What I Drink is a series featuring legendary bartenders to learn about how they got started, what they love to drink and discover their go-to cocktail recipes.
Victoria Canty’s career started as a 19-year-old waitress in South Carolina and has taken her to New York City and some of the most well-respected bars in town. She’s currently working at the beloved Dante and Saxon + Parole, where she makes cocktails inspired by salads. We talked to her about her inspirations and favorite drinks.
When did you know you wanted to work behind the bar?
I remember working as a server and one day the bartender didn't show up. I was 19 and people were ordering things like Bay Breezes and Cosmos (this was 2003, by the way) and I went for it because what else was I supposed to do? My mom was a bartender and I had heard all of these names and recipes many times before, so I already had a cocktail library in my head, so to speak. I executed them very well for for an underage server at a Thai restaurant in South Carolina. At that point, I got the bartender rush and thought, “Hey, I'm pretty good at this.” The next few years were spent cocktail waitressing and back-waiting at a very established, someone-has-to-die-to-get-hired type of place. No one died, but someone indeed left and I was moved up officially to be a bartender. The time had come and I was more than ready.
What inspires the cocktails you create?
I think personally, it depends on what I'm making and who for. I will say that I like for cocktails to have a bit of a roller coaster ride of flavors. Well rounded, no doubt, but I like to hit on all of the flavor profiles if I can: sweet, savory, citrus, umami, bitter... I often think of food or better yet classic combinations of flavors in food to come up with potentially unique and interesting combinations in the form of a drink.
Which cocktail that you've developed in your career is your favorite, and why?
There's this one cocktail that I was challenged with making a while back. It was to be Frangelico-forward, meaning that Frangelico had to be the main ingredient. Frangelico is great in its own way, but I thought, “How do I take this flavor and not make a dessert cocktail or ensure that it isn't too sweet? How do I hit on all of the notes to make it a satisfying and refreshing drink that anyone could pick up and enjoy?”
I thought of hazelnuts with lemon. Then I thought of a delicious salad I once had with hazelnuts lemon and thyme! This seemed a stretch, but I tried it. The Sonnet cocktail was born: Frangelico, Wild Turkey 101 rye, thyme syrup, and lemon topped up with prosecco and soda. It's like an herbaceous hazelnut lemonade that's not too sweet. It's kind of a perfect anytime drink, but spring and summer are here and I'll definitely be making them for rooftop parties and stoop sessions really soon!
What's your favorite classic cocktail, and why?
That's a hard question. There are so many that are amazing. Back in the early days, they really did create the backbones for all of these great drinks that we as bartenders create now. I really think that the Bamboo Cocktail wins it for me, though, at this stage of my life. This drink is so beautiful in all of its incarnations. It's half dry vermouth and half Sherry with Angostura and orange bitters. There are endless variations on this recipe, both proportionately and ingredient wise. Bartenders are using all types of Sherry styles and vermouth styles in this and I have yet to find a bad combination. My love of low ABV cocktails is so great. The flavors are delicate and complex and, let's face it, you can drink way more of them in one sitting, which is a plus.
What's a super-easy recipe that someone can re-create at home?
Given that the warm weather is creeping upon us, I want to share a recipe that is so easy and unexpectedly good. Since we are on the subject of low ABV as well as Frangelico, let's elaborate on the subject. The drink is called the Frangelico Frizzante. It's equal parts Frangelico and sparkling water with a lime wedge. That's it! Two ingredients and a lime and you’re set. Easy!
Can you give us a recipe for one of your salad-inspired cocktails?
1 part Frangelico
½ part Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
½ part Lemon Juice
¾ part Thyme Syrup
Topped with Prosecco/Soda