When Restaurant Muramoto moved into the former Cocoliquot space on King Street, chef Shinji Muramoto kept the light fixtures, some of the chairs and tables, and bartender Zach Sauer.
Sauer, 29, is now Muromoto's bar manager, responsible for developing the seasonally changing cocktail menu. He got his start in restaurant work in his hometown, West Bend, and continued working while earning his degree in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now, he also works as a vet assistant and is applying to vet school.
His most popular creation is the Ginger Saketini (ginger-infused vodka with chilled sake and yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit). It outsells the other cocktails by about a third, he said. He also steeps Muramoto's three specialty vodkas in-house: ginger, cinnamon and chocolate.
Sauer recently talked with 77 Square about his menu, his loose mixing style and the cocktail trends he won't miss.
What's the first mixed drink you ever had?
Oh, wow. (Laughs.) I believe it was a screwdriver. It was my first year in college. I remember it being very, very strong. I remember the orange juice being bad, but it might have been the vodka.
What do you have to take into consideration when developing the drink menu at Muramoto?
It's really just trying to keep up with the kitchen. They set the bar pretty high. For instance, there are a few fairly spicy dishes on the menu. I like to have something cooling to offset that. There are a lot of crisp, clean flavors, so I don't want to overpower any of the food. And there are a lot of different palates out there -- some people have a real sweet tooth when it comes to drinks, others prefer something really crisp and easy to consume. Trying to have something for everybody is the big challenge, as well as having it complement the food.
What do you drink?
I'm pretty simple. I just like vodka, vodka on the rocks. I also like a nice bourbon and a good beer now and again. I'm really enjoying Bell's, anything from Bell's. I really like the Two Hearted.
What's a cocktail you've tried out that hasn't worked?
Oh, man. There've been so many. I try to forget those as soon as possible. Pretty much anything I've ever tried with pineapple juice crashes and burns. And also any variation on a margarita I've not been able to replicate with any success.
Why do you think that is?
It probably has something to do with the fact that I really don't follow strict proportions when I work. Some bartenders are very exacting and measure things out every time. I just don't do that, so I think I'm getting a little human error in there.
So you take a looser approach to mixing?
Exactly. It's more fun that way. It's very frustrating for my other poor bartenders who have to follow directions like "A healthy splash of x, y or z."
Is there a trend right now in mixed drinks that you think will last?
I've seen a lot come and go. I mean, we had our love affair with the pomegranate. I think the endless need to shake and stir things up and call them "martinis" doesn't seem to be slowing anytime soon. You know, a true martini used to be just vermouth and gin and some sort of garnish. But now it's moved on to encompass chocolate and basil and lime and all this other stuff. That seems to be taking a disturbing hold.
You don't seem very enthusiastic about that.
It's nice to be able to create new things, but it's good to remember the classics, too, I guess.
Any trends you think won't last?
I think America is going to see its fill of flavored vodkas sometime soon. Frou-frou flavors like grape, root beer and bubblegum -- those things are breeding like rabbits and I just don't know how much the market can sustain. I'm hoping at least they've had their day in the sun.