“Each component is intentional. Nuance is something we value a lot,” says Peder Schweigert of his approach at Marvel Bar, the Minneapolis speakeasy where he serves as the general manager and spirits director.
His philosophy stems from his days working the line at Alinea in Chicago after graduating from the French Culinary Institute over a decade ago. “That sort of focus and intensity was better training than any of the actual cooking,” he says. His output at Marvel, however, is undeniably experimental, though never at the expense of flavor. “No matter how pretty or crazy something is, it just has to taste good fundamentally.”
Now that Marvel Bar is in its eighth year, Schweigert has begun challenging himself and his team with new approaches to the drinks that they serve. Recently this has included months-long deep dives into specific spirits, like whiskey and gin, as well as a collaboration with an in-house forager to explore the nuances of various ingredients. While new menu items are still underway, Schweigert has been experimenting with unusual flavors, like the underutilized Angelica leaf, which he makes into a cordial, or honey-fermented anise hyssop and pussywillow pollen, which imbue a funky, melon note when infused in vodka.
While these components may seem fussy, it’s important to Schweigert that each ingredient serves a purpose. “I’m a big fan of letting producers and their ingredients shine through,” he says. “Despite my culinary background, I don’t necessarily have to make a challenging syrup for the sake of being avant garde.”
So what does Schweigert do when he’s not deep in R&D? Here, he tackles our Lookbook Questionnaire to share a sandalwood-soaked tequila experiment gone awry, the oddest drink request he’s ever gotten and the best thing he’s ever eaten. —Tatiana Bautista
General Manager and Spirits Director at Minneapolis’s Marvel Bar.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Rested. Fulfilled. Content.
Best thing you ever drank:
Every year around late March, my father and I harvest maple syrup. One hauls in gallons of sap from the taps while the other cooks the sap down over a fire in our sugar shack. While it’s cooking, I used to ladle out some par-cooked sap in this smoky room, make black tea out of it, dose it with American whiskey, and sip it out of a coffee mug while I stoked the fire.
Worst thing you ever drank:
In Minnesota, there’s a large area of wilderness called the Boundary Waters. It’s untouched forest with lakes and streams running between that folks visit to canoe from camp to camp. A few years back my friend and I ended up on a lake that had the worst tasting water—it was like warm pond muck. No matter how much boiling and filtering, the taste was there, and we had to drink it. A lot of it.
First time you ever got drunk:
Cacique [Guaro] with ginger ale in a park in Costa Rica.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Tchaikovsky, Symphonies 4, 5 & 6 Pathetique Volume 14, conducted by Pierre Monteux. I’ve listened to that more than anything at this point. We’ve also been shutting down the bar to the theme from Jurassic Park for seven years, so that album might be a close runner up.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I love to go skijoring with my dog in the winter; I head up to my dad’s cabin every fall to go wild ricing; I once spent a few weeks between filming Top Chef and cooking at Alinea running a trap line. You’re checking it for animals in the peak of their pelt thickness and quality. Since the traps are set on sort of dicey frozen water situations, you have to be very careful where you put your feet the first time. Then you take those same steps every time you run the line after that. It’s the purest form of meditation I’ve been able to take part in.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
I wish I had spent more time figuring out a better work life balance. I don’t regret any of the time I spent at work, but it’s something I’m navigating now. Along with that, I wish I’d found an appreciation for working out and what it gives me.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
We once extracted sandalwood by steeping it in tequila, thinking there might be a pairing there. It was so intense I had an almost asthmatic reaction, it was so olfactorily overwhelming. We also did some stuff with raw pigs blood.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
I love being home with my dogs and partner. We always have projects cooking around the house. This weekend I’m doing yakisugi on my fence after having watched other people on Instagram pull it off for the better part of two years.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
“I’ve got a friend of mine who might be dying. I’ve got another friend who’s toying with walking away from drinking after a life spent in that work. If these guys had one drink left, what would that be?” I made him a Vieux Carré, which is my favorite stirred whiskey cocktail. I made it with Rampur, an Indian single malt that describes itself as the “Kohinoor of single malts.” The Kohinoor diamond, of course, being part of the British Crown Jewels that the royal family believes no male should wear because of the deaths of men connected to its history. That and some Daniel Bouju “Royal” did the trick.
Your favorite bar, and why:
When I first moved to St. Paul I loved the Muddy Pig. They had a challenging beer list and a thorough selection of single malts, and it was just a great place to sit after work.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
It was at a little place in Italy, when I was visiting around Easter, so a lot of places were closed. Our group happened upon this place with a never-ending pour of rosé. Spaghetti allo scoglio, extruded in house. Empty patio, rippin’ hot out, and the rosé was so cold. Everything was pink. I felt like I was in an Audrey Hepburn movie.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
In a dive bar?
Soda water from the gun. (Can you tell I don’t drink?)
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
No need for that these days. But I’ll take salty Korean food without much prodding.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
I love an earnest drink list. I love when you can tell people give a shit. More of that.
The last text message you sent:
“And thank you, very hungry.”