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Seven Grand's Brett Winfield Wants You To Drink Whiskey

Photo: Will Ullman

Seven Grand's Lead Bartender, Brett Winfield, moved to San Diego five years ago from Charleston, South Carolina. Winfield's been in the food and beverage industry for 16 years, and working as a bartender for the last decade. In addition to serving as the Spirit Guide of Seven Grand's Whiskey Society, he's also a Level II Certified Sommelier. Winfield tells Eater that he likes long walks on the beach, candy canes, soda pop, and cask strength whiskey.

What's your favorite drink on your menu right now and why?
It's tough for bartenders to answer that question as we generally like everything and move from different spirits, beers, and cocktails all the time; drinking the same thing gets boring very quickly. When guests at the bar ask me what my favorite drink is, which happens quite often, my standard response is usually the tongue and cheek "one someone else is makes for me".

I'm generally a shot of whiskey kind of guy but we just put a Draft Old Fashioned on the menu at Seven Grand using Old Grand Dad 100 proof and it's been treating me just right after a long shift behind the bar. I like it because of the simplicity of the drink — bitters, sugar, water, whiskey. It's well balanced without being too soft and the whiskey really shines through.

Where do you drink when you're not working?
I'm definitely enjoying Polite Provisions, Erick Castro's new joint venture with Consortium Holdings. I've always admired Erick's programs and the way he trains his bartenders; he's got them really dialed in and turning out some great drinks. It also helps that I consider Erick and most of his 'tenders friends, which always makes a drink taste better. Every time I'm in there, which is quite a lot, they just make you feel like you're in their house enjoying some drinks with friends. I can't say that I have a favorite drink there; I've tried a few different drinks each time and they've all been stellar, although Fernet Branca on tap is always a good choice.

Anything that you're "over", in terms of played-out bar trends or cocktail ingredients?
I'd have to say the use of poor quality ingredients is still extremely prevalent and just makes us all look bad. Using fresh juice, syrups, quality bitters, and spirits is simple, affordable, and truly elevates level of drinks served to the guest. There is simply no reason not to take the proper steps to deliver a quality product. While there are many bars who have fully embraced this style, there are still way more who have continued to use poor quality ingredients and dumb down their programs to the detriment of drinking culture in the US.

It's why my partners Ryan Andrews (Craft and Commerce) and Eric Lockridge (Prep Kitchen Little Italy) and I have formed Golden State Sprits and begun to produce our own bitters as the RX Bitters Co., which we're funding through Kickstarter. We just wanted to make a thoughtful and quality addition to the cocktail and bartending world which has given so much to us over the years. We 'll start with three initial flavors Aromatic #7, which is a mix of aromatic bitters and citrus bitters, Old Fashioned Sarsaparilla Bitters, a pre-Prohibition era root beer recipe which we reformulated to work as a cocktail bitter, and Cherry Apple Bitters, the harvest season in a bottle. We'll have them out in local and national bars before the end of the year, so keep a look out.

Do you have a wish or request for the San Diego bar scene or local drinkers?
I have three requests:
1.) Continue to demand drinks of highest level; if you keep drinking them, we will keep making them.
2.) Drink some whiskey. You say you don't like it, but I say you just haven't had the right one served to you in the right way for your palate.
3.) Come to a meeting of the Seven Grand Whiskey Society, we have brand ambassadors, Master Distillers and anyone knowledgable about whiskey teach and taste us through some amazing whiskies a few times a month.

What makes bartending in San Diego different than other cities you've worked in?
Our sense of family makes us truly unique as a cocktail and bartending community. There's a very tight knit group of bartenders in this city, we all go to each others' bars and hang out when we aren't on a shift. People look at all the great bars that have opened over the last few years and think "oh, there's more competition for this bar or that bar", but we all look at it as elevating the level of service and drinks for the community, not to mention another place to go out for a drink. In case you haven't noticed, we like to drink.
· Seven Grand [Official Site]
· All Industry Dish on Eater [~ESD~]