Gracias Madre's Jason Eisner Masters Vegan Cocktails

Amy Cavanaugh

At Gracias Madre and Café Gratitude, Beverage Director Jason Eisner faces two challenges—crafting cocktails that aren't just vegan, but organic as well. West Hollywood’s Gracias Madre focuses on agave spirits, including tequila, mezcal, sotol, bacanora and raicilla, while Café Gratitude, which has five locations in Southern California, serves spirits of all kinds. Since many products aren’t vegan and organic, Eisner and his bar staff reach out to spirit-makers to find out about their process. They also make plenty of items in-house, from vegan Worcestershire sauce for micheladas to housemade almond milk horchata, to ensure that the cocktails aren't just vegan and organic—they’re also delicious.

Are you vegan?

I was a professional athlete for years, competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts. I became vegan because it made me feel good, and I felt worse when I ate meat. Meeting this company had nothing to do with being vegan, but it makes me feel good to work for a company I stand for. I've never been dogmatic about it; I'll go out and have dinner with a friend who’s a massive carnivore.

What’s the biggest challenge to running two vegan and organic cocktail programs?

I can’t use any traditional modifiers. While most products are vegan, they’re not organic. So we make all of them—all our tinctures, syrups and bitters are made in-house, and we operate more like a kitchen than a bar.

What’s a surprising product you need to make in-house?

I have a cocktail that uses artichoke liqueur. Cynar has caramel color added, so it’s not organic. So I looked up a 150-year-old recipe for an Italian artichoke liqueur and had it translated, then redid the entire recipe. Lookswise it’s very different—Cynar is dark and viscous and ours is lighter in color and more pleasant; it tastes like roasted artichokes. In a cocktail, it plays the same way.

Since Gracias Madre is all-agave, is it harder or easier to find spirits?

It’s easier to find vegan and organic agave spirits. In Mexico or South America or Europe, it’s so common for something to be organic that it has to be labeled when it's not—you’re buying organic unless otherwise stated. In Mexico, it’s such an old process [to make spirits], and some places are using 4th- and 5th-generation distilling techniques and equipment, so it’s all organic.

You’re also known for your vegan avocado eggnog.

Everywhere you go in the Latin world, there are riffs on eggnog, and I wanted to do a twist on it. I use avocado as a thickening and flavor agent instead of egg yolks. It’s thick, and high in fat, like real eggnogs.

At Café Gratitude, the dirty martini is garnished with a blue cheese olive. What’s in it? We’re taking a cashew nut ricotta and adding Japanese seaweed and capers. It ends up tasting identical to blue cheese—like a good, stinky foot.

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