A Cocktail Recipe And Interview With Nika Marble Of Elaia And Olio

Nika Marble, head bartender at Elaia and Olio in St. Louis, brings a fresh approach to mixology, weaving in inspiration from other art forms. As an artist and musician, she also keeps her creative streak going both on and off the clock.

How did you get into the cocktail scene?
I’m an artist. I paint, I play the piano and the violin, and I wanted to have a job that used my brain and creativity. When you make cocktails, it’s a creative job by nature. You’re taking all these seemingly disparate elements and mixing them, which then becomes something magical.

What draws you to mixology?
It forces you to think about combinations that you might not always explore using. It really expands your knowledge of ingredients and teaches you about different regions of the world, because cultivation, fermentation and distillation are pretty much the reason human civilization exists at all. The story of beer and alcohol and spirits is, to a point, the story of humanity and how we were able to survive. It’s an ancient and really interesting art form. There is a lot about its history and its current trajectory that is really interesting.

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How is mixing similar to other art forms?
Playing with different flavor combinations, different garnishes and being limited by what’s available oftentimes leads to really creative solutions. It’s not dissimilar to the process you go through when you’re doing an art project or you’re playing improvisational music.

What is your home bar secret weapon?
One of my favorite things in my home bar is Suze: it’s an aperitif made from gentian root which grows in the Pyrenees. Its bitter, citrusy and earthy—and an amazing addition to cocktails. It adds so much dimension and unlikely flavor that I love.

What do you like to make for the bar when it’s cold out? 
Shrubs are a great way to use extra scraps from Elaia, the fine-dining side of our restaurant. I make a fennel shrub with fennel scraps, fennel seeds, grapefruit peels and white vinegar. I use white vinegar for shrubs because stronger vinegars can be too medicinal. I let the scraps sit for two days with equal parts sugar, and then add the vinegar. It creates a really refreshing and earthy shrub.

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Tell me about the drink you’ll be making.
It’s called the As Above So Below. It’s really fun, and a little spooky. It features Arak Razzouk, an anisette from Lebanon—so the overwhelming flavor profile is going to be fennel and black licorice—with an angostura float, served over broken ice with Artemisia. We have an Artemisia wormwood bush at Olio—the active ingredient in absinthe.

As Above, So Below
1 oz grapefruit juice
1 oz fennel syrup
.75 oz Arak Razzouk
.25 oz Angostura bitters float

Stir, and serve over crushed ice. Top with a float of Angostura bitters, and garnish with Artemisia.

Photo credit: Attilio D’Agostino

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