Haley Traub is a speed demon behind the bar.
And considering she’s especially skilled at executing classic cocktails and their variations— which she turns over with supreme swiftness at Fresh Kills in Brooklyn and Dutch Kills in Queens—the timing seemed right for her to finally enter Speed Rack.
In this national competition highlighting the upcoming generation of strong females in the spirits industry, Traub ended up emerging victorious her first time out, nabbing the title of Miss Speed Rack 2018.
Confronted with head-to-head, round-robin-style, timed and judged challenges, her passion for clean, concise and perfectly turned-out tipples certainly served her well. “I would definitely say I’m a minimalist as a bartender. I like finding beauty and innovation in simplicity,” Traub said. “If there’s one thing working in the Dutch Kills/Fresh Kills bar family has taught me, it’s that you don’t need a million ingredients to create a well-balanced cocktail. And I actually find it more challenging to create a new drink using fewer ingredients.”
Take her adaptation of a traditional smash, one of her favorite summer cocktails, which starts with a base of Woodford Reserve. Instead of pairing standard lemon, mint and sugar with the bourbon, she swaps in grapefruit, basil and orgeat; an almond and orange flower syrup that she says plays particularly nicely with the light spice and caramel notes of the spirit. “Summer for me is about all citrus all the time, and growing fresh herbs on my balcony. I wanted to put the flavor of a summer citrus salad into a glass.”
So while clear liquors such as gin and vodka are warm weather go-to’s, Traub strongly encourages adding bourbon to your summer rotation. Especially when you enliven the whiskey by scouring farmers markets for fresh fruit such as muddled strawberries to add to a bourbon ginger highball, or juicy, wine-dark cherries simmered into a syrup for a large format punch. Even a spirit-forward old-fashioned can be light and refreshing if you play around with different modifiers; Traub particularly enjoys using orange curaçao and different fruit brandies. “Don’t let anyone tell you bourbon is just for drinking by the fire!” she insists. “It’s light, fresh and goes down just as easy whether you’re sitting at a bar or relaxing by the pool.”
Grapefruit Basil Smash
Makes 1 cocktail
.5 ounce orgeat
2 lemon wedges
3 grapefruit slices (plus more for garnish)
4–6 pieces basil (plus more for garnish)
2 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Add orgeat, grapefruit, lemon, basil and orgeat to a tin and muddle. Add Woodford Reserve and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a double rocks glass over cracked ice. Garnish with grapefruit slice and fresh basil.