Movers and Shakers: The San Diego Cocktail Connoisseur
The Expert: Jeff Josenhans, Director of Venues at The US Grant
WRITTEN BY: GENESIS GONZALEZ | PHOTOGRAPHED BY: MICHELLE KIM
Innovative. Creative. Passionate.
These are just a few words that come to mind when describing Jeff Josenhans, Director of Venues at The US Grant.He is a pioneer in the world of cocktails, transforming his unique vision into extraordinary concoctions. He knows what works, what doesn’t, and maybe what is yet to come. With every ingredient, test tube, and barrel at his side, there is no telling what he will “drink” up next.
Sommelier, wine connoisseur, mixologist and former 90s bartender. Oh yes, Jeff Josenhans has had a front row ticket and international passport to the most exciting and well-deserved titles in his field. And to think he was originally pursuing his first passion, corporate finance, at the age of 20 while in Sweden. Putting corporate finance on hold and lacking a work permit, Josenhans found himself working in a restaurant kitchen. He transitioned within one year to the role of bartender and finally made the jump to fine dining at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. He managed a successful bar and led the movement in what we have come to know as “mixology.” Just as the food and beverage industry captured his attention, so did the cold! After 12 years, it was time for some sun. With a return to the warm and beautiful weather of San Diego, The US Grant was the place to be.
Josenhans has become an integral member at The US Grant, where his creativity and passion have flourished as he creates many firsts. Some of which includes bottling fermented cocktails, barrel-aging cocktails, and creating a bitter cordial in a barrel such as the renowned Génépi Americana.
Q: What was the inspiration and vision behind transforming Grant Grill?
Jeff Josenhans: I’ve been creating drinks since the late 90s over in Stockholm, constantly challenging myself, using creative culinary techniques such as molecular gastronomy and embracing a pre-prohibition style of cocktail making. Now I lead the mixology program here and also run the multi-million dollar food and beverage operations. I wanted to produce something on a larger scale. Through the empowerment of the hotel, I can create one of a kind products in our bar, making it very difficult for the competition to follow suit. We were the first to generate bottle fermented cocktails utilizing the Champagne method as well as creating barrel-aged cocktails along with our bitter cordial in a barrel like we did with Génépi. I’m not talking first here in San Diego but first in the world with these things! Each of these projects takes months and months of work and dedication. It’s a big rolling of the dice, plus the cost of the liquor and the barrel—that’s $10, 000 right there.
Q: The Génépi Americana is an exciting new addition to Grant Grill. What was the inspiration behind the bitter cordial?
JJ: I have always been a big fan of chartreuse, and I noticed years ago that America doesn’t manufacture anything like this product or fine cordials. If you think about all the cordials in the world, such as Amaro, Chartreuse and Lillet, they’re all European. America gives you cordials like Sour Apple Pucker and Fireball. There’s a big contrast in artisanal spirits in Europe, and here, it’s more commercial and mass-produced. I wanted to do something that was along the lines of the European traditions, but Americanized, if you will. I modeled it originally after a yellow chartreuse, but we ended up modifying it after tons of times to what we felt fit us best. The base is an un- aged bourbon and corn whiskey. The barrel is a $1, 200 French oak, which is very uncommon; it’s a high-end wine barrel as opposed to a bourbon barrel. We wanted to honor the European traditions but use the American spirit. It’s innovative and pioneering, but also American- influenced, being that it’s bourbon and not brandy, a popular spirit used in Europe.
Q: I imagine there is a long testing process, seeing what works and what doesn’t. How do you come to the final product?
JJ: We try to keep it somewhat proprietary because it was very hard to create. We ended up with 30 botanicals in it and each botanical acts differently. At first, we tried to batch different combinations of botanicals that all failed. So, we ended up doing all separate infusions and then blending them together like a collage of all the different, separate botanicals, rather than combining them all into one fusion. It allowed us to experiment; we kept revising through 20-30 different formulas, until we found one that was perfect. From there, we put the chosen formula into the barrel and added local honey. It’s been in the barrel ever since.
Q: How has the reaction been since introducing the bitter cordial?
JJ: It’s a high-end product which is the way I intended it to be, but so far I’ve only seen raving reviews about it. I love it! I’m obviously a little bias because I’ve seen the whole evolution of it.
Q: For those who can try such an exciting new product, what do you hope they walk away with?
JJ: I hope that they walk away with an experience that is unique. They will be able to say, “Wow, I had that!” They will remember having a one of a kind product coming back for more because they won’t be able to buy it or see it anywhere else. Hopefully, they like it so much that they talk about it, bringing new people to come in and experience it.
Q: When will you begin working on the next creation, or have you already?
JJ: Once one project is done, we start looking for the next concept. There are always ideas that we dream about doing, and one thing leads to another.
Q: You have been fortunate to travel to many places. Have these experiences influenced your creativity and knowledge of the industry?
JJ: It just gives you a different perspective. You can see the difference between a marketing campaign and what is a fresh, well-made product. There are a lot of new products in the market that are just, in my opinion, half done. They are not well-made, but have a big marketing team behind them, and you can easily see they are creating an idea to make money. Then you see products that are truly unique. Typically that’s coming from the small companies. The big companies I haven’t really seen drive anything creative for many years. At one point, they did, but now it’s all about the little guys. You have to keep your eye on the little guy now if you want to be on the edge. It’s the same thing with beer and wine.
Q: For those coming to Grant Grill for the first time, what would you recommend they try as a drink of choice?
JJ: You always have to feel out what they want. When it comes to beverages, we have a strong arsenal of things. On the beer side, we have local brews, some of them limited production, which is pretty uncommon for a hotel in particular. For those who are traveling from around the world and want to enjoy a brew, it’s nice for them to get that beer experience in the hotel without them going to another part of town or brewery. We have multiple cocktail programs that they can try that they will not get anywhere else in the world. There are all different flavor profiles designed for different purposes, which allows you to feel them out and recommend something. Our wine program is also a focus on the balance between larger producers and boutique producers. We get a lot of local representation, too, from boutique wineries such as Temecula and Valle de Guadalupe.
Q: While dining out, I’ve noticed there are a few people who tend to swirl their glass of wine before taking a sip. Can we assume they know what to taste for?
JJ: I think most of those people know what they’re doing. Maybe there’re a few that don’t. I always find it interesting when you know someone is buying, for example, a big bottle of Bordeaux for the first time because it’s always a bit of a red flag to me. Corporate businessmen in particular know they have a big budget to spend for a client. They will go and order a $300 or $400 bottle of Bordeaux, and I always caution them a little bit just so they know what they are getting into. The consumer should understand and know when it comes to wine or any beverage that just because it costs more, doesn’t mean it’s a bigger flavor; maybe you have fewer flavors, but it’s more complex. It’s good to swirl and look for that because it’s those little details in the glass that can separate a good wine from a great wine.
Q: If you could take a current drink to modify or change, which drink would it be?
JJ: Most of them I’ve already played around with (laughs). Malt liquor is on my radar—that’s something I would like to get creative with. Technically, it’s almost like an undiscovered spirit. The product that is available in the market people are always trying to change. We make our tonic water here; that’s interesting to do. We’ve learned a lot, and it makes you understand how many low-quality products are in the market as the corporations are using the bottom line for production.