Like a baby's rattle, the rhythmic clack of his shaker quietly commands attention. Zach Churbock is quick and calculated, his movements mesmerize as he measures, dashes, and strains with grace. "Boozy or refreshing?" "Whisky." He smiled boyishly, "I got cha."
Stepping up into the space off Washington, Ninja Ramen is a safe haven for those who operate a few hours later than the rest of the world. With the second largest selection of Japanese whisky in America, it definitely attracts the prior. Ramen and whisky, the after-shift equivalent of fresh sheets and a hot bath. The menu is simple and restorative; three categories of ramen, warm spam masubi parcels, or ice cream. Milky, unfiltered sakes pair well too, but the cocktails are the most entertaining. Justin Bieber, TLC, even a melody from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory have a home on this eclectic playlist, while every so often the muted Anime catches your eye.
Born and raised in Sugar Land, Churbock started bartending at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. From there he moved to Whiskey Cake and in less than two years was made their company lead bartender. Rising quickly to the top of the food chain, Churbock decided to make the switch to Ninja Ramen to learn and be mentored. A busy guy, he also consults on the side. Churbock states, "even at a young age you can get pretty far in your life, you just have to work hard." He's 21.
This particular evening, Churbock made a riff off a Pimm's cup, but with Toki, a whisky from the Suntory distillery. Toki is made and sold as an American product only; call it an introduction to Japanese whisky. He mixes with Hoodoo Chicory liqueur, lavender bitters and fresh lemon juice. Woody, tea notes brightened with lemon and a splash of Topo carry the smooth Toki well. Boozy AND refreshing. "In Texas, you want something a little lighter, easy to drink in the heat," he explained.
1.5 ounces Toki
1 ounce Pimm's
1/2 ounce Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur
1/2 ounce Cucumber mint shrub
1/4 ounce Turbinado syrup (2:1 Demerara sugar: water)
1 dash Lavender bitters
1/2 ounce lemon juice
Top with Topo Chico
Shake all ingredients except Topo Chico with ice and strain into a collins glass. Top with Topo and you're good to go. Garnish: mint sprig and cucumber ribbon.
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Shot of Advice from Zach: Take care of your body and your mind; you're going to get burnt out of this industry if you only love one thing.