands down, Jason O'Bryan, bar manager at The Lion's Share, is one of my favorite bartenders crafting up amazing libations. Seriously, he's making syrups out of snap peas. Who does that? I love that he challenges himself, as well as his team, to create cocktails that are unique. On this edition, we featured his The Snappy Comeback libation and talked a little about his journey as a bartender.
What's the story behind The Snappy Comeback?
We put a page on our cocktail menu called "In Season," which changes every 3 months with cocktails that highlight that season's produce. It encourages the challenge. I've always loved the subtle warm sweetness of snap peas, so we set about trying to get that flavor in drinkable form. It was honestly easier than I thought it would be.
2 oz Beefeater Gin
1 oz Lime juice
0.75 oz Snap Pea Syrup (blended snap peas with simple syrup at a ratio of 3:1)
4-5 mint leaves
Add all ingredients to shaker tin, and shake hard for 10-12 seconds. Fine strain into a coupe rinsed with Batavia Arrack, or unaged Rhum Agricole. Garnish with a mint leaf.
Describe the taste.
When you're drinking vegetables, I find subtle is better. Fortunately, peas are fairly subtle to start with (compared to, say, asparagus) and taste great raw. To this, we add the bright backbone of a London Dry Gin, mint for an obvious pairing with the peas, and a rinse of Batavia Arrack, a funky, Indonesian proto-rum that ties it all together.
If you had to pair this cocktail with a dish, what would you pair it with?
I mean, the obvious choice is a salad, but I would go more cheese board, or even our Coq au Vin Blanc -- a quarter chicken braised in white wine, over beet risotto with a mushroom creme fraiche. That pairing would kill it.
What kind of experience can guests get at The Lion's Share?
The Lion's Share is one of the only cocktail bars in San Diego that feels like the East Coast. It's dark, small, and secluded, with a whimsical sense of humor in the design of the place and the attitude of the staff. The food is phenomenally tasty, largely Wild Game focused, and the cocktail list is ambitious in both it's size (32 drinks, currently) and flavors.
About Jason O'Bryan
Are you from San Diego?
No, I'm from just north of Chicago.
How has your journey been leading up to your role at The Lion's Share?
I fell in love with cocktails in Boston, and worked for a few years at a sports bar while studying as much as I could about elevated drinks. Moved to San Diego in 2010, and worked up in cocktail bars, first URBN Coal Fired Pizza in North Park for 4 years, then Seven Grand and Kettner Exchange, and now Lion's Share.
What are you doing with the bar program at The Lion's Share?
The Lion's Share has been around for more than seven years, and I've only been here for almost 3. I've long felt it was the best cocktail bar in the city, so now that I'm at the helm, I'm mostly trying to maintain the high quality I fell in love with originally, and do justice to the phenomenal amount of talent that has stood where I now stand.
What's your favorite cocktail on the menu?
Oof. How to pick? I think my favorite right now is the Tree Line. It's a mix of two gins, which honestly isn't done, but we kept trying different versions and this rose to the top. Mostly Beefeater, for structure, and to that we splice in a bit of SD's own You & Yours Winter Gin -- it's a small touch that adds this juicy, floral core that makes the drink like 50% better. To that we add lemon, absinthe, lavender bitters, and a grapefruit peel in the tin. When I think about drinking before noon, it's what I think of.
Define the perfect cocktail.
Unlike food, where there's textures to play with, a cocktail is a homogenous mixture -- every sip is exactly the same (save for dilution) and you experience every ingredient at the same time. Because of this, you have to use the inherent flavor signatures of the ingredients to create dynamic complexity. Some things hit on the front palate, some on the mid, some on the finish, and getting those things to work together elegantly is the most challenging part of creating great drinks.
The perfect cocktail therefore is not just a hodgepodge of complementary flavors, but one in which there's a distinct beginning, middle, and end of the tasting experience, where every ingredient matters, and also tastes great.
What are some cocktail trends you are noticing in San Diego?
The "low" flavors thing hasn't left us yet -- making great cocktails with cereal milk and garnishing with ice cream sprinkles and the like -- but the newer trend I'm noticing isn't really a trend at all, but people starting to use and embrace unusual spirits in their drinks. I'm seeing Blanche Armagnac and Mango Eau du Vie and Shochu and all this cool weird stuff that I get excited to drink because I haven't had in that setting. Taking spirits and making them more approachable as cocktails -- isn't that what we're all doing here?
What's your favorite drink to make behind the bar?
The Negroni, because I get to straw-taste it.
What's your favorite spirit?
It changes all the time, but right now I'm enjoying a long overdue reawakening of my love of smoky scotch.
What do you do in your spare time when you're not creating cocktails?
Run our fine dining pop-up restaurant, Tortoise, consult on our new project The Florence, and try to stay sane.
What's next for you?
It's challenging in a way, because the Lion's Share is my favorite bar in the city, and I already have the best bar job in San Diego. So to get a new job, I'll either have to start my own bar, or move from San Diego.
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