Bar Beat

Cocktail Therapy: Kristi Lea Sides of El Big Bad

Highly recommend you play "trust the bartender" with Kristi Lea Sides.
Highly recommend you play "trust the bartender" with Kristi Lea Sides. Photo by Kate McLean
What's a better Band-Aid for 100-degree weather than margaritas? And what better place to suck them down than at the world's largest infused tequila bar, El Big Bad. Herbal, spicy, savory, sweet; they've got their bases covered with more than 70 different varieties highlighting traditional, seasonal and off-the-wall ingredients. A playground of possibilities for creative bartenders like Kristi Lea Sides and customers.

Infusions start with natural ingredients; no sugar, no flavorings, and the real deal 100 percent Blue Weber Agave tequila. Not quite à la minute, not quite batch, owner Steve Sharma describes El Big Bad's bartending style as "component" bartending, with attention to detail on each part. "The same care we put into our infusions, we put into our citrus," says Sharma, who's got his bar program down to a science. El Big Bad prides itself on being hyper-consistent, despite the nuances in flavor due to terroir and other factors in an ingredient's life.

Each batch of juice squeezed is measured with a refractometer to get the Brix percentage (percentage sugar concentration) and afterward, using a formula with agave nectar as a constant they are able to adjust to exactly, "what we think is delicious." By balancing the components ahead of time, a lot of guesswork in the moment is eliminated. They even use a Zummo juicer ($12,000), which is designed to emulate hand squeezing, but firmer for a better yield, yet gentle on the rind and pith.

Sides, "KLS" for short, is quick on her feet with flavor combinations. Think: cucumber mint hibiscus margaritas and pepperoni horseradish bloody "marias." Having spent years in the industry, she's excited to be back working with Sharma. Because of the personal interaction and many opportunities to learn, bartending is a good fit for Sides. "Being in the heart of downtown, we meet people from all over the world." Happy Hour cocktails and daily specials are a fun showcase for her and fellow bartenders. Give it a try or keep it simple; up to you.

"The Cucumber Mint Hibiscus Margarita"

3/4 ounce Cucumber Mint Puree
1 1/2 ounce Hibiscus Tequila
2 ounce housemade citrus (lemon juice, lime juice, agave nectar)
Mint sprig garnish

Shake ingredients well with ice and pour into a glass, garnish with mint sprig. So freshy-fresh you'll want one after another after another after another.

Shot of Advice: For other bartenders… Stay humble. We're in a job that constantly evolves and constantly grows, we're never going to learn everything. It's good to go into this with a clear mind, open eyes, and ready to learn. For guests… Enjoy it. You're here to relax, let me take care of you.

click to enlarge The cucumber mint hibiscus margarita at El Big Bad. - PHOTO BY KATE MCLEAN
The cucumber mint hibiscus margarita at El Big Bad.
Photo by Kate McLean
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