When The Clumsies opened its doors for the first time in Athens in 2014, the goal was to introduce flavors and concepts that had never been seen in Greece. For head bartender Nick Sourmpatis, this meant turning to advanced techniques, such as vacuum distillation and immersion circulation, to produce avant-garde ingredients like pickled dragonfruit cordial and sandalwood Campari, then layering them in unorthodox combinations.
“Everything we do is about the people we serve every day and night,” Sourmpatis says. “Some guests don’t care about how many days we fermented a certain ingredient, or how many distillations we did to get a certain aromatic profile; for those people, we are happy to serve them a Gin & Tonic, a beer or a glass of wine. But for the guests who want to know about the how and why, then we are happy to explain our methods.”
The bar’s latest menu is called “Feelings,” and is divided into three sections: happiness, excitement and tenderness. The menu serves as a vehicle for The Clumsies’ bartenders to create drinks designed to evoke certain emotions. “When a guest walks into our bar, we don’t always know how they feel,” says Sourmpatis. “Our goal is to always make sure that anyone who walks through our doors leaves happier than when they arrived.”
Embodying that ethos is Sourmpatis’ But First, Coffee—a complex, coffee-laced twist on the Martini, featured in the “excitement” section of the menu. “I love this cocktail because it captures how we feel about coffee when we have our first cup in the morning,” says Sourmpatis. “We didn’t want to make another Espresso Martini, but this one is a sort of coffee-flavored vodka Martini with a twist.”
The drink, which features flavors of coffee, wasabi, jasmine, honey and mango, took about four weeks of research and development to dial in the flavor pairings and techniques that best fit the concept. “We tried at least 15 to 16 possible variations of the drink, with seven to 10 ingredients that should mix and match with the idea and the flavor we were aiming for,” says Sourmpatis.
Knowing that he wanted to work with vodka, Sourmpatis created two separate infused-vodka distillates. “First, we made a coffee-infused vodka with coffee that we roast at 160 degrees Celsius—a temperature that yields flavors such as bread, citrus, nuts and green notes, such as chlorophyll,” he explains. The infusion is then distilled to remove any color. The same process is used to create a wasabi-infused vodka that is also vacuum-distilled in the rotovap to remove the spicy quality commonly associated with Japanese horseradish. “We don’t actually list wasabi on the menu, because we think it’d deter guests from ordering it,” explains Sourmpatis, “but we always explain that it’s in there, and that there’s no spice—just an unexpected floral note from the ingredient.” The two vodkas are then blended to serve as the base of the cocktail.
For the acidity and dryness that typically come from the vermouth quotient in a Martini, Sourmpatis bolsters a small measure of dry vermouth with two types of wines that are made in house. One is mead (or honey wine), that is fermented for 45 to 55 days, then infused with jasmine tea and Brazilian coffee, which pair respectively with the floral notes of wasabi and the chocolatey, fruity notes of the coffee distillate. The second vermouth substitute is made from mango, and takes only about four to five days to ferment, adding a funky tropical note to the drink. “I believe that, in terms of pairing ingredients, everything matches with everything. With the correct ratios, you can combine almost any flavors that you can possibly imagine,” says Sourmpatis.
All of the ingredients are stirred together with ice, served up, and garnished with a small sheet of rice paper that is sprinkled with a celery-flavored sea salt; the surface of the drink is spritzed with an expressed lemon peel. “I never imagined that coffee, wasabi, jasmine, mango and honey would combine to be so harmonic in the glass,” says Sourmpatis, “but this experimentation is what defines our creative process, and makes it special.”