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Cocktail class: Seven questions and a drink – or two – with Ben Poffenroth

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 18, 2017, 11 a.m.

Ben Poffenroth likes to think of Aperol as the “kid brother to Campari,” that bitter and herbaceous Italian liqueur characterized by its deep red color and notes of cherry and orange.

Like Campari, it’s an Italian aperatif. But Aperol contains less alcohol than Campari. It’s also a bit sweeter and lighter in color, a little more orange than red. Aperol, also, is not as bitter.

The classic Aperol spritz follows 3-2-1 instructions. Three parts Cinzano Prosecco. Two parts Aperol. One splash of soda. Pour these ingredients over ice. Top them with an orange slice.

Poffenroth’s recipe is similar, but includes a bit of freshly squeezed orange juice for a kiss of citrus and sweetness.

Poffenroth, 31, has been bartending since 2014. He’s a partner and vice president of a local family of restaurants: Durkin’s Liquor Bar, Casper Fry, and Madeleine’s Café and Patisserie – all in Spokane. He fills in wherever he’s needed, including behind the bar at Durkin’s and Casper Fry.

When he wants to mix things up, he takes the Aperol spritz in a very different direction, one in which there’s no Aperol at all. For his “wild” variation, he melds the flavors of elderflower liqueur with smoky lapsang souchong tea and freshly pressed and clarified apple juice.

“You could top it off with Prosecco or any other kind of sparkling wine,” too, he said – to make it more like a spritz.

Aperol Spritz

2 ounces Aperol

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice

1 ounce Prosecco

1 ounce soda

Orange wedge, for garnish

Add Aperol and orange juice to a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with Prosecco and soda. Garnish with an orange wedge.

Aperol-free Variation

1 1/2 ounces dry vermouth (Poffenroth uses Dolin Blanc)

1 1/2 ounces freshly pressed and clarified apple juice (Poffenroth uses Granny Smith)

3/4 ounce lapsang souchong-infused simple syrup (see note)

1/4 ounce elderflower liqueur (Poffenroth uses St. Germain)

Sparkling wine, for topping

Apple slices, for garnish

Add all ingredients except sparkling wine and garnish to a high-ball glass filled with ice. Stir. Top off with sparkling wine, Garnish with apple slices.

Note: To make lapsang souchong-Infused simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup superfine sugar and 4 ounces strong-brewed lapsang souchong tea in a heat-proof bowl, then let cool, pour into a Mason jar, cover and refrigerate for up to a month.


What’s your proudest moment or accomplishment behind the bar? I think every time I create a new drink that somebody enjoys is an accomplishment. It’s a good feeling to make people stoked on their drink.

What drink should people order if they want to seem like the coolest cat in the bar? Old Fashioned. It’s just the best classic around.

How would you describe the perfect cocktail? It’s all about balance. Each ingredient flows together like a symphony where you can hear each instrument, but it’s not overpowering or stealing the show.

How would you describe Spokane’s cocktail scene? Growing. There are some awesome people in this industry, and they’re wanting to do some cool things.

What was your most unusual drink request? Jager Bomb.

Where was your first job behind a bar? Casper Fry. (Fake it till you make it!)

What’s your favorite drink to mix at work? Hemingway Daiquiri.

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