Jeff Carroll’s easygoing demeanour belies his intensely flavoured concoctions.
Cocktail: Bitter Bourbon Fizz
$14, at The County General (936 Queen St. W., 416-531-4447)
Jeff Carroll isn’t afraid to show his bitter side.
Besides the bounty of bitters displayed on his back bar at The County General, the 30-year-old bar manager makes eight of his own varieties. And he can be a bit heavy-handed when it comes to old favourites like Angostura—especially in signature cocktails like his Bitter Bourbon Fizz, containing a whopping half-ounce of the reliable standby.
“A lot of people are terrified of it because we’re used to only using a drop or two,” says Carroll. “There are a lot of stories of old-timey bartenders trying to prove they had big cojones by drinking a shot behind the bar. But once you do it, you realize it’s not that big a deal.” (Bitters, he points out, were originally invented to be medicinal, and drunk straight.)
Carroll takes inspiration not only from Angostura chuggers of yore, but also from the Trinidad Fizz, an early-20th-century drink that calls for a full ounce of bitters. Cutting that maybe over-generous quantity in half, he adds cinnamon-infused bourbon and ginger beer to give his dry and potent cocktail a little extra spice and sparkle. It’s a study in contradiction, a mélange of bitter, tart, sweet, and spicy.
Pulling off such a bold combination is no novice trick. Carroll moved to Toronto from Atlanta nine years ago to attend George Brown’s food and beverage management program, and it was a happy accident that landed him a bar job—he applied as a cook to a restaurant where the kitchen was already fully staffed. At first, it wasn’t a perfect fit.
“After three months, a manager took me aside and said I wasn’t pouring beer properly, along with a list of other things,” recalls Carroll. “I was scared I was going to lose my job, so I started reading books like crazy, trying to learn how to do it right.”
Today, with his Southern hospitality bred in the bone, Carroll is one of the city’s most laidback bartenders, the sort who makes customers feel at ease as they saddle up to the bar. “I still get in trouble for calling women ‘ma’am’,” he says. “I don’t mean it to be anything other than polite. I can’t help it.”
Jeff Carroll’s Bitter Bourbon Fizz
Cinnamon-infused bourbon + Angostura + lime juice + house-made grenadine + egg whites + ginger beer