New York bar Mace won the trophy for the inaugural Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu as part of North America’s 50 Best Bars. Ben Mintz meets globetrotting bar owner Nico de Soto to discover the ideas behind the Mace 3.1 menu and learn why he chooses to make traditionally savoury notes the focus of his widely celebrated drinks
Ingredient-driven cocktail menus featuring products more commonly associated with cuisine are now de rigueur across the globe. However, when Nico de Soto’s Mace pioneered the concept in 2015, the idea was a gamble. Seven years later, the mixology maestro’s play was rewarded. During June’s North America’s 50 Best Bars, Mace’s menu, Mace 3.1, was announced as the winner of the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award.
Take a look inside Mace by watching the video:
De Soto explains that initially the menu drew scattered compliments and even some awards nominations, but never a win. “We had this format from the beginning. People thought about changing it, but we wanted to stick with it. And then it all paid off [winning the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award],” he says. “It was worth it!”
Mace’s work creating a new paradigm in menus required some unorthodox thinking. “We don’t look to build around types of drink,” says de Soto. “It’s a spice-driven menu. The idea is to build around flavours.”
Those flavours are inspired by the bar chief’s frequent global junkets; de Soto’s constant travel companion is a small notebook. The volume is used to log ingredients by the season and match them with appropriate flavours from across the world.
“Most of the work is done during travels. Tasting. Trying new things. When I make a menu, I take that notebook and start from there.”
Nico de Soto travels around the world to discover new spices, ingredients and flavour combinations
Sometimes, notes sit unused for years. For example, de Soto cites the scarcity of mangosteens in New York City. Nearly a decade passed between his first taste of the fruit and its first application in one of his recipes.
After ingredients and their availability are identified, they are matched with drink styles. “I never really think that I’m going to make a twist on a Manhattan or something. Instead, I start with the combinations that I’ve discovered. I only want one flavour, one spirit.”
The result is the current menu of 12 immaculately crafted drinks. A handsome dossier, bound with brass brads into a landscape-oriented hardcover, lays out these offerings. Each drink is presented with minimalist text and a stylish line drawing of the featured spice.
“We wanted people to have complicated drinks without scaring them off. We start with the name of the spice. Very simple; people have spice in their home,” de Soto notes. “Then, we want them to know the glass, of course, and the preparation. But not to overwhelm them.”
Mace's menu is filled with illustrations of the main components of its cocktails
The pages also include some additional details with the goal of conveying each libation’s tasting profile. A wheatgrass drink on Mace’s inaugural menu did not sell well until an improved description was added; the subtly tweaked information quickly made the cocktail one of Mace’s most popular and emphasised to the team the importance of language alongside the artwork.
Another concept at play is the importance of mixing up the style of beverage. “The menu is only 12 drinks. So, if you repeat stuff, you’re missing a bit of an opportunity to meet as many people as possible,” says de Soto.
Likewise, the taste profiles driving the menu are equally varied. The prize-winning selection features a “range of flavours that’s quite wide” such as umami, boozy, sweet and bitter. Yet, there are some constants in the mix. For example, clarified milk punches are a fixture of the programme due to their popularity in the New York cocktail zeitgeist and the bar team’s joy in producing them.
“I’m a big fan of Milk Punch. So, that’s always going to be my favourite drink. There is a complexity that no other drink can have.” De Soto adds that he learned about this beverage during more local travels. “In 2010, I was at Eleven Madison Park [the New York-based Best of the Best restaurant, which was named No.1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017] and I tried one. I never had a drink like that before. I tried that and never looked back… They’re really not that hard to make and are so complex. You can do it hot or cold, even carbonate it – there’s infinite potential for creativity.”
Currently, that creativity is manifest in ‘Oregano’ on the Mace 3.1 menu. The latest riff on the classic milk punch includes an olive oil-washed blend of rum, moussaka spice mix, tea, tomato water, aubergine, lemon and whey.
Another signature menu element is the inclusion of a ‘flip’, a historic cocktail style utlising a whole egg with a base spirit and sweetener. “I know that you don’t often see a flip, but I always make them – on all my menus at all my bars,” he elaborates. "If you take any dessert in the world, the best way to put in a drink is a flip. You don’t need to add acidity, if it’s well made, it’s already well balanced.”
Greg Boehm, owner of Mace, received the Siete Misterios Best Cocktail Menu Award at the North America's 50 Best Bars 2022 awards ceremony in New York
‘Licorice’, Mace’s latest flip, is not officially a dessert, but a riff on the savoury signature soup at restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden. It finds its genesis in a take on the restaurant’s onion soup, accentuated with the favourite Swedish snack licorice, and almond.
“I did not create this flavour combination. It came from the chef at Frantzén, but I think it’s a great way to recreate that taste,” says de Soto. In addition to the almond cream, licorice syrup, and egg, the concoction also includes a caramelised onion-infused cachaça to deliver the soup’s trademark flavour.
The infusion is created via sous-vide. Mace uses a small lab, ‘nothing crazy’ according to de Soto. “If you want to infuse [saturation style] like tea, some flavours work, some do not. So, sous vide is our most important tool to do infusion.” Additionally, the lab also allows for precise clarification, aiding creations like the milk punch.
Ultimately, the restrained use of molecular techniques harkens back to the bar’s foundational philosophy. The lab techniques, many learned during travels, are intended to shine a light on the taste, but not overshadow the true star: the hero spice.
Mace’s showcase of the spice is on full display through drink names and beautiful illustrations within the menu. However, the greatest testament to de Soto’s inspirations is manifest upon the first sip of his unparalleled cocktails.
The first edition of North America’s 50 Best Bars, sponsored by Perrier, was announced at a live awards ceremony in New York on Tuesday 7th June 2022. Browse the website to discover the ranking and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date with all the news and announcements.