The Heartstring. Brouhaha. Catching Fireflies. Shae Mermis has a penchant for creating descriptive names and custom cocktails that are the centerpiece of her new cocktail catering business, The Garnish Co.
Her traveling cocktail company creates unique libations and offers full bar service and consultation on liquor, glassware and other finer points of cocktail service. Mermis, 24, was trained by expert mixologists and beverage directors in Brooklyn, New York; and she brought her talents and knowledge of lesser-known spirits, cocktail history and flavor profiles home to Kansas City to launch Garnish earlier this year.
While studying at Sarah Lawrence College, Mermis found work serving at Peels on the Bowery, a Southern-inspired restaurant designed by Tavvo Sommers, to pay the bills.
“I think I was hired because I was so young, from Kansas, and wore gingham to the interview,” says Mermis. “Plus, Taavo lived in Overland Park as a kid. Once I was there for a while, I decided to quit serving and move to bar-backing.”
Mermis learned the bartending craft by working with mentors Lynette Marrero (Freeman’s NYC, Rye House),Yael Vengroff (Harvard & Stone), Jim Kearns (Tijuana Picnic) and Yana Volfson (Peels, Freeman’s NYC) throughout New York City.
“They all had incredibly different personalities and, in retrospect, very different approaches to their role as a bartender,” says Mermis. “But, from the start, I bar-backed for these people. I learned their routines, their tempos, their techniques, how they talk to people, and from Jim Kearns, how to take many shots of Rittenhouse.”
Now that she’s re-settled in Kansas City, Mermis aims to bring the fun back to cocktails, bartending, and drinking through Garnish.
“Craft cocktails have a stereotype associated with them for being inaccessible. Basically, [bartenders] being really snotty and uptight about ingredients, liquors and flavors,” she says. “Which is ridiculous, because bartending is about drinking, first and foremost, and drinking is supposed to be about fun.”
Mermis applies a different spin on the idea of craft cocktails at Garnish. She involves the client with “the creative process of creating their cocktails, so it’s crafted specifically for them.”
“You like Fireball? Great, me too,” declares Mermis. “Let’s make our own and make it into something that uses unexpected ingredients to taste really delicious.”
As spring and summer approach, Mermis leans toward using fresh produce. She says, “I like to keep things super juicy with hints of herb, vegetal and spice. I have a cocktail that I absolutely adore made with fresh cantaloupe, white rum and toasted black pepper syrup.”
She isn’t afraid to use lesser-known spirits in the flavor profile of her cocktails.
“I’ve gotten particularly close with Pineau De Charente lately,” say Mermis, referring to a regional French aperitif. “Particularly, Jean-Luc Pasquet. It’s the perfect warm weather porch sipper. Throw a cube in and a lemon twist. It’s a beautiful fortified wine and tastes like summer in a glass – honey, citrus, happiness.”
The Garnish Co. offers a wide range of signature cocktails for different purposes and seasons, plus a few all-around crowd-pleasers.
“I made the Tie Dye Avalanche a few months ago when I discovered this terribly bitter Amaro called Novasalus. It’s almost undrinkable, so, I rinsed the glass in it,” explains Mermis. “I added fresh ginger syrup, Dubonnet, Ancho Reyes and Mezcal. I finished it with a flamed orange twist.”
The result was “crazy smoky and boozy,” but quaffable and enticing enough for repeat pours.
Mermis used locally-made Dark Horse Distillery Reserve Bourbon for a springtime cocktail that debuted in Brooklyn. She admits being overly excited about selling it while announcing, “It’s really good, and I am from Kansas City.”
Youthful enthusiasm aside, the cocktail combines fresh basil, Amaro Cio Ciaro, Dark Horse Reserve Bourbon and lemon topped with green tea and a grapefruit twist. Sounds like a sophisticated spring sipper.
With verve and cocktail know-how, Mermis is intent on making a name for herself in the cocktail-savvy Paris of the Plains through The Garnish Co.[Images via Facebook: Garnish Co.]