Dave Michalowski, at your service

If you should feel the need to cry over your beer (or vieux carre, as the case may be), you might want to check out the lounge at Graham Elliot Bistro (aka GEB). That’s the domain of Dave Michalowski, the barkeep featured in this week’s Cocktail Challenge, who’s well qualified to lend an ear. As a matter of fact, he’s a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC)—just one with a real love of libations.

Michalowski says he discovered the food industry about five years ago, starting out at the Aviary as a runner, then advancing to server. While there he picked up some tricks of the bartender’s trade that he deployed in creating his drink for us. Challenged by the Aviary’s Micah Melton with Madras curry powder, he decided to make a tincture with the spice blend, steeping it in a 192-proof neutral grain spirit (which, by the way, he tells me can’t be sold retail in Chicago but is legal in the suburbs—go figure).

How long did you steep it? I asked.

“Around 9 days,” he replied by e-mail. “I had to shake it a lot ’cause the powder would settle. I probably would have preferred for it to sit another week, but it was really close.” He says Craig Schoettler, the opening executive chef at the Aviary, taught him that “you can tell a tincture is done when you can’t smell the alcohol anymore.” In this case, the curry became much more pronounced, not to mention “exponentially spicier,” Michalowski told me, explaining “this is not too surprising since curry is a mixture of spices and each spice has a different level of alcohol solubility which could cause a hot spice to come through more.”