Carmel Magazine

CM Winter 2016 Issue

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Local Bar tender Crafts Custom Cocktails T ucked behind a sparsely populated industrial complex near the Monterey Airport you'll find an unremarkable building accessed through a creaky metal door. This is Christian Pèpe's office and playground, where his mad scientist side runs amuck. Inside Doc Pèpe's Lab, he creates his own line of bottled barrel-aged cocktails. Spirits with spirit, and a few dashes of ingenuity. The name is no marketing gimmick. It's an actual lab, with metal tables, flasks, beakers, stills, vats, barrels and glass jars filled with exotic herbs. "It's like 'Breaking Bad' in here," says Pèpe, 26, a bartender who has a degree in entrepreneurship from Loyola Marymount. "My goal is to never have to submit a résumé again."As a kid, Pèpe dreamed of a pro basket- ball career, but ended up in the restaurant business. His dad Rich owns Little Napoli and Vesuvio restaurants in Carmel, and Pèpe helped launch a barrel-aged cocktail program at Vesuvio. Everyone asked, 'Where can I buy a bottle?'" Pèpe says. "I had to tell them it wasn't a real product." So he made it real, mentally sketching Doc Pèpe's Lab while bartend- ing in San Francisco. Starting a distillery is complicated, and involves a gauntlet of govern- mental red tape. After securing his own license, Pèpe had to obtain approvals of formulas, labels, ingredients, and sources, with every drop of liquid accounted for. "It's not as easy as it sounds," he reveals. Creating a quality Manhattan blend means more than adding sweet ver- mouth and bitters to a vat of whiskey. Bulk vermouth is limited, so Pèpe made his own, finding a 19th-century recipe in Italian. He translated it and began sourcing dry moscato and the required 15-plus herbs. "I nailed it on the 10th try," he says. The Old Fashioned is available (available at Carmel's Surf 'N' Sand), and the Manhattan is close. Next in line is Negroni, a blend of gin, vermouth and Campari, a liqueur he'll need to replicate. He just needs to find rare Cascarilla bark. "I've got my ways," he says. The search is on. —Larry Harland SHORTCUTS BUSINESS Christian Pèpe creates barrel-aged cocktails with unique ingredients. His father, Rich, owns the Carmel restaurants Little Napoli and Vesuvio, where Christian spent time behind the bar. Surf 'N' Sand carries his Old Fashioned, and more blends are on the way. 62 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • W I N T E R 2 0 1 6 Photo: Kelli Uldall

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