Meet Zach Bingham of Cuvee Kitchen
Zach Bingham is just as comfortable behind a bar as he is behind a book, and it is just that love of literature that has led to the unique old-fashioned cocktail menu at Cuvee’ Kitchen & Wine Bar in Destin.
“As a writer, cocktails tell stories,” Bingham said. “There’s a rich history to the cocktails and the spirits. I see the cocktails as an expression of one’s personality.”
Nothing shows his love for classical literature more than his top choice beverage to serve a patron who may not know what to order.
“I love to make a classic daiquiri — especially with where we are here in Florida,” Bingham said. “For me, I love the literary history behind it with Ernest Hemingway and his affinity for — not necessarily just daiquiris but all things alcoholic — but the daiquiri especially. The non-frozen, non-blended, traditional daiquiri really just represents for me a brilliance of balance and harmony between citrus, sugar, bright clear rum and refreshing egg white.”
Bingham’s daiquiri, like all the drinks at Cuvee’ Kitchen & Wine Bar, is exquisite. The Grace Under Pressure, consists of Flor de Cana rum, RumHaven coconut water rum, grapefruit juice, lime juice, egg white and, for the finishing touch, the slight zest of grapefruit and lime rind. This cocktail, Bingham describes as “booze forward,” a dangerously deceptive smooth, yet high octane refreshing summer beverage.
With his dynamic cocktail ingredient and history knowledge, it may surprise you to know Bingham has been serious about the classic world of bar tending for only three years.
“I moved from Florida up to Chicago back in 2014 and started revamping the bar program at Enso in Wicker Park,” he said. “It was tricky in a city like Chicago that has such a rich and storied legacy of bars and pubs, restaurants and cocktail bars … I was definitely a greenhorn.”
Bingham said that while in Chicago, he came under the wing of a well respected bar manager, David Disney.
“In fact, it was David that really got me interested in the profession as a real career move,” Bingham said. “Really it was an exploratory adventure for me … he was very patient and really opened my eyes to the humble professionalism that it takes to be a beverage program director and to build a program that not only your patrons and guests come to revere and seek out, but also that your staff respects and buys into and comes to love; that was really the formative experience for me.”
Taking that knowledge, Bingham strives to create a cohesive team environment to the restaurant that works from the beverages all the way to the entrees and desserts. He insisted he is not the star of the show, or even of the bar, but instead the entire restaurant is only as strong as the sum of its parts.
“It’s about the whole team,” Bingham said. “Giving a more consistent dining experience across the whole restaurant. We believe that as a patron (one) deserves to have the best experience possible — the best quality ingredients, the most attention in terms of consistency, technique, set up, preparation and execution.”
Bingham’s Signature Sip again pays homage to its famed historical past. The Gunpowder Ration, a hardy rum-centric beverage was crafted with the strongest rum Bingham could get his hands on — and for good reason.
“The Gunpowder Ration is a cocktail that harkens back to the days in the British Navy when sailors were paid a daily ration as part of their wages of either gin or rum,” Bingham said. “There came a point in time when superiors in the Navy realized their sailors were less than effective after their ration. Whether they were diluting or not, the sailors ended up going on strike because they thought their superiors were watering down their gin and rum.”
Bingham explained that as the solution to this problem, the sailors came up with a method to prove the authenticity of their liquor wages.
“When they lined up to receive their daily ration, there would be — into each serving — dropped gunpowder, to which flame was applied and if the result was flammable, it was acceptable, if not then the sailors pitched a fit because their stuff had been watered down and it wasn’t powerful enough. They needed proof and this is, in fact, where we get the reference for proofing.”
• 1 ½ oz Pussers Black Label Navy Strength Rum
• ¾ oz Bumbu Barbados Rum
• ½ oz of Cold Brew Coffee Extract (Destin Coffee Co.)
• 2 drops Maple Extract
• 3 dashes Bittercube Black Strap Bitters
Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass.
Using 1.5-inch or 2-inch cubes, stir thoroughly until the ice turns with the spoon unobstructed. This is a technique that will require some practice and really can be modified to suit your preference or taste in terms of blending, volume and “heat” (the presence of alcohol, typically after dilution or oxygenation has taken place).
Strain into a double old-fashioned glass over a single large ice cube. You can find silicone molds of all shapes and sizes at your local grocery store, in the baking department. Or, you can also order online through a number of purveyors.