A cocktail creator, a pioneer of potables, an alcohol alchemist, Paul MacDonald of Friday Saturday Sunday in Rittenhouse Square has concocted some rad refreshments as of late, with a little twist–each ingredient is blended together via the Fibonacci series. In my interview with Paul, I discover the method to his mathematical madness, the brilliance behind the beverage!
It is clear that bartending is a passion of yours, and you enjoy innovating the coolest cocktails. When did you decide to deviate from the traditional recipes and create your own?
I started experimenting with my own recipes pretty much right away. The bulk of the classic cocktail canon comes from the 1930s and earlier, and the array of products and ingredients available to a cocktail bar has changed considerably since that time, so innovation is practically a necessity just to make use of the stock that a modern cocktail bar keeps.
Very few of my earliest creations are actually good enough that I still consider them worth making, but experimentation has always been a valuable method of learning about flavors, ingredients, and the ways in which they interact.
How did you stumble upon using the Fibonacci series as a method to measure your ingredients?
By accident. My original plan was to make a cocktail out of five different fortified wines which had diverse enough flavors that I figured I could get them all to stand out against each other. The products I picked were Rare Wine Company NY Malmsey Madeira (very sweet, thick Madeira with dark raisin and pecan notes and mild acidity), Tempus Fugit Quinquina l’Aero d’Or (French-style Kina Apertif with bright notes of quinine and bitter orange peel), Punt e Mes (a heavily bittered Italian sweet vermouth), Cardamaro (similar to an oxidized vermouth, but bittered with cardoon), and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino (extremely rich traditional Torino vermouth with notes of sweet cherry and rich chocolate). I tried many different proportions before landing on the flavor profile I was looking for, and when I did finally get it right, the winning recipe was as follows:
- 1/4 oz Madeira
- 1/4 oz Quinquina
- 1/2 oz Punt e Mes
- 3/4 oz Cardamaro
- 1 1/4 oz Cocchi Torino
It took me a while to realize why the proportion was ringing a bell as I hadn’t thought about the Fibonacci sequence since college, but once I put two and two together, I just kind of wondered why I hadn’t started with the golden ratio and saved myself a whole lot of time. I was intrigued by the idea, and started building new recipes out of the formula. If nothing else, it’s been a great way to spur on creativity through limitations because it basically turns my usual process for developing recipes on its head. This project forces me to think of flavor combinations and balance in a new way every time, and has yielded some of my favorite original recipes.
For those who may not know, can you give a brief explanation of the Fibonacci sequence?
The Fibonacci sequence is a rate of expansion that has been observed countless times in mathematics and nature and is used extensively in many artistic fields. It’s essentially a series of numbers in which each number equals the sum of the previous two (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc…) It’s often actualized as a spiral (famous natural examples being a snail shell or romanesco cauliflower).
What is your most popular Fibonacci drink? Which drink has become your personal favorite?
The Well-Tempered Cocktail (Revivalist Equinox Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, elderflower liqueur, Letherbee Besk, and Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky) is on our menu currently and has been extremely popular this season. For obvious reasons, we tend to sell the one on the menu most at any given time, but they do all tend to be big sellers.
As for a personal favorite, that would probably be Fibonacci in Autumn: Cocchi Americano, Cappelletti Apertivo, Laird’s 100 proof Apple Brandy, Green Chartreuse, and Amaro Nardini served on ice with a grapefruit twist). Expect to see it on the menu once the season comes around.
You have had many moments of trial and error before concocting your masterpiece–What nugget of wisdom would you impart to any aspiring cocktail creators?
My biggest revelation has been thinking in terms of pure flavors. We are constantly working with ingredients that were intended by their producers to be consumed alone, and I’ve found that I can get the most out of many cocktail ingredients by considering what specific flavor note I want to highlight in a given cocktail and how best to make that stand out against all of the other flavors present. For example, the Revivalist Equinox Gin mainly contributes a bright peppermint flavor to the Well-Tempered cocktail.
To bring this flavor out, I have to find ways to balance out a considerable amount of malt and weighty aromas as well as some strong earthy notes that conflict with some of the other ingredients in the drink, but are present in the gin. In the same drink, I want the Japanese whisky for its light grassy notes, and have to balance out a lot of spice, grain, and oak that are also present in the spirit.
The act of balancing these undesirable flavors and bringing out the specific notes I want to accentuate ultimately provides a lot of the drink’s underlying complexity. These are particularly complicated equations in the Fibonacci cocktails, but I have generally found it valuable to think in these terms with all of my drinks. If you focus on specific flavor notes and contrasts that you want to accentuate, it helps to guide the final flavor contour of the cocktail.
Since we are Geekadelphia, I must ask—Are there currently any drinks we should be geeking out over?
There is always an infinite number of drinks that we should all be geeking out over, but there’s only so much time. I’ve been on a fortified wine kick for years now, and I just keep discovering how much more there is for me to learn and taste.
I’m also really excited about the new wave of American herbal liqueurs. Herbal liqueurs have long been the domain of France and Italy, but American producers like Breckenridge, Letherbee, Don Ciccio & Figli, and Rowhouse (based locally in Kensington) have been introducing some really exciting and innovative products to this category. Perhaps my favourite new product I’ve tasted in the past couple of years is Eden Orleans Herbal: a totally unique product which is essentially a cider-based Vermouth from Eden orchards in Vermont. Totally original, and perfectly executed. A really amazing bottle.
You can find Paul’s creations here.