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Profile: Ryan Magarian

Liza B. Zimmerman

Ryan Magarian has had a major impact on the national, and particularly Pacific Northwest, bartending scene for more than a decade. The Portland-raised mixologist worked with culinary consultant Kathy Casey in Seattle for six years, where I was lucky enough to have him as a neighbor. Having the best bar in town up just two flights of stairs was a treat and I have closely followed his work as a consultant, operator and distiller ever since. He has since returned to Portland and currently lists his multiple gigs as bartender as well as co-founder of Portland eating and drinking establishments Easy Company and Oven & Shaker and spirit brand Aviation American Gin.

Magarian started his career as University of Oregon graduate with a self-proclaimed minor in Frisbee. His first gig was at the Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St Lucie, Florida. He rapidly progressed to bigger and more serious consulting gigs and was a key, go-to consultant for a number of bars that opened in Seattle and the rest of the country in the go-go mid-2000s before the recession hit.

He was always been a professional who brought a level of expertise to the Seattle bar scene in a time when it was transforming itself into quite a serious cocktail town. I remember numerous nights on which he pointed out the "Seattle Muddle" (muddling with the hand covering the top of the mixing vessel) in a handful of bars. It was when I first learned that you don't mix contents of a shaker in such a way that it has access to your open hand. Thankfully bar standards are nationally so much higher these days.

Back to Portland and Distilling

Family ties and an interest in distilling took Magarian back to Portland a few years ago. He had met local vodka producer Christian Krogstad in 2005 and they set out to launch a gin. Aviation American Gin is among the best I have had, much beloved by the industry, with great botanical flavors.

Being back in Portland, Magarian tells me that he appreciates his home town's focus on creativity and innovation. The City also been a huge proponent of local businesses, and has allowed many small operations to set up shop with reasonable overhead. The town has since been a breeding ground for some of the country's best mixologists. Even New York's beloved Jim Meehan of PDT fame is slated to move out there.

Magarian says that having a clear focus on, and belief in, service is key to a great operation. You can always tell when someone is genuinely serving you, he notes and I couldn't agree more. He adds that the "Three Ps" of professional bar service are also essential. They include the use of high-quality quality Product, Precise execution, and Passion for the craft. He also advises bartenders to find a great mentor, taste, travel and try to focus on their long-term goals as soon in their career as they can.

As someone who has seen bartenders use everything from tomato- and Heineken-based foam- yes, that was Southern Wine & Spirits Francesco LaFranconi at Tales a couple of years ago-to pop rocks in cocktails, I asked him what was the strangest ingredient he had ever used. It was Coor's Light in the upscale cocktail kingdom of Portland.

His Red Redneckreation is a play on a French 75, made with whiskey, lemon and Coor's Light topped with a cheddar cheese and sour cream ruffled potato chip. It is served at Easy Company in Portland.

Here is one of Ryan's favorite cocktail recipes:

Pepper Smash #2

In a pint mixing glass add:

12 mint leaves
2 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
¾ oz. freshly pressed lime juice
¾ oz. freshly extracted yellow bell pepper juice
¾ oz. house blended grade A maple syrup (two parts syrup to one part water)
1 sprig of mint for garnish

Add the mint and liquid ingredients and lightly press them with a muddler. Next add ice and share vigorously for eight seconds. Double-fine strain the ingredients into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice and garnish with a large double mint sprig.

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