Behind The Stick: Barbecue And Bourbon Are Perfect Partners At County Barbecue

By Paul Leddy in Food on Aug 1, 2014 6:00PM

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Picon Punch at County Barbecue

It must have been terrifying for Michael Rubel when he came to Chicago from New York in 2007. Along with Toby Maloney and the group that would eventually become One Off Hospitality (aka the Paul Kahan restaurant empire), Rubel came to open a craft cocktail spot in a city that didn’t have one. That place, of course, was The Violet Hour.

House-made bitters, ice programs, flavored syrups, and tinctures were items not yet part of the Chicago bar vocabulary, but that all changed when Violet Hour opened its doors.

“We went around [checking out other bars] in Chicago and I was terrified that no one was going to like it,” Rubel recalls. “For whatever reason, the time was right and people were really receptive.

After working at Violet Hour for 3-1/2 years, Rubel moved to open Big Star, the extremely popular taqueria located across the street from Violet Hour in Wicker Park. From there, he conceived and opened up Silver Dollar in Louisville, Kentucky, and was part of the opening team at Billy Sunday in Logan Square. In 2013, he took on his current role as Beverage Director for all of the DMK restaurants (Ada Street, Henry’s Swing Club, dmk Burger Bar).

With DMK Restaurants, Rubel is looking at all the restaurants and crafting specific beverage programs that match the cuisine and concept. In today’s video, we are introduced to County, a barbecue restaurant located on Taylor Street near University of Illinois at Chicago. “I thought it was important to have a well-curated program that is interesting and affordable,” Rubel explains. “Barbecue is simple flavors done well. The cocktails at County are approached in the same way.”

Rubel demonstrates the Picon Punch, a cocktail that is popular with the Basque immigrants that settled in Bakersfield, California. The heart of the cocktail is Amer Picon, an aperitif not found in the United States that has a deep orange and bitter flavor profile. At County, Rubel makes his own and substitutes the traditional brandy with bourbon.

Looking back, Rubel is amazed at how the Chicago cocktail scene has grown in seven years. “Craft cocktails is not a trend that is not going away; it is a permanent part of the landscape,” Rubel proudly states. “It’s pretty exciting how great cocktails and how much spirit knowledge has [grown]. There is so much love and creativity going into cocktails in Chicago.”

Picon Punch

1/2 ounce House-made Grenadine
1 ounce Evan Williams Bottle-in-Bond
2 ounces House-made Amer Picon

Add ingredients to a shaker tin with ice.
Shake and strain into a old-fashioned glass filled with ice.

County is located at 1352 W. Taylor St.