Portland bartender Gigi Mall wasn’t supposed to be here. Back in 2014, her plan was to land in Las Vegas, where she already had a location picked out for her own cocktail bar. She arrived in Portland during Old Port Fest intending to stay for only four days. Four days expanded to seven, then 10, then she ended up hanging around for three weeks. In that three-week span, she met people like Joshua Miranda, who opened Blyth & Burrows earlier this year, and Blyth & Burrows Creative Director Michael Gatlin (who also owns Owl & Whale, makers of bitters and phosphates, which I use often). And she decided to stay.
Now, not only is she one of my favorite Portlanders, creating cocktails at Blyth & Burrows, but she is Portland’s Bartender of the Year (Eater Maine, 2015, when she was working at Bramhall on Congress Street). To Mall, the award was “a nod that I made the right decision [to move here], like ‘this is the path that you wanted and this is the path that not only you chose but also chose you. And so keep going.’ ”
“It’s been a really beautiful journey,” she says. “And it’s just beginning. I think that is what is so cool about it. We are like in chapter two of this novel, and it’s cool to be able to write your own story with an amazing team of people.”
Mall is reminded often why she loves creating cocktails in the first place, watching that moment when someone takes a drink “and their eyes are like ‘Yes, this is it,’ and that’s the beauty of this craft,” she says. “You’re opening their eyes to something brand new, a flavor that may have been a little scary or uneasy or not really their jam. But it is cool to watch this sort of evolution happen.”
The drink menu at Blyth & Burrows was developed around things that you see in your kitchen, says Mall—elements of food and of flavors usually served on a plate. And Mall digs experimentation, what she describes as, “teetering on the cusp of inappropriate.”
“My favorite phrase right now is, ‘It’s just the right amount of wrong,’” she says. “It has all that fun, seedy thing…but it is also very classic and genuine and old-fashioned. It is always pushing the boundary, but keeping it safe and cool. I feel like I am just the right amount of wrong.”
Which brings us to the drink she made for me: The Death Stalker. It’s made with mezcal, cilantro-poblano reposado tequila, yellow chartreuse, chili pepper and lime, and it is one of Mall’s all-time favorites. To hear the way she describes it makes me think one could fall in love with a cocktail (spoiler warning: one can).
“It is a mezcal drink. It’s beautiful, it’s smoky, it’s bright, it’s just the right amount of wrong. It has all those elements that are kind of dangerous to your palette but not offensive. And it sticks with you. You don’t just drink it and it’s gone. There is a different flavor on the back of your tongue and you take a sip and it evolves throughout your drinking experience. The first sip tastes very similar to your second and the third and fourth are just so profoundly different because it just kind of builds and grows as it sits. It is also bright and it reminds me of the sun and it has a big giant piece of mango on the glass…it is flashy and sexy and smokey and kind of seedy.”
Spoken like a true (and truly talented) cocktail creator.
This month, let Gigi make your cocktails. Visit Blyth & Burrows in Portland and choose one of the creative cocktails from the menu. (See them all at www.blythandburrows.com)
Vida Mezcal, cilantro and poblano-infused reposado tequila, yellow chartreuse, mango, chili, lime
General Tso Fashioned
Rittenhouse Rye, dry orange curacao, teriyaki, ginger, lemon, hot pepper bitters
I Like the Cut of your Jib
1776 Rye, Cutty Sark Prohibition scotch, Cardamaro, spruce tip cordial, lemon sherbet, sea smoke
Marquess of Queensbury
Gin, sloe gin, carpano antica, blueberry lavender shrub, peychaud’s bitters, seltzer
Jessie Lacey lives in downtown Portland with her boyfriend. She spends whatever free time she has making dresses, cocktails, art and trouble.